The following is an excerpt from the new May/June 2013 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine.
By Dan Epstein
While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact date that the guitar made its celluloid debut, it’s likely that the instrument was first captured in a motion picture sometime in the mid 1890s, when Edison Laboratories began filming music hall performances with its newly invented Kinetograph.
It’s equally likely that, even in its earliest movie appearances, the guitar was used as a comedic prop. There’s always been something about the guitar that, in the right hands—or even better, the wrong ones—can add extreme levity to any situation. Even in the absence of sound, a guitar can represent absurdity, pomposity, pathos, silliness, and a host of other emotions, attitudes, and attributes that play well with comic scenarios. And, of course, a guitar makes a brilliant slapstick device, especially when smashed with theatrical flourish against the nearest wall, floor, or cranium.
The guitar-as-comedic-device is a grand tradition that continues on to this day in both film and television, with the guitar’s four-string bass cousin occasionally getting into the act as well. Over the years, the guitar has appeared with such comedic giants as Groucho Marx, John Belushi, and Cheech & Chong, and been a vehicle of rock and roll fantasy for everyone from Herman Munster to Tenacious D.
Picking the 25 funniest guitar-related scenes from more than a century of clips was no mean feat—one could easily make a Top 25 devoted entirely to the collected works of Jack Black, who appears twice here. But we’ve managed to come up with a list that should tickle your funny bone even as it inspires you to pick up the nearest guitar. But just remember: if you decide to smash it on something (or someone) for a laugh, Guitar Aficionado cannot be held responsible for any damages.
Film: Wayne’s World (1992)
Scene: No Stairway
Mike Myers utilizes a most shredular “May I help you?” riff to attract a sales clerk’s attention at his local guitar shop, but he’s shut down when he tries to play the intro to Led Zeppelin’s most popular song. “No Stairway,” he laments. “Denied!”
Film: Back to the Future (1985)
Scene: The Enchantment Under the Sea Dance
Nineteen-Eighties teen Marty McFly fills in on guitar at the high school dance and blows the minds of the Fifties-era kids and musicians in attendance by incorporating power chords, feedback, and two-handed tapping into “Johnny B. Goode.” “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet,” he tells the bewildered crowd. “But your kids are gonna love it.”
Film: High Fidelity (2000)
Scene: Conversation with the Boss
John Cusack wishes he could reconnect with his top five ex-girlfriends and clear the air, “like a Bruce Springsteen song.” Cue a surprise appearance from the Boss himself, who offers up some sage advice on the subject while picking out sweet blues licks on an old Telecaster.
Film: Better Off Dead (1985)
Scene: “Everybody Wants Some!!”
While working the grill at a burger joint, high school loser John Cusack daydreams about being a mad scientist who creates a hamburger that sings Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” while doing whammy-bar dive bombs on a miniature EVH-style Ibanez Destroyer. (Yes, we know Destroyers didn’t have whammy bars, but how else is a burger supposed to do dive bombs?)
FOR THE REST OF THIS STORY, plus features on the Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Collection, Neil Giraldo and his guitars, Steve Martin and more, check out the May/June 2013 issue (The Comedy Issue) of Guitar Aficionado, which is available now at the Guitar Aficionado Online Store.