Modern Guitar Ensembles

A USC Thornton student in flashy concert attire plays the acoustic guitar.
This picture shows the hands of a member playing the electric guitar.

Directed by Richard Smith, our modern guitar ensembles (Superaxe, TU2 and TU4) are celebrating their third decade as an invigorating part of the Contemporary Music Division at the USC Thornton School of Music. These ensembles have won first-place awards at over a dozen jazz festival competitions on the West Coast and in the Southwest. The ensembles generally consist of four electric guitarists with bass and drums. The bass and drum chairs are filled by Jazz Studies students and Popular Music Performance students, and occasionally the bass chair is fulfilled by one of our guitarists doubling on bass.

In the past, these ensembles have hosted Guthrie Govan, Carl Verheyen, Scott Henderson, Robben Ford, Pat Metheny, Lee Ritenour and others in a concert, recording or master class setting. Some of the ensembles have an arrangement requirement, from which a unique library has grown that features a diverse array of arrangements for the ensembles. The library features the music of seminal artists such as Frank Zappa, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Vulfpeck, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter and D’Angelo. 

Alumni from the Modern Guitar Ensembles are teachers, department chairs and deans at institutions around the world and can be seen with such notable ensembles as John Legend, Vampire Weekend, Gwen Stefani, Thundercat, Elton John, Madonna, U2, Jenifer Lopez and Shakira as well as on hit television programs such as American Idol, Dancing with the Stars and Glee.