Thoughts on Girls and Guitars

I play guitar in a rock/funk/metal band. Yeah, I know, it’s a bit of a mishmash, but it’s fun music to play albeit technically pretty demanding since you gotta know a bunch of very different genres, some of which are technically inherently challenging, like most modern metal.

For years now, we’ve been on the lookout for a second guitarist and a second female vocalist: we figured since we have two male voices, it would be nice to also have two female voices to balance things out. Thing is, five members is already plenty, six would be almost too much, seven… just no; we barely fit on the small stages of our usual venues as a fivesome. That being said, we figured it would be practical if the second guitarist and second female singer were the same person.

We’ve searched high and low, far and wide, but haven’t found anyone to fit the bill, and we’re not even picky! We’d take any girl with a guitar, enough skill to plow through the songs, and a kickass attitude, but… where are they? There are a few very skilled axewomen in the local circles, but they are exclusively focused on the jazz/funk/r&b side of music with no interest in the heavier stuff.

When we look at female musicians in the metal circles, we have plenty of singers (but only a few express themselves any other way than by what’s traditionally “feminine,” i.e. by clean, melodic singing), a few keyboard players, and the odd bass player, but where are all the skilled, female metal guitarists?

Where are all your fellow female axewomen, Lita?

Where are all your fellow female axewomen, Lita?

And don’t get me started on female metal drummers. I know a few exist here and there, but they are about as rare as a live T-Rex with a degree in chemistry and microbiology. Sure, drummers are rare even among men, but male guitarists are a dime a dozen. It’s among the world’s most popular instruments, so what gives? Usually female guitarists aren’t even “proper” guitarists, but singer/songwriters who just strum their guitars to back their main instrument, their singing, or they are punk players who are content banging away their power chords. Most modern metal, however, takes quite a bit of technical skill which, in turn, requires diligent practice.

So, don’t girls like to practice, spend endless hours woodshedding, working on their shredding and tapping? Some call that the musical equivalent of wanking, so since a larger portion of guys have regular onanistic pursuits in comparison to girls, is that the reason? Girls aren’t enthusiastic fiddlers?

No passion for practice?

No passion for practice?

Okay, bad humor aside, what’s the real reason behind this lack of interest in serious practice? I’ve read one interesting theory: in popular culture, it’s practically always the men who are the guitar heroes, the rock gods, while the audience consists of screaming girls who have posters of the cutest band members adorning the walls of their rooms.

Popular culture itself, music videos, movies, even the posters help perpetuate this dichotomy. Kids see images of men performing onstage, of girls screaming in the audience or swooning next to the band members backstage, so naturally the kids usually relate to the pictured representatives of their own sex: the boys see themselves in the role of the worshipped rock gods, the girls see themselves as the worshippers with only the very few exceptions daring to think outside the box and imagine themselves in the place of the rock gods, being worshipped by the adoring crowd. I would hazard a guess that more girls would probably feel comfortable with that setting if the poster depicted a female guitarist and an adoring crowd of cute boys.

Girls can be rock god(desse)s too.

Girls can be rock god(desse)s too.

I’m not sure if we can lay all the blame on social conditioning, but I do believe that theory has some merit if we accept that other kinds of social conditioning affect our behavior as well as our thought processes.

Luckily today, more than ever, we have girls and women paving the way for their future sisters: technically adept ladies are more abundant than ever, but despite the likes of Leah Woodward, leading by example of a serious female guitarist who likes to crank up the gain and blast all-out metal with the best of them, she’s still one of the very few exceptions.

Now if only (wo)mankind would catch up to the new millennium and stop antagonizing girls and women who choose to follow their hearts and dreams instead of social conventions, we’d face a far more diverse palette of talent. Imagine how many wonderful songs remain unwritten because so many girls have been discouraged from picking up an instrument by either their families, friends, or the society in general.

