Interview: Amateur guitarist wins overnight fame with Web

September 01, 2006

In a dingy basement room rented for 10,000 won ($10) per hour in a corner of Seoul’s bustling Hongdae district, Lim Jeong-hyun used to practice his guitar and dream of making a recording one day with his band — like hordes of boys his age in Seoul’s underground music circuit.

Something happened overnight. He was asked to appear on a series of television interviews Thursday (Aug. 31). His small practice room was packed with media crews and his cell phone was bombarded by successive phone calls.

"I woke up this morning and got lots of unwanted calls, some fifty times more than I usualy to get," he said in his practice room, smiling shyly as cameras flashed.

The fame came after the New York Times ran a story about the Korean amateur guitarist, calling him a "web guitar wizard."

Lim’s performance of Pachelbel’s Canon in D drew over 7.7 million hits since its posting on the popular video-sharing site YouTube in October under the alias of "funtwo." His brilliant hand movements and obscured face, shaded by a baseball cap, spurred curiosity among fans abroad. Even impersonators emerged, such as an Indonesian boy living in the United States who declared he was the funtwo while playing in public. That case caused him to write to a New York Times reporter to clarify.

"It wasn’t that I was hurt, to restore my fame or something," he said, "I thought that it was funny and that such a story gets known to many people and needs to be told in truth."

As fast as the fame came, so did vicious messages. Some left belittling remarks on the Internet. Others suspected it was fake, given the tiny time difference between his hand movements and the sound. Lim says he separately recorded his performance for a better sound and put it on the video image a little inaccurately.

"There are many who play much better than me," he said, "I’m thankful that I got compliments, but I’d like to be humble and practice more."

He taught himself guitar over the past five years, based on lessons he took for two months. The electric guitar, a second-hand ESP Alfee Custom SEC-280TC, was a gift from his father, who spends most of his time sailing abroad as the captain of an oil tanker.

Unlike most other Korean parents anxious about their children’s grades, his father let him derail while he was at the top of the class. He now studies information technology at the University of Auckland and spends his vacations in Seoul with his high school friends who formed the band, "Lolita," two years ago.

In his performance room, he reenacted the Canon tunes, with the same glistening guitar and donning his trademark baseball cap. His lauded technique, called sweep-picking, produced a series of notes that are fast, fluid and integral in sound.

With the sudden recognition and phone calls asking him to appear on shows, he is still reluctant to take off his cap and show his face on TV. He prefers to call himself someone who plays guitar as a hobby rather than a musician who dreams of a big debut.

"I want to do this for fun. And if I’m lucky enough, I’d like to make a demo with my band," he said.