Guitar Playing, when did it become a competition?

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I’ve not let the contentious me out the box for a while but something has happened recently that’s made me a little prickly.

Guitar solo competitions. I hate them. I really really hate them. When did playing the guitar, or music in general, become a competition? Are we expecting to have it put into the Olympics? Man, if it does, I pity the people who have to dope test some of the pros! Lolololz, no – obviously, I put that in to make myself smile as after today, I’m kind of struggling… and before I start, have you noticed that it’s always the same people entering these things? Always the same guys winning, always the same faces submitting? I’m actually bored of the sight of some of them by now.

OK, so – today. Facebook lit up this afternoon (my own profile included) with the video of someone who was awarded 2nd place in a solo competition (as usual,Wampler Artist Levi Clay broke the news as this is a pet hate of his). The solo was awesome, the level of composition was fantastic and so far as musicality goes, I loved it. The trouble was, he was miming and if you pay attention you can see (and hear) that to play that fast at that level of gain you just can’t play that cleanly and accurately without cookin’ the books a little (I mean, I’ve watched Vai play “Building The Church” at a distance that I could see the hairs on the back of his hands and he wasn’t that clean and accurate, and let’s face it, love him or hate him, the one thing you can’t deny is that Vai has flawless technique). I’m pretty certain this guy he’s either slowed the track down, played his part and then sped it up again or even fired off some midi thing here. It’s just too perfect… When you watch the video closely, you can see that his picking is off, his vibrato is off, his whammy work is off and his left hand cannot keep up with it either. When you look at his other videos, he’s no where near as good on those videos either…

Let’s take a look at what this guy won. Mesa Boogie (Mini Rectifier & Cab) + Bare Knuckle (set of pickups) + Toontrack Ezdrummer 2 + Gruv Gear (set of accessories).

Yeah. You read that right. He won that by cheating – or did he?

Looking at the rules of the competition there is nothing in them about slowing stuff down, using technology to help the player along or anything like that, so, if this is about composition, then fair play – the boy done good. However, if you watch a load of videos for a solo competition would you not think that it was a prerequisite that they should be able to play it? As Levi mentioned – can you take a Beethoven written oboe solo seriously knowing that he couldn’t play oboe (I have no idea if he could play that instrument or not) but what is the expectation when it’s a “submit you playing the solo on a video” type thing? I expect, like me, you would expect to see someone playing, live, the solo they constructed.

Here is the problem. Legally, as per the terms of the competition, he’s not actually done anything wrong. But try telling that to the guy who missed the prizes by one spot though – Mr 6th place. He is the guy who actually wrote and played his solo live and has got nothing. Is that fair? The first thing that went through my mind is that if this guy is allowed to keep his prizes then we should give the gold medal back to Ben Johnson (sorry to you real young’uns, you might have to Google that one), give all 7 tour titles back to Lance Armstrong (if they have the balls) or allow Sharapova the chance to compete on the tour this year and grunt herself to a lot more sponsorship money while sitting around in her bikini for the paperazzi?

Fortunately, me being me and my habit of social networking, I was able to talk to one of the judges who is a mate of mine (who I didn’t realize was a judge when I originally ranted) and he came in with “Honestly when I find 20 minutes on tour to judge a thing like this I trust the top 10 entries to be correct and fine. Actually I DID doubt ****’s entry at one point at one lick but I thought maybe that was just an overdub and I honestly don't care about that too much. It was almost inhuman clean but I know several players that can do that, so I trusted the competition and awarded him with points. If he faked it he did it really well, and I fell for it in the little time I had judging this.”.

Before I spoke to him, my initial reaction to this whole thing was “The judges need shooting” but the reality is that not only were the rules poorly put out, the decision about who put the top ten together wasn’t done by someone good enough to spot a faker and in fact the whole concept is just crap. Totally crap.  I understand how tiring it is for people as many years ago I judged one of these things in a competition we ran. I can tell you now that the process of reviewing and deciding the entrants is one of the most soul sucking things I’ve ever done. You get SO bored of the backing track you are ready to kick a kitten after about 10 minutes. I can understand how they didn’t see it, but surely when you get to the top ten the people who are responsible for putting those in front of the judges should be in a position to weed out the good from the, well, morally unacceptable. But they didn’t and now there is a social media firestorm happening and it’s going to look bad for the judges and the fine companies who sponsored it. They’ve been let down as much as we have (although not as much as the poor sod in 6th place who got nothing).

So, did he cheat? Is he wrong? Did he fool the panel? Should he give his prizes back? Before you sit there and think “well, he didn’t break any rules” consider this. In the thread on You Tube under a post from someone congratulating him on his work did he openly tried to take credit for the backing track as well by stating this? (The backing track was provided by the competition sponsors) “Very much appreciated for your compliment and watching, I wrote all the Time signatures, Chord progression and my guitar solo on some piece of papers in my way, I will translate them on Guitar Pro @ some point.” Or was he just saying that he wrote all the charts and progressions out to work out his solo? I don’t know – it’s hard to tell really. I guess the devil is in the details with these things. Which is where this whole thing went wrong. There was no detail and if this guy has been rumbled, he has a really good case for not sending his prizes back.

I’m not going to point you towards the competition, it shouldn’t be hard to find if you really want to see for yourself, but I’ll leave the final word to Levi - if you do go on to watch Levi's full rant about this - I must warn you, it is NSFW, Levi is passionate about this and he pulls no punches.

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