You might think that the only guitar world record to be at all interesting is to do with who is the fastest. Well, not so much. There are tons of world records set by famous guitarists and (somewhat) regular people. These range from the truly amazing to the truly ridiculous. Here are some of the most interesting ones.
Of course, we have to start with THE record. The world records for fastest guitar player have always been measured on the basis of one song. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee has been used as the standard for setting this record, and ever note needs to be discernible upon slowing down the playing. Here is Nirvana Bista, an Indian teenager, setting the record in 2015 at an insane 1600 beats per minute. He gradually speeds up until he reaches the recorded tempo, and while it may seem like noise, remember, it only qualifies because you have to be able to slow it down and see that every note is played precisely. The previous record was 1300 BPM
Okay, so it’s not quite just a guitar record, but it’s worth noting because it’s such a crazy record. This record was based on decibel level, and many famous bands have, at some point, held it. Deep Purple and The Who may be the most notable, with their gigs reaching decibel levels of 117dB and 126dB respectively. Deep Purple’s gig even knocked a few people out. Just so you know, that’s louder than a jet taking off 300m away (100dB) and enough to severely cause pain. The band Manowar held the record for a long time, but this was beaten by good old KISS with 136dB (2009). And that is louder than a military jet taking off just 50 feet away. The record is no longer being listed because it is too dangerous to try and break!
That’s a mouthful! And apparently a chinful. Here is Canadian Doug McManaman doing just that for just over a minute. Doug has managed to pull off several of these kinds of records, balancing acoustic and electric guitars on his chin while sitting, standing, kneeling, and lying down. Much like him, Suresh Gaur of India has heaped on the records, pulling off an incredible 13+ minutes balancing an acoustic guitar on his thumb!
When I first heard about air guitar championships, I rolled my eyes. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but air guitar playing has come a long way since the early days of Sabbath and Maiden. This new competitive sport (?) now involves participants having to really sell it and convince viewers that they’re actually playing an invisible guitar. This is one of my favorites. And here’s last year’s winner. I’m not sure I quite get it, but if it works, it works. In the largest assembly of air guitarists, over 2,300 people played Ozzy’s Crazy Train in California to take the record.
One of my favorite guitar-related records has not been broken since 1997, when Harold Craighead and Dustin Carr, two Cornell scientists, created a working replica of a Fender Stratocaster out of silicon. The size? Ten micrometers. That’s 1/20th of a human hair’s thickness. Each string is about the width of 100 atoms in a row! When the strings are plucked, their frequencies are too high for human hearing.
Let’s end on something special. Though this isn’t an official record, it’s certainly a lot of fun and shows some amazing dedication. Here are a thousand musicians playing Learn to Fly by the Foo Fighters in an effort to convince the band to play in their city, Cesena, Italy. When the band responded and played for them, frontman Dave Grohl was injured but played anyway. Here he is thanking everyone.
Almost every beginner and intermediate player wants to see speedy improvements, but the truth is that no matter how quickly you pick it up, becoming a pro guitarist is going to take time. You first need to accept that and learn to be patient. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you have to put up with improving slowly. Becoming the next Yngwie Malmsteen is going to take years of practice, but with a few simple tricks, you can figure out how to learn guitar fast. Here are a few to get you started.
Some people have a bit of an edge over others. If you have perfect pitch, for instance, you’re lucky. If you worked with your hands a lot prior to picking up a guitar, you probably have a lot of finger and hand strength already. But most people don’t have this to work with. It’s important to understand that there are no barriers to learning guitar. If you think your hands are too small, like I did, or if you think your fingers are crooked, like I did, you’ve gotten it all wrong. There are little kids who play like pros. And even one-handed guitarists.
It just takes time and practice. If you’re looking for immediate results, you won’t get it, but when you do, all that hard work will have paid off. Remember, nothing good ever comes easy. Malcolm Gladwell says that anything, ANYTHING, takes at least 10,000 hours to master. Just ask Steve Vai. You think he got that good because he’s a prodigy? No, the guy practiced fifteen hours a day. So never give up.
Okay, pep talks aside now. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was to warm up before a practice session. Your arms and fingers are the same as any other muscle. You need to warm them up before practice and warm down afterwards, like with sports. Start and finish your sessions with scales or finger training exercises. This will help to reduce stiffness in the joints and muscles and get the blood circulating.
