The Declining Popularity of the Guitar Solo

In the sixth episode of his “Axe to Grind” series, prolific essayist Noah Lefevre of Polyphonic takes a look at the music of the 1990s and 2000s, noting how the iconic guitar solo began its descent as new forms of music became more popular, despite the excellent guitarists of the time.

The grunge scene that erupted out of Seattle in the early 90s in response to the indulgences of hard rock began an era of guitar decline but the guitarists responsible had no intention of killing their own art form.

Legends such as Brian May, David Gilmour, Carlos Santana, and Prince all continued to make their indelible marks at this time, but the era of guitar-centered music was on the decline.

Prince’s solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is by any measure a triumph, but the fact that an 80s pop artist doing a solo at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction was one of the most celebrated of the era is a clear sign of the medium’s popular decline by the early 2000s as Rock’s mainstream viability, 

LeFevre praised the excellent guitar work of Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Dimebag Darrell (Pantera) John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Adrian Utley (Portishead) and especially, Jack White.

By embracing the raw minimalist approach of Johnny Ramone and Kurt Cobain, Jack White was able to make the electric guitar cool again …Seven Nation Army stands as perhaps the last true Rock Anthem and one of the last solos to have a major impact on the broader music culture.

Despite this naysaying, there is hope for the future.

Over the rest of the 2000s and 2010s guitarists would work in their own niche scenes but the guitar solo had disappeared almost entirely from the popular consciousness. While guitar solos may be gracing radio airwaves less than they once were, underground guitar scenes are beginning to thrive once more. In fact some of the greatest guitarists ever to live are cutting music today and slowly the foundations for a rebirth of the guitar solo may just be happening right now under our very noses.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.