April 2016 – A Matter Of Personal Taste

posted in: Opinion | 0

Let’s face it; one of the peculiarities of most musicians is the vehement adherence to unjustifiable preferences, often to almost extreme levels of obsessiveness, usually responded to with the rather inadequate defence of ‘personal taste’. In fact, I agree with this assertion but then again, I have pretentions of being a musician.

Whether it’s guitar brand, colour, age, style, etc., it doesn’t matter. Whether it is maple or rosewood, Fender or Gibson, pristine or relic, clean or distorted, analogue or digital, valve or transistor, single coil or humbucker, etc., it doesn’t matter. It all comes down to ‘personal taste’. Where are you along the continuum between slavish conservatism to the unwaveringly traditional at one end and rampant experimentalism exploring the wildly deviant at the other? No one view is right or wrong, especially to the exclusion of every other perspective that our ever-present dogmas might suggest. Are we able to accept that, as long as we are passionate about our craft, that’s the most important thing – how we go about expressing it is another?

Can we acknowledge that embracing and tolerating diversity is what drives creative progress and that there is a valid place for everyone’s particular bias? One sure thing musicians can agree on is that we will disagree with each other, constructively and destructively and this is what drives musical originality and innovation.

This got me thinking about how we develop our ‘personal taste’ and music is a prime example of what makes us, well, us. Why do we like the music we like? How did we develop our likes and dislikes in such a clear cut way as we grow up (and old)? When I was young, rock was for the young and I thought that, as I got older, I my tastes would ‘mature’ to appreciate other forms, such as jazz or classical music. Didn’t happen!

The nature versus nurture argument probably has some legitimacy. There is something innately primitive about music in the way that it gets under our skin emotionally and spiritually, for instance in the way it gives you goose bumps or makes the hairs on the back of your neck tingle. For some, it can cause eyeballs to leak and become inexplicably soggy – go figure. However, no two individuals are alike and, as individuals, we will all be affected by the same stimulus in different ways. The superficial nature of that stimulus and our physiological, psychological and behavioural response to it may be the similar but the musical genre that caused it may be poles apart.

As with most things in our universe, there is science behind the theory of music and academics can spend entire lives researching the subject. However, science cannot easily explain the impact that the simplest of melodies can evoke in the spirit. In the same way that I’m not acquainted with the complex nature of the human psyche, I am not attuned to the disciplined mechanics that make those few little notes work together the way they do, in almost infinite permutations. Einstein understood but couldn’t necessarily explain it. While the laws of music transcend theology, those with faith use it to rouse the religious fervour of their ecclesiastical leanings… gospel and soul anyone? Mining the depth and breadth of psychology, science and religion, are all aspects of the human condition that set us apart and yet ‘personal taste’ still prevails and our ability to understand it appears to be finitely constrained. Other life forms, it has been proven, are affected by music but there is no evidence to suggest that they depend on it in the same way that human beings do. We need music as an intrinsic part of the pattern of our daily lives.

Why does person A like country and person B like death metal, while person C likes indie music and person D likes blues? Classical versus contemporary, jazz versus rock; the differences are as stark as the motivations that perpetuate them. It isn’t just hereditary, as generational differences appear to be as diverse as interpersonal ones. It isn’t just environmental, as close genetic relations may have completely divergent interests. I am not a psychologist but I am fascinated by the differences in ‘personal taste’, especially in the way that music (and the instruments that produce it) induce an almost primordial response. Something has driven musical development in parallel with (and as a reflection of) social and economic development over several millennia, although it is not clear why. This is zeitgeist. It is the same with our beloved 6-string (and 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12, etc. strings) that have evolved with us.

Just in case you hadn’t twigged (!), I adore ‘Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric Guitars’. New mass-produced ones just leave me cold, as do acoustics – apologies. Give me a vintage Martin D28 and my response will be “meh”, while an equivalent Gibson ES-150 would pique my interest. Why? What happened to cause that inconsistent reaction? I really don’t have a clue! In other articles, I’ve explored why one guitar might be ‘better’ than another but that depends on the irrational criteria one uses to judge ‘betterness’. When it comes down to ‘personal taste’, there really is no right or wrong, just preferences and individual opinion.

So, guitar desirability at its most fundamental is subjective, wildly unreliable and almost impossible to measure empirically. I don’t believe in the vintage guitar business that ‘perceived wisdom’ is worth anything other than £/$/Є/¥ to avaricious collectors who are more interested in the sound of their return-on-investment than they are to the sound of the valuable instruments they horde. This prevailing dogma needs to be challenged.

As diehard conservatives, guitarists frequently bow to tradition and act like lemmings to what is, let’s face it, to all intents and purposes, an expensive bit of old dead wood. I test my prejudices on this matter regularly and still haven’t found any evidence to back up my individual frames of reference. The ‘magic’ ignites when the combination of person, instrument and listener ‘click’ for whatever reason, and thank heaven for that. Perhaps it is the indefinable that fascinates us and makes us intensely curious. Quite why music resonates with us in the way that it does is a mystery and one that deserves conscious exploration. Just don’t expect concrete answers any time soon.

If anyone has any insights to this conundrum, I would be happy to debate the substance. However, and this is a warning to philistines who may try to resolve my ridiculous confusion, I am not interested in a cure for my apparent addiction or the production of a ‘truth’ behind what constitutes ‘personal taste’. Enjoy the ride and, whatever you do, stick to your principles. It is time to stop fruitless analysis and get back to craving for and playing Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric Guitars. Until next time…

P.S. I was thinking about this. Attraction to guitars is similar to the emotional response to a woman – you instantly know whether it’s a wow! or a meh! Just a thought.

CRAVE Guitars ‘Music Quote of the Month’: “Music may be a very human concept, although the science of sound might suggest that we simply tapped into something far more fundamental to the universe.”

© 2016 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

← Return to ‘Musings’ page

Like it? Why not share it?