How to improve your guitar playing without bothering to learn any new techniques
Playing the guitar is, to be frank, hard work. It's tough on your fingertips, you've got to work out how to hit the right string at the right time without losing the plectrum in the sound-hole and some of the fiddlier chords can make spaghetti of your hands. And that's just the basics.
Thankfully, some of the masters of the instrument have found creative ways to make noise happen without getting bogged down in technique. Here's a quick guide on how to abuse your guitar when it refuses to behave, just like the pros.
Step 1: hit it
The arrival of a well-timed thump or thwack to a guitar in order to add a percussive bang or click is not a recent phenomenon, just ask anyone involved in Spanish flamenco. But it's noticeable that everyone from Newton Faulkner to Jon Gomm has taken up the one-man-band approach, dispensing with the drummer and bashing away like angry typists. The Showhawk Duo have even managed to recreate entire rave classics with a bit of thumping and some finger-tapping.
Step 2: add strings
Take a look at this 1970s footage of Big Joe Williams playing the blues like he used to back in the 1930s. He's playing a 9-string guitar, which appears to have been self-customised (the tuning pegs don't normally come out of the top like that, and there is a lot of sticky tape everywhere). Big Joe would also attach things to his amplifier - a pie plate with a beer can suspended on top - to make them jangle while he played. This is a great way to create a live rhythmic accompaniment and not split the money with any percussionist friends.
Step 3: remove strings
Seasick Steve is not the only performer to dispense with those strings he has no use for. The B-52s' Ricky Wilson played with just four strings (and claimed not to know how to tune his guitar to play his own songs, for extra mystery) and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones uses a tuning that dispenses with his bottom E string, as it just gets in the way. And he's been playing the guitar for ages.
Even if you keep all the strings on, the slightest retune can make things easier, as Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro reveals in this tutorial.
Step 4: customise it
Taking a leaf out of Big Joe's book, Muse's Matt Bellamy is forever having his guitars customised so that they can do things other guitars can't. He's put in MIDI controllers and sustain enhancers and very probably something involving bluetooth and the Hubble space telescope. If you lack the finances, try jamming a drumstick in the strings and playing with the spangly noises at high volume, like Sonic Youth.
Step 5: smash it up
If your guitar is still refusing to do what it is told, it may be time to give it a sound thrashing and start again. Pete Townshend of The Who is the recognised master of the art of smashing the guitar in a musical way, developing great howls of feedback as he biffed various doomed instruments against his (newly invented) Marshall stack. Jimi Hendrix borrowed a few of these ideas too, playing with his teeth and setting his guitar on fire. That'll teach it.
And if all else fails, remove guitar
There is no reason why you can't get all the enjoyment out of playing the guitar without actually having or needing a guitar to play in the first place. Take a tip from Guy "The Bandit" Thompson, the UK champion air guitarist, as he puts Saturday Live's Reverend Richard Coles (a former pop star with The Communards, let's not forget) through his paces. Or you could go completely the other way and organise a hugely orchestral piece involving all the guitars - and guitarists, such as Yannis Philippakis from Foals - you can lay your hands on.