I’ve been an avid guitar player since about age 12. While I’ve learned to play many different styles (classical, jazz, blues, rock, country, etc.), my favorite style is “shred”: think intricate, technical, but exciting lead guitar work à la Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, or a lot of 80s hard rock bands. Fast two-handed tapping, sweep arpeggios, pinch harmonics, funny whammy bar screams—that’s the kind of stuff that gets me going. Or, if I’m in a classical mood, I might play Paganini or Vivaldi violin-pieces on guitar.
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2STiKIQ15RuMUhPSEFKb1NSVVE/view (click to play a sample. Unfortunately, I didn't succeed in embedding it)
I don’t have an exciting story for how I picked it up. I just started listening to hard rock and heavy metal music in 4th grade, and knew early on I wanted to learn to do that fancy guitar work. Sometime in middle school, I purchased a used guitar from a friend. It was cheap red “Rokaxe” brand; I’m pretty sure it was made out of congealed wood goop rather than real wood. I started taking lessons and learning music theory the next day, and kept at it.
Throughout high school and college, I only had cheap equipment, despite being in a few gigging bands here and there. But in 2005, Arizona, my graduate school, gave me a cash award for being the most outstanding graduate student, which I used to buy a semi-custom Carvin. Since then I’ve collected a good range of axes, including a Music Man Majesty, Fender American Deluxe Telecaster, Carvin DC747 seven-string, an 8-string guitar, and, most recently, a replica of Eddie Van Halen’s “Frankenstrat”. I play all these through a four-channel high-gain Marshall JVM tube amplifier and half-stack.
Now that my kids are older (nine and five), I have far more time to play. I manage to practice about half an hour a day most days. I recently formed/joined two bands. One, Fürst Try, plays my kind of music: 60s-80s hard rock (Cream, Hendrix, SRV, Van Halen, AC/DC, Bon Jovi, Journey, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Rush). We’re a power trio. I do vocals and guitar. The other, He’s Not Here, plays 80s new wave and post-punk (e.g., the Pretenders, Psychedelic Furs, INXS, Police). It’s not my kind of music (in part because it’s not challenging), but it’s something to do.
The way I make time for this is the way I make time for everything else: In college, I transferred to a new university and switched majors. I had to overload on credit hours, plus work part-time, plus try to maintain enough of a social presence that my girlfriend (to whom I’ve now been married for almost 16 years) wouldn’t leave me. I learned then how to manage my writing and reading time effectively in order to get things done. There’s no big secret: I make sure to write for 3-4 hours a day every working day, and I always write before I do anything else. I don’t let the urgent take precedence over the important. I find that’s good enough to be productive while still maintaining a good home-life balance. (I play with my kids daily, read to them, take them to sports practice, cook dinner, do laundry, and hang out with my spouse.)
There’s no real link to philosophy, but for fun, I tend to sneak guitar and music references into most of my writing. That said, when Peter Jaworski and I were writing our 2015 book Markets without Limits, we wanted a metaphor to express the idea that certain markets are good at any number of widely varied conditions, while other markets were good only under very particular conditions. I said to him, “Oh, that reminds me of how guitar amps work. Every guitar amp has a bunch of knobs on the front that control gain, volume, equalization, and other factors. Certain amps, such as the Marshall Super Lead, sound good no matter how you set those knobs. Others, such as the Mesa Boogie Mark IIC+, sound bad at most settings, but then are glorious when you put the knobs just right.” To my surprise, he (and, it turned out, dozens of audiences around the country) found that metaphor illuminating, so we put it in the book.
My mentor, David Schmidtz, tells his graduate students the following bit of advice: “Earn rewards, then take them.” It’s part of his recipe for making sure you stay motivated and don’t burn out. On a daily basis, that might mean that if you get four hours of writing done before lunch, you can go out to lunch. On a weekly basis, it might mean that if you meet your goals, you can see a movie. On a longer scale, it might mean that when you get your first book contract, a job, or tenure, you buy yourself a prize or take a trip. He certainly means that you should reward yourself for doing your work by giving yourself time to do your hobby.