Well, something like that anyway. When you’re not playing guitar, there’s plenty of time spent with at least your fretting hand free. Use these times to work out the fingers, individually and together. You don’t need a guitar for this. You can do strength training for your fingers with a hand exerciser. GripMaster has plenty of different strength to suit your level, from the extra light at 3lb, best suited for kids, to the heavy duty at 9lb, best suited for, well, rock climbers. These are ideal for working out your entire hands, from fingers to wrists to forearms. You won’t really need these if you’re not planning to become the next Michael Angelo Batio, but if you’re looking for faster results, these will help. It will largely help you to improve your dexterity, flexibility, and strength overall.
If you haven’t started learning with a metronome, it’s about time you started. A metronome is a device that makes a sort of ticking sound like a clock. Nowadays there are plenty of apps that you can get for free instead of the device. The metronome is used by all types of musicians to learn to keep time. I used to practice my finger exercises without the metronome and a pro guitarist friend of mine pointed out how I kept speeding up and slowing down at times without realizing. This may not seem like a major problem at first, but when you start playing with a band, you’ll find it hard to keep time. Or your bandmates will find it hard to keep up with you. Using a metronome, you learn to intuitively keep time, making your notes and chords even. It will also help when you’re struggling to learn a song that’s a little too fast for your skill level. Start the metronome at a slower tempo than the original and learn to play it carefully at that pace. Then gradually increase tempo till your reach your target. Even with learning scales and finger exercises, start slow. You can get speed trainers to help you improve your speed even as an expert. I still use the old school GuitarPro for this (which also has a metronome).
This is one mistake I made when I first picked up the guitar and I still have trouble shaking it. As with anything, bad habits are hard to break. So if you start off learning with the wrong grips and techniques, you’re going to have to relearn a lot of the right stuff later on when the songs and chords you play demand it. For instance, how do you press down on the strings with your fretting hand? With the pads of your fingers, or on the tips? The right way is on the tips. I started learning with the pads of my fingertips, and always got a buzzing sound because the flesh of my fingers would touch the other strings. Another thing is the way you hold the pick, if you use one. Here’s a picture of the correct way to hold the pick.
I used to avoid barre chords because I have tiny fingers and this was one of the things I had a major issue with. The neck of my first guitar was narrow enough, but I couldn’t stretch my fingers to make those big chords. Well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. It’s not just several different ways to play the same F chord. Each root chord also has dozens of other modified versions that fit better with different styles of music, different scales, and different feels. More importantly though, learning the variations gives you a lot of versatility, especially when working with other musicians. When someone says, “Can you try that with an F# augmented, you need to be able to play it without having to fumble around for that chord dictionary app! Of course, if you’re not planning on becoming a pro or a sessions player, this shouldn’t be an issue. But it helps to speed up your development nonetheless, because you’re going to encounter dozens of songs with weird chords that you’ve never heard of. And they’re not all difficult chords, mind you. There are plenty of apps and books with chord dictionaries you can keep handy for practice. Try learning a new chord every day. Just be sure to practice them.
Don’t make the mistake of ever taking a break from your guitar. I learned the hard way that fifteen minutes of practice each day is better than one or two hours a week. Always spend some time each day doing a few scales and finger exercises, no matter how busy you might get with school or work. If you have time to check your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you have time for guitar practice. Your muscles need to get used to playing, and it takes time and consistent playing to develop muscle memory. So the more frequently you play, the more quickly you get used to it. The less time between practice sessions, the less time you have to forget what you learned.
Sometimes, you might find yourself a few weeks down the line feeling like you’ve gotten nowhere with a particular song or lick. This is one of the reasons it can help to have a video recording of your first practice of it. You might be surprised to see how much progress you’ve made. Video recordings can help you recognize observable results and progress, and it can help you to notice mistakes you might be making. While hearing yourself practice can help you identify mistakes in the chords or notes, and other similar elements, seeing yourself can help in identifying mistakes in positioning, posture, and grip, among other things. Use these videos to regularly review and correct yourself, and remember to remind yourself how much you’ve improved.
The important thing to remember is that there are no instant results for learning anything new. The tips above can help to catalyze your progress, but it won’t make it happen overnight. It takes time, practice, and commitment, but it is achievable if you persist.