However, even today, being a female rock guitarist is a double edged sword: I’ve heard of a local all-girl punk band who got their first gig before their first practice session! And some of them hadn’t even picked up an instrument before the first band practice. Imagine that: someone proactively sought them out… and offered them a gig… before some of them had played… a single… note. Some club owner had just heard from a friend of a friend of a friend of a new all-girl punk band and immediately called them to play at his club because apparently girls sell.

Then again, it is largely because of that kind of preferential treatment why so many people, men and women alike, don’t take female players seriously. The basic assumption being that the girl guitarist got all her fame, gigs, sponsors etc. simply because of what she has in her pants (or under her skirt).

So being a female guitarist can prodive you with extra opportunities, but also an uphill battle when it comes to earning respect. Without respect, without being taken seriously, several people have a hard time persevering in their chosen activity unless they really, truly love it. And even if they do, having to constantly prove yourself over and over again to hostile doubters may start eating at you over time, causing frustration and even making you give up and quit.

Taking all that into consideration, the next time you see a beginner female guitarist, do us all a favor and offer her some encouragement instead of doubts and criticism even if she gets more attention than you (if you’re male or a non-musician female) because of the combination of her sex and hobby.

When we first start out, a little support can go a long way.

When we first start out, a little support can go a long way.

I do know from experience just how unfair it can be when you see a beginner get far more attention simply because she’s a girl guitarist than I after years of diligent practice and hard work, but so what? None of us like unfair treatment (unless it’s in our favor), but it’s not the girl who’s at fault; it’s the jackasses who place different values on people depending on their sex instead of their skill level. So instead of directing your anger at the rocker girl, either redirect it into practicing or aim it at those who perpetuate inequality, be it for the detriment or benefit of men or women.

Until next time, peace out rock on.

T.Trian

Farewell 2013!

It’s been an eventful year for T. K. Trian. Sure, we still haven’t finished Solus even though we thought we would, but it turned out that despite us working on it almost daily, there’s so much more to do than we ever expected. We have come up with new ideas, found flaws in our plot and writing technique, and wrestled with industry standards vs. creative freedom. It’s a learning curve, writing, but damn is it fun, too!

Nevertheless, there are a few things we can be happy about as we look back Twenty-Thirteen.

1) Joining writingforums.org aka Creative Writing Forums
– T. K. Trian have a lousy history when it comes to writing forums. We tried three places before settling at CW. Got kicked out of one (good riddance), got sick of the amazingly non-creative atmosphere of another, and the third one seemed a little dry. Then came CW, a scintillating community of all kinds of folk but mostly open-minded literary rebels. We’ve made new friends and had the privilege to read amazing, inspiring stories. Who knows what kind of future stars some of them will turn out to be?

2) Adventures
– Despite numerous health problems, we did get to adventure this year, St. Petersburg, Russia being perhaps the highlight. A beautiful city, delicious food, affordable shopping, and fascinating museums. The pitch-black night on the deck of a cruise ship, surrounded by the raging Gulf of Finland was also something to remember.

3) Academic Achievements
– While not anything to brag about, we’ve enjoyed the brainy atmosphere of the University of Helsinki this year as well. It will be a bittersweet day when we both finally graduate…

4) Creative Achievements
– Solus has been our number one focus this year, but on the side, T.Trian has worked hard with his band, Niavka. Some line-up changes have occurred, but the recording of new material has been underway ever since October, and the vocals should be recorded in January-February 2014. Very exciting! We also wrote separate entries to the Annual Science Fiction Contest of CW. Looking forward to finding out how we did!

What were your highlights, personal or professional, of 2013?

Gear Worship

By T. Trian

”Hey, man, I just got a new custom axe! 24 frets, maple fingerboard, hand-wound pick-ups, locking tuners, even a rare-wood body!”

“Dude, check out my new custom 1911, it’s the best pistol ever: bull barrel, lowered ejection port, full-length guide rod, beveled mag well, custom trigger job, adjustable night sights, golf-balled front and back straps, and ivory grips!”

