Here’s a classic (Hey, 2011 is classic, right?) blog post by Matt Scharfglass, a multi-instrumentalist, professional musician and former music editor at Guitar World. You can find more vintage Scharfglass columns under RELATED ARTICLES below.
Although I play a guitarist on TV, I’m actually a bass player. That’s what comes naturally to me.
I won’t lie: Deep down I’m a frustrated lead guitarist. Let’s face it, no one imitates the bass player when they grab a tennis racket and practice their moves in front of the mirror.
I have guitar envy. It was inevitable that somewhere along the way, I’d teach myself guitar (It’s only two more strings, right?), cop as many Randy Rhoads, Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page licks as I could, and step out as a guitarist every now and then.
Well, the cool thing about working at Guitar World is that I’m constantly humbled. Working with guys like Paul Riario and Jimmy Brown is downright demoralizing, and that’s when I console myself with the reminder that I’m a bassist first.
That said, ever notice that the rate of douchebaggery per capita among most unknown guitarists is higher than that for bassists? Come on, don’t smash your monitor, just hear me out. I led my own band for about six years, at the beginning of which I made the executive decision to be the lead guitarist because (A) I naively thought it would be easier to lead the band that way, and (B) I just wanted to see if I could even do it.
I never noticed how catty other guitarists could be until I got up onstage as one. They’re immediately judging your gear and your look. They’re all standing there, arms folded, that “Show me what you got” look on their faces, quickly followed by the dismissive, “Big deal, I can play faster” scowl.
Bass players, in general, are totally different. I live in New York City, where it’s not uncommon to see guys walking down the street with upright basses on wheels. Every now and then one of us will cross paths with another on our way to our respective gigs. Sometimes we know each other, sometimes we’re strangers, but there’s always a knowing smile and a supportive hey-man-how’s-it-going.
The late jazz great Dennis Irwin once talked to a nobody like me on a subway train, just because I happened to have my bass with me. Do guitarists who spot other guitarists on the street ever do that? You tell me.
Most gigs I go to, bass players are checking out other bass players. We’re the ones most likely to go up to the guy in the previous band right before we’re about to go onstage ourselves, shake his hand and tell him, “Nice job—you sound great.” That’s not to say we don’t have our own share of divas and douchebags, but in my experience, most of us are just chill like that.
Now look—I don’t hate guitarists, and truth be told, I have a pretty dry sense of humor; half of this was said with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Observational humor, if you will. The fact that I even attempted to be a lead guitarist in the first place should demonstrate how much respect I have for people who can actually do it.
Still, I have no doubt that at the very least, my guitarist friends and bandmates are probably gonna come kick my ass now.
Matt Scharfglass has worked in countless theater pits and plays guitar up in the organ booth to crowds of 18,000 at New York Rangers home games. Matt has had more than 600 of his transcriptions appear in Guitar World and in books by Warner Brothers, Music Sales and Hal Leonard. He has authored more than a dozen bass and guitar instructional books, including the “You Can Do It…Play Bass!” and “…Play Guitar!” series.