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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).