Looking for New Guitar Heroes? Try Instagram

In May 2016, guitarist Rob Scallon posted a video to his YouTube channel of Metallica’s "One" being played on a single eight-string guitar by three guitarists.

It’s an incredible piece of coordination between each player, with five hands in simultaneous motion on one guitar neck (and, in fact, Reverb’s own Joe Shadid was one set of hands). The decision to set the guitar against a black background, to look as though it’s suspended in a boundless void, was a calculated and clever production trick that adds to the video’s panache.

Currently, it has over six million views. A YouTube-famous guitarist based in Chicago, Scallon has amassed a hefty one million subscribers to his channel, thanks to his talent, first and foremost, but also to his savvy and ingenuity when it comes to video direction and monetization.

Rob Scallon - Metallica's "One" Played on One Guitar

Compared to YouTube, Instagram (as a video platform) is quick and dirty. Where Scallon might use three or four cameras during the production of a multicomponent video, Instagram-popular guitarists are often perched on the edges of their beds, in their studio apartments (or perhaps in their parents’ houses). An iPhone propped up on a computer chair plays the role of cameraperson and director for 60 seconds at a time (bumped up from the mere 15 seconds the app offered last year).

Portland metal guitarist Bryce R. VanHoosen, who right now has nearly 12,000 Instagram followers, elaborates: "I wanted to get to where I could put solos on YouTube, but the point of entry for that platform was a little too high. Pro-recorded, shot, and edited—man, I don’t know how to do any of that shit. Then you have Instagram, which was 15-second-long videos, and I was like, ‘OK, 15 seconds... that bar is pretty goddamn low.’"

The draw is similar for the common scroller. Aggregator accounts like Riffwars and Masters of Shred help the cream rise to the top — and guitarists do often tag them in hopes of getting featured on their channels — but with some resolve and a little know-how in the art of snaking through hashtags, you too can easily unlock technical shredders via Instagram.

Some popular hashtag avenues include #universityofrock, #shredguitar, and #lickwars. And while most guitarists seem to go 10 or 15 hashtags deep almost as a reflex, their endgames vary. They might be seeking exposure in hopes of monetizing their skills down the road. Maybe they see Instagram as a tool to help promote their own bands. Or it could be that they began posting videos as a lark, with no ambition other than, "I like to play."

Casey Deeter falls into that last camp. An amiable, easygoing Chicago guitarist who says she discovered The Who’s Tommy during an impressionable time of her life, Deeter, 26, didn’t pay much mind to Instagram early on. Only when she switched her account to "public" and played a cover of Phish’s "Stash" did the followers start piling on (she currently has over 44,000).

"I thought it was crazy that anyone cared, but jam band fans love Instagram," she says. In other words, cater to Dead and Phish diehards and watch the views add up. Plus, Deeter adds the wrinkle of instruction to her videos. As opposed to guitarists who wail over a backing track but keep tight-lipped, she’ll play a snippet of a riff before cutting it off to, for example, dissect the 7/4 time signature in Pink Floyd’s "Money."

A post shared by Casey Deeter (@caseydeeter) on

A post shared by Casey Deeter (@caseydeeter) on

"I’d get messages asking, ‘How do you play that riff? I’m still stuck on cowboy chords.’ I taught guitar for years and thought, ‘People like instruction,’ explains Deeter, who worked at School of Rock Chicago in high school and college. "I’m not playing a character at all. That’s how I talk. I say, ‘This riff is sick, this is rad.’ I sit in my living room everyday and play guitar. It’s who I am."

Whether she’s totally aware of it or not, Deeter is adept at working Instagram’s intimacy angle. Like the 31-year-old VanHoosen, who prefers the rip-and-run quality of video recording on the app, she seems to relish the casualness of it all, noodling through, say, Ween’s "Transdermal Celebration" on her Les Paul Standard like she’s sitting across the campfire from you.

I’m not playing a character at all. That’s how I talk. I say, ‘This riff is sick, this is rad.’ I sit in my living room everyday and play guitar. It’s who I am." - Casey Deeter

Playing into that informality is the fact that neither guitarist is particularly consistent in posting. Deeter, at most, posts a couple videos a week, while the long-maned VanHoosen — sometimes strapped to the nines with a Jackson King V Elite and a King Diamond cut-off T-shirt — is even more scattershot.

"I’ve been trying to post once a week and see how much mileage I can get out of it. I might improv over a jam track or show off what I’m working on," he says. "I understand the consistency factor, but if I did one video a day I’d end up plugging through a lot of the same kind of riffs."

Kieran Johnston, however, is consistent. A 22-year-old guitarist living in Edinburgh, Scotland, Johnston is a technical marvel (#shredding). He stretches his fingers across a guitar neck and gently sprints through scales in what sometimes inexplicably looks like a single, fluid motion. His fret hand drifts, rather than jerks.

Six months ago Johnston says he had around 700 followers on Instagram. But after posting a video in which he promoted progressive-metal guitarist Chris Brooks’s The Yng Way instructional DVD, he’s garnered more attention. Attention that has, in turn, compelled him to push out more content. He’s since focused on posting one video a day and now hovers around 5,500 followers.

"Recording these videos is definitely a hobby, and one that’s incredibly fun," Johnston writes over email. "But I also use them to my advantage to gain a following that might help me have a career as a guitarist and with my band, etc."

Similar to Deeter and VanHoosen, Johnston shoots the majority of his videos in a makeshift home "studio" — in this case, what looks like his bedroom. He’s loyal to hashtags and essentially uses the same ones for every video, believing they provide worthwhile searchability that will help guitarists find him, while he uncovers other subgenres of guitarists. "My style varies but mostly falls under ‘shred,’ branching off into jazz fusion, rock, and metal. My videos are basically clips of me improvising to backing tracks I’ve either found or made."

"Recording these videos is definitely a hobby, and one that’s incredibly fun, but I also use them to my advantage to gain a following that might help me have a career as a guitarist and with my band." - Kieran Johnston

Whatever the motivation, the payoff in followers for Deeter, VanHoosen, and Johnston has been similarly significant, and the labor has been mostly laid-back and low-stakes. The portability and functionality of smartphones means that whenever a guitar is nearby, a player is little more than a minute away from plastering a solo to the screens of captive scrollers.

To label Instagram as the poor guitarist’s YouTube — not to say you would — ultimately does a disservice to the usefulness of the app. Some Gram guitarists absolutely have aspirations to begin their own YouTube channels, but the easy action with which their riffness can be displayed on Instagram (and the exploratory options available to them) can only aid in the cultivation of a brand. Even if that brand is to say, "To hell with being a brand," the influence can still resonate.

"Being a girl holding a guitar, I do get a ton of shit," Deeter unfortunately has to acknowledge. "But I do also get messages from girls and messages from parents saying, ‘I want my daughter to play guitar like you.’ That wasn’t my mission, but I’m a huge proponent for girls playing rock ‘n’ roll. I just want to show that anyone can do this. There’s no secret to it."

What Instagram guitarists do you follow? Let us know in the comments.

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