Jammin’ with the big boys

Sean Joseph

10-year-old guitarist barely taller than instrument

Ethan Long, 10, picks at a wood-toned electric guitar in front of awards and pictures in his practice room at home.

Credit: Beth Rankin

Ethan Long aspires to top the record charts and tour around the country, just like a lot of people who have played the guitar half of their lives. But this aspiring rock icon is only 10 years old.

He plays gigs at bars and in front of crowds at Kent State basketball games. He wins competitions against musicians of all ages, but he is just getting ready to enter the fifth grade at Walls Elementary School.

Ethan said he does not know any other musicians his age, but the fact that he is in elementary school and can’t even get into bars without his parents does not mean he can’t find people to play with. Recently, Ethan has been filmed playing his guitar in the independent movie Expect a Miracle, about a person battling cancer, which will be released in September. Last weekend he played two 45-minute sets with Cleveland Fats at a bar in Ravenna.

Ethan studies classical guitar under George Bachmann, an instructor in the Hugh A. Glauser School of Music at the university. He also has another instructor who teaches him electric guitar and music theory.

“(Bachmann) gives me the same songs to practice that he gives his college students,” Ethan said, as he sat on his stool in a room full of guitars and guitar décor, getting ready to play a couple tunes.

The music stand in front of him had a large stack of sheet music ranging from Eric Clapton to Bach.

“My biggest strengths are improvising and being able to play something right after I hear it,” Ethan said.

Ethan’s mother, Nancy Long, hit play on a background track, and Ethan took off his glasses before filling the room up with his improvised melodies. His practice room is decorated with 12 guitars hanging on the wall, pictures from all of his gigs and trophies from contests. Ethan’s first guitar is mounted on the wall behind him as he picks at a wood-toned electric guitar.

“When he was five years old he really wanted a guitar for Christmas,” Ethan’s father, Ken Long, said. “His grandparents gave one to him, and he always carried it around the house. Then we started thinking about getting him some private lessons.”

Now he practices once in the morning and once in the evening every day, along with his two private lessons every week, Ethan said.

Ethan’s mother said he is very gifted and disciplined for a 10-year-old, but she only wants his talent to take him as far as he wants it to. She said she always watches to see if he is having fun or getting overwhelmed with his practice regiment.

“As long as he’s doing what he likes to do then we’ll support him,” Ethan’s father said. “Then maybe someday we’ll get to be roadie parents.”

Ethan’s parents said the work ethic he uses with guitar shows up in other things, too. He is a straight-A student and a strong competitor in soccer.

“I get a real charge out of it when he’s up on stage playing cold,” Ethan’s dad said. “But I’m also really proud of him because he practices so hard and works so well with his teachers and his mom.”

White Ethan’s talent surpasses his age, he will be the first to admit he still has a lot to learn.

The more he learns the more he finds out how much more there is to know, Ethan said. He would like to learn to play faster songs on his guitar and work on his vocals.

“We want him to stay humble and just be a kid that watches cartoons and eats ice cream,” Ethan’s mom said.

Contact off-campus reporter Sean Joseph at [email protected].