Guitar Solos and Lead Guitarists. Part 7: The 2010's

The Death of the Guitar solo: Part 7: the 2010s

The 2010's saw the final decline of the Lead Guitar solo. The lead guitarist disappeared. Where did they go?

This was the era of the Diva; Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Adele, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, Jessie J. They all sported bands for stadium and festival dates that included a lead guitarist but merely as a posing prop. Being a sideman in such an outfit was seen as a privilege.

The male artistes too. Bruno Mars, The Weeknd, Bad Bunny, Drake all largely forgo guitar solos. As for the biggest act of the decade, Ed Sheeran, he didn’t even have a band, let alone a lead guitarist, just a looper!

Lead guitarists need champions. Producers who see value in a guitar solo. Think Steely Dan in the 70’s or Michael Jackson in the 80’s.  Where was that champion now? Songs are being written by Committee, with five or six songwriter credits. The music became more banal. As Ted Gioia said…

You know your in trouble when the number of songwriters exceeds the number of chords in the song!

So, in the 2010’s the guitar solo all but disappeared from mainstream music. The list of solos from this era is a short one, the list of great solos is nonexistent.

The New Kid on the Block?

The Universe hates a vacuum so what happened next? The Boomers retired and took up guitar fueling a boom for guitar stores and online tutors!

That one single event, combined with the growing reliability of Digital audio workstations (DAWs), amp modeling software, and virtual effects enabled guitarists to experiment with a vast array of tones and textures, blurring the lines between traditional analog recording and digital production. All in your spare room!

That’s my story and millions of others. I my case I wasn’t a first timer. I dug my guitar out of the loft after a 20-year hiatus when I jumped into digital recording with Cubase. I had recorded in some top 24 track London studios back in the day, brimming full of expensive 2” tape machines, mixing desks and outboard equipment. What amazed and inspired me was that I could have a cheap digital studio in my Mancave that outperformed all those traditional studios immeasurably.

I can’t complain. I built a decent following on my Soundcloud. That’s where I and many others went to. For the first time since my short-lived teenage musical career, I had an audience. Here’s a collaboration I joined in with, see if you can spot my contribution?

Jamie Rhind · Together - 23 musicians. 12 countries. 1 stage

It’s not all bad – is it?

As an antisocial loner guitarist, I enjoyed what was happening though in the mid 2010’s. I mean, I found an audience for guitar instrumental covers, how mad is that. Some of those tracks were getting 100K plays!

The upshot of the internet was not some Utopia for guitarists. It was the end of the paying gig. I had millions of plays but never received a dime from Soundcloud, in fact I pay them $80 per year. Lead guitar is now a hobby activity. Guitarists playing for other guitarists – the SoundCloud concept. Soundcloud struggled as a platform, always making a loss and about to go bust but still hangs in there. I’ve lost my appetite for posting there though.

The audience has moved on. Brainwashed into passive listening by playlists purporting ‘if you like this you will like this’ they’ve gotten lazy. Curated to maximize profits by showcasing music Spotify owns rather than what is best. The imperative and obligation of all serious listeners have is to research new talent.

The public has not completely lost interest in the improvised guitar solo though. Relegated to fairground sideshow status solos may be, but when they do happen audiences respond. The new church is the music festival, post religion perhaps the only place young people will experience something spiritual?. It is as if some distant tribal rite fundamental to the human soul has woken them.  A genetic memory resurfacing. The guitar solo is the epitome of that.


This is the decade when the guitar solo disappeared as a musical entity. Yes, Rock, Blues, and Country still had solos, but their combined market share was tiny compared to the genres that didn’t, like Hip Hop and Pop.

Let’s hope the pendulum swings back, it has in the movies. The public has had enough of Superhero movies with the same plot. Perhaps music is five years behind that curve. It has hit rock bottom for banality so perhaps we are due a renaissance of the lead guitar? These things do come in cycles and, as Warren Buffet says…

the cycle will always last longer that it should, until it is truly ridiculous.

He should know as the greatest investor of his time!

My view is...

The guitar solo is a noble thing, an opportunity for the guitarist to express themself and connect with the listener on a spiritual, almost primeval level. A dangerous, precarious activity where the guitarist plucks victory from the jaws of defeat. To see it consigned to history would be a travesty and a crime against our humanity. Resist!

NEXT >> Part 6 the 2000's