“Seen my knew custom knife yet? It’s made of Damascus steel, it’s got a drop point blade, Micarta scales, convex grind, and it’s full tang… of course; no rat tails for me!” 

If you have any hobby or interest which requires tools, be it playing an instrument, sports, or working with computers, you have probably experienced GAS. Several times. No, I don’t mean flatulence, but a syndrome all too familiar to most people even if they don’t know the term Gear Acquisition Syndrome aka GAS. Many, such as yours truly, suffer of MGAS or Multiple GAS. Presently I’m GASsing for a new guitar head & cab (Blackstar Series One 200 & 2×12 closed cab with V30s), a rifle (VZ-58 since I’m on a budget, a well-tuned AR-10 once I got extra cash), and two fixed blades (a decent kukri and a KA-BAR Eskabar BK14). 

Dishing out hundreds for a blade is cool if you can afford it, but can Damascus really do so much more than 1095 + good heat treatment?

Dishing out hundreds for a blade is cool if you can afford it, but can Damascus really do so much more than 1095 + good heat treatment?

I’m lucky though: I have a gig-worthy amp, albeit a mediocre one, I have a gun, just not a rifle, and I got plenty of knives although not a kukri. That means I can practice all my skills without having to wait until I’ve saved enough money to quench my GAS. Too many people spend too much time mooning over gear porn, fantasizing about their next perfect tool while utterly failing to realize they are just that: tools, not works of art. Yeah, I know, there are guitars and guns out there that could be works of art, but I believe what Miyamoto Musashi said in his Book of Five Rings. Paraphrasing, his message was that you shouldn’t get attached to your sword because it’s just a tool: you should be able to pick up any blade after losing / breaking your last one and perform just as well or almost as well as with your old one.

All too often I’ve witnessed guys who are just utterly lost if they can’t perform on their baby. Okay, that came out wrong, but you get the picture: your favorite, highly customized 1911 craps out on you just before your first stage at an IPSC tournament, and you have to shoot on a borrowed stock Glock. End result: disaster. Or you can’t get your own drum kit to your band’s gig and end up making a mess of the music just because you can’t adapt to another guy’s kit, you’re out of your comfort zone.

Samus Aran relies on this piece, but do you really need one too?

Samus Aran relies on this piece, but do you really need one too?

 That’s just being pampered. When drums were my main instrument, I got to play a gig on my own set… twice. And I played over a hundred gigs in over two dozen bands, which means most of the time I played on someone else’s kit. Usually I brought my own cymbals and snare, but that wasn’t always an option either. I can’t remember the last time I played a gig with my own guitar amp: I just bring my guitar and pedal board and use someone else’s amp which is sometimes an adventure (ever tried setting up quickly on a Mesa Road King when you got no soundcheck and just 5 minutes until it’s time to start the set? Not that they aren’t great amps, but it’s a good idea to know the owner in situations like that and make sure he/she’s not yet too drunk to help). Band competitions always have schedules tighter than a homophobe’s asshole at a gay club, so a couple of times I’ve had to play my wife’s SG when I’ve broken a string mid-song on my Telecaster. It’s a bit nerve-wrecking, but perfectly doable as long as I don’t pay attention to what can’t be done, and focus on what can be done with the backup instrument.

Good enough for Keif, but not good enough for you?

Good enough for Keif, but not good enough for you?

          
Writers are lucky in this respect: we rarely rely on gear to such an extent as musicians or athletes. Some still enjoy working with pen and paper and those living in the current century are usually content with whatever POS comp that has some word editor and internet access. For a long time K and I wrote on one laptop. It was a bit annoying, switching back and forth, especially since most scenes involve both of our characters, but it was all we could afford at the time, so we made do. A friend of ours built a computer for us as a wedding present in 2010 and soon we realized what a good idea it would be to get two mice and two keyboards. Now if only someone figured out how to install a second cursor and pointer on Windows and we’d be set for life! All seriousness aside, two mice and two keyboards are already a dream come true for a team of two writers.

