Korea’s godfather of rock still going strong

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Korea’s godfather of rock still going strong


Shin Joong-hyun

Shin Joong-hyun, 72, has always made his own way in the music business. Back in the 1960s and ’70s, when other Korean singers were singing translated versions of pop songs from other countries, Shin was one of the few artists to write and sing his own songs, which was what catapulted him to stardom. Despite his success, the government of Park Chung Hee, which viewed his music as frivolous in the midst of Korea’s push towards industrialization, prohibited him from producing music from 1975 to 1980.

Today, he is known as the godfather of Korean rock music and his songs still have the power to dazzle audiences young and old.

In December, he became the sixth guitarist to receive a custom made guitar from Fender Musical Instruments Corp., the leading manufacturer of guitars in the world. Since 1964, Fender has dedicated custom made guitars to musicians who have made significant contributions to rock music. Other guitarists who have received the honor include Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Yngwie Malmsteen and Eddie Van Halen. Shin is the first Asian to be given such an honor.

Shin’s guitar was custom made by master guitar maker Dennis Galuszka. The body of the guitar is made of black ash and the neck is made of maple. The words “Tribute to Shin Joong Hyun” are carved on the guitar’s face. The guitar was designed to resemble the one used by Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s, according to Shin’s request. Fender added antique features to the guitar to complete the look.

On July 12, the JoongAng Ilbo sat down with Shin for an exclusive interview at his home in Yongin, Gyeonggi, where he talked about his new guitar and his plans to keep making music.

Q. How does it feel to be the owner of such a special guitar?

A. Of course I’m really happy to receive this custom made guitar from Fender, but I’m also under a lot of pressure. This guitar is really the best guitar in the world, and I feel like I have the responsibility to produce music that is of the very best quality.

Fender must have dedicated the guitar to you because your music is already some of the best in the world.

Rock is not specific to any one country. So rock music from different parts of the world carries distinct characteristics. I also tried to incorporate Korean elements to my music and that’s probably why Fender became interested in me. What’s more, the guitarists who have received tribute guitars from Fender are very famous rock stars, but I’m not all that famous. I guess what Fender and music fans expect me to do is to keep producing music in my own style and technique, and add to the diversity in the rock world.

When did Fender first contact you?

About a year and two months before I got this guitar. They asked about the shape and materials I liked in a guitar. When I finally got the guitar, it was absolutely great. I never imagined that I would be able to play a guitar of this quality.

How good is the guitar?

Simply put, it is a miracle a guitar like this exists. This guitar expresses everything I have in my mind.

How many guitars have you bought from Fender?

I’m not sure. In the past, no matter how little money I had, if I heard about a good guitar, I bought it without a second thought. I’ve broken so many during performances, but I think I have about five or six left at home. But my three sons, who are also musicians, will probably take them away soon, as from now on, I won’t play any other guitar but this one.

What do you like about guitars?

A guitar can express anything. For example, there is a technique where you pull a string upwards or downwards to change the note. It is a subtle change you cannot easily produce with other instruments. Also, amplifiers expand the scope of expression to infinity. It’s limitless.

When I retired in 2006, I thought I probably would not have another chance to perform in front of an audience, but receiving the Fender guitar seems to be a sign that is my calling to continue making music.

By Lee Kyong-hee [estyle@joongang.co.kr]
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