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Opinion: Percussive acoustic guitar… is it any good?

In the first of a series of monthly opinion blogs Total Guitar's Music Editor, Chris Bird, asks if the acoustic scene really needs to get percussive.

Issue 202 of Total Guitar sees a full transcription of Newton Faulkner's cover version of Massive Attack's 'Teardrop' - a track that many would say gave a kick up the rear end to the whole genre of percussive acoustic guitar.

Sure, players like Preston Reed and Michael Hedges were playing this way 30-odd years ago, but who ever heard of them, except guitar nerds like me (and quite possibly you, too)?

Now, I am a fan of this style of playing. I find it inventive, exciting and original - Thomas Leeb, Eric Roche, Andy McKee and Antoine Dufour are regularly found in my CD player, but I was shocked the other day when a friend and colleague of mine (an experienced producer of acoustic guitar music, as it happens) described percussive guitar as "just bashing the thing".

Somewhat taken aback, I retorted, "What about Preston's beautiful sense of groove… or the energy of Eric Roche's percussive playing?"

"Hmm," he replied. "It's still just bashing the thing, and often at the expense of a decent melody."

Newton faulkner - a percussive acoustic guitarist

Newton faulkner - a percussive acoustic guitarist

© Rune Hellestad/Corbis

I have to admit, I kind of find myself agreeing with him on this. A lot of percussive guitar is based on repeating grooves: 'Teardrop' can essentially be boiled down to one bar of music, for heaven's sake - the rest is just a variation on the theme!

This may also account for Newton's huge success. He has taken the style and added a huge voice: a melodic hook and a young face - something his forebears never managed. It's why your mum may very well have heard of him, but will look at a loss when you speak of any of the other players mentioned above.

So I pose the question: percussive acoustic guitar… is it any good, or is it just guitar-bashing?

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Newton Faulkner's 'Teardrop' cover (including the 'bashy' bits) is tabbed in full in TG202 (on sale now).

Chris has been the Editor of Total Guitar magazine since 2020. Prior to that, he was at the helm of Total Guitar's world-class tab and tuition section for 12 years. He's a former guitar teacher with 35 years playing experience and he holds a degree in Philosophy & Popular Music. Chris has interviewed Brian May three times, Jimmy Page once, and Mark Knopfler zero times – something he desperately hopes to rectify as soon as possible.