So do writers suffer of gear worship? Well, yes and no. The problem is just less hardware-related and more… “software”-related. And by software, I mean our minds. I have encountered many self-proclaimed “writers” even though they actually never write anything. They just talk a lot about writing, crit other people’s works (usually excessively harshly), and discuss the theoretical aspects of writing, the process of getting published etc. ad nauseam. Yet they too, like our more musical or athletic brothers and sisters, fall into the trap of focusing on anything and everything besides the most important, definitive thing, i.e. writing.

I don’t know what it is about writing that seems to draw such people. Maybe it’s the artsy-fartsy tag “writer” they’re after even though they lack the fire and passion of actual writers. Kind of like MMA aficionados who have seen every UFC bout and then some, yet have never gone to a single MMA (or any martial arts) class. Why? Because MMA, like any other sport, art, or craft, is fucking hard work. Becoming good takes a shitload of effort, time, and dedication, often great sacrifices as well, but, then again, if you truly are a crafts(wo)man, that doesn’t matter. Hell, many of us enjoy the hard work on some masochistic level; getting our asses kicked at the gym, practicing guitar licks we can’t play until our fingers ache and sting, writing and rewriting our WIPs until we dream about the characters only to have our betas / forum critics bash it and tear us a new one. Well, our wonderful betas have been gracious enough to at least wear silk gloves while doing the tearing, but you get the picture: it’s not always fun and games. Nothing is if you do it enough to become good at it.

I believe it’s just that, the amount of discomfort and hardship, which drives many of us to dream of better gear, thinking (usually mistakenly) it would somehow help us suck less. Well, unless your guitar is an utter piece of excrement that barely deserves the name, doesn’t stay in tune longer than a few seconds (like my first electric guitar: didn’t stay in tune through even one song, but it taught me to tune by ear since I couldn’t be arsed to always use a tuner), can’t be set up for correct intonation etc. a more expensive guitar won’t make you sound any better. You’ll just look stupid sucking onstage, being outplayed by the virtuoso with a stock $500 axe he bought used from his neighbor. Just like you’ll look ridiculous missing your target with your custom race gun when competing against some guy with a Glock who spent a fraction of the money on his gun and the rest on ammo and actually practiced, got good.

The same goes for us writers: we should focus less on extra-curricular activities, like debating word choices, finding the best character data sheet template, asking ‘is this plot twist good?’ and pay more attention to the craft itself. It’s pointless to wonder whether you should e-publish, self-publish, or go traditional if you haven’t even finished the first draft of your MS. Or, rather, if you haven’t finished the 100th draft, because every single first draft ever produced is crap. Don’t kid yourself and pretend your shit doesn’t stink; it does, just like mine, his, and hers. And their dog’s.

I got a proposal for you: take one day a week, every week for one year when you do nothing else writing-related but write your story. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first or 100th draft. It doesn’t matter if you’re editing a specific part or rewriting the whole shebang. What matters is putting words on paper (or screen). Get that word count up, four digits or more. If you are a writer, you should write. That’s what we do. If you don’t write even this much… well, let’s put it this way: nobody likes the guy who never trains martial arts but wears TapOut and constantly talks about the latest UFC event. Don’t be that guy. Instead, be the Musashi of writing: focus on your skills, focus on improving them, and not through hardwire updates either. Write on your computer, write on your cell phone while on the bus to work / school, write on a napkin at lunch, doesn’t matter : just write.
 
Peace out,

T. Trian
 
PS. Also, what rock have you been living under if you think gun / knife / guitar porn means porn involving any of said items (yes, such people actually do exist)? To all the cave dwellers out there: it means pictures of those items, usually expensive, well-made ones you drool at in magazines or at trade shows. Now go and clean your dirty fucking mind already, scrub, rinse, repeat, and then learn to use fucking Google when you encounter an unfamiliar expression.