Four Pieces of Guitar Gear That Changed Music


wildwoman1313
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
wildwoman1313
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
09/26/2012 9:48 pm



[U]Four Pieces of Guitar Gear That Changed Music[/U]


Guitar gear is somewhat of a catch-all phrase that essentially refers to all things related to playing the guitar—from strings and straps to picks and polish, cases and stands, cables and amps, pedals and tuners and capos, even light and stage accessories if you happen to be in the performance business. Simply put, stuff.

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I am not a gear hound nor am I tech-minded. I don't know everything about guitars and equipment. But I know what I like and what I think sounds cool. In any case, and in no particular order, here are four pieces of gear that I have used personally and consider to be gear—among a mountain of other gadgets and gizmos—that has revolutionized the way we make, and experience, music.

Solid Body Guitar

Although there's controversy over who invented the solid body guitar—Les Paul was the first to build it, Leo Fender, the first to commercially market it—it tops this list for how drastically it changed music. Volume was no longer a function of the guitar, but the pickup and its associated electronic circuit.

The evolution of the guitar came about as the limitations of the acoustic to project over the horns of the big bands of the day, as well as on phonograph recordings and commercial radio, made it hard to be heard. Quite simply, people wanted louder guitars.

Guitar makers began not only building larger flat top and archtop guitars, but increasingly experimenting with different materials and designs. The idea of using electricity to create louder string instruments already existed by the end of the 19th century, but it was only during the 1920s and 1930s that engineers, makers, and musicians began to solve some of the challenges of electronic amplification.

Solid body electric Hawaiian guitars had been around for awhile before George Beauchamp took up the cause around 1931. Beauchamp, working with Adolph Rickenbacker, produced an electromagnetic pickup in which a current passed through a coil of wire wrapped around a magnet, creating a field which amplified the vibrations of the strings. Introduced on a lap-steel known as the Frying Pan, the pickup made this guitar the first commercially viable electric.

By the late 1930s the new technology was adapted to the more traditional Spanish-style hollow-body wooden guitars, which were troubled with distortions, overtones, and feedback. Inventors began trying to address these sound difficulties by experimenting with solid, rather than hollow, guitar bodies.

In the 1940s, Les Paul created a guitar called the "Log," which came from a 4x4 solid block of pine he had inserted between the sawed halves of the body. He then carefully rejoined the neck to the pine log using some metal brackets, and added some pickups that he'd designed. Paul shopped his guitar around to various companies but was roundly rejected.

While Les Paul was looking for someone to manufacture his "Log" guitar, Leo Fender was working on his own solid body. Fender's Broadcaster guitar came out in 1950. Widely considered to be the most important guitar ever made, the Broadcaster was blonde in color and had a slanted pickup mounted into a steel bridge-plate carrying three adjustable bridge-saddles. Two single-coil pickups introduced the clean, bright Fender sound, which was developed out of Leo's love of the lap steel guitar and its Hawaiian twang. With its basic, single-cutaway solid slab of ash for a body and separate screwed-on maple neck, the Broadcaster (later renamed the Telecaster to avoid a potential trademark conflict with Gretsch) is considered to be the world’s first mass-produced, commercially marketed solid body electric guitar.

After the Telecaster caught on, the Gibson company contacted Les Paul and had him endorse a guitar named in his honor—The Gibson Les Paul. It came out in 1952.

The many famous artists who have played the Telecaster—Jeff Beck, George Harrison, Jimmy Page, Muddy Waters, David Gilmour, Jimmy Bryant, Buck Owens, Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen, and a host of others—helped propel it to classic status.

Marshall Amp

Many of us grew up with posters on our bedroom walls of our guitar heroes shredding away in front of a wall of Marshalls. The amps, known for their signature "crunch," were at the forefront of the loud, aggressive, fuzzy aesthetic of rock music. A Marshall stack is synonymous with heavy rock and metal, and is in no small measure responsible for significant hearing loss among musicians and fans alike, including yours truly.

There are only a few people who can truly be credited with shaping the sound of music as we know it today. The late Jim Marshall can certainly be counted among them. His breakthroughs in amplifier design earned him the title "The Father of Loud." Marshall, along with the late, great trio of Leo Fender, Les Paul and Seth Lover (inventor of the humbucker pickup), is one of the cornerstones of all things rock.

By today's standards, early amplifiers were pretty meek. From the 1930s to the mid-1950s, amps had an output of 15 watts or less, and they used radio technology, vacuum tubes, and small loudspeakers. As the popularity of the electric guitar grew, there was a corresponding demand for louder amps. Output rose to a reasonable 50 watts with twelve-inch speakers, but guitarists wanted more still. They wanted an amplifier that would make the guitar the primary driving force in a band.

Guitarists would often come into Marshall's drum shop complaining about the amps on the market at the time not having the right sound. They dreamed aloud of something noisier and dirtier. One of those guitarists was a 20-year-old Pete Townshend, who asked Marshall to make him a 100-watt amplifier so that he could hear himself over The Who's audience and rhythm section.

Using Fender's revered Bassman amp as a model, Marshall and his team made several prototypes before they finally hit on what Jim called the "Marshall Sound." He replaced the Bassman’s 10-inch, open-back speakers with an equal number of 12-inch, closed-back speakers with more powerful bits and pieces connecting the essential parts. To create the volume he was after, Jim produced a 100-watt amplifier which he connected to two cabinets each bearing four speakers, a.k.a. the Marshall stack. The result was a louder amp with high overdrive that introduced the world to distortion.

The Marshall stack became de rigueur for rock concerts. Guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page helped bring the British company worldwide recognition and made the Marshall amp the symbol of rock.

Effects Pedal

The Stones' "Satisfaction." The Beatles' "Taxman." Jimi Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner" and "Purple Haze." These classic songs, plus thousands more, owe a huge debt to a little gadget called the stompbox.

Stompboxes are fuzz boxes, talk boxes, wah-wah pedals, reverb, and other add-on devices electric guitarists use to distort and sculpt their instrument's sound. They're called pedals or stompboxes because most are housed in a box that sits on the floor and have a simple foot switch to either engage or bypass a particular effect. These devices alter the sound quality or timbre of the input signal, adding a whole new dimension of sound.

The music your electric guitar makes has as much to do with the equipment you use as the way you play. Oftentimes, rock 'n' roll is musically simplistic but technologically complex. By combining multiple effects pedals, a rock guitarist can make even simple, conventional songs sound powerful and unique.

The origin of guitar distortion goes back to the earliest electrified blues guitarists. They didn’t care that their primitive tube amps were breaking up and distorting, as long as they were loud. Soon, blues guitarists grew quite fond of those nasty, gnarly distorted tones, and they sought to replicate them by any means necessary.

In the early days of electric guitars, musicians were limited to only a few effects they could use in the creation of their craft. In some cases, this meant using a clean sound and alternating that with distortion. Typically, this was done through a button on the amplifier itself (although in some cases a switch on the guitar made it possible to change between the two). Today, there are a multitude of effects for electric guitars and effects pedals make it that much quicker and easier to change between them.

The first and most obvious kind of pedal is called an overdrive or distortion pedal. This is the sound of rock, and most amplifiers already have this sound built in. However, sometimes the amp's own distortion is not all that great, especially for cheaper amps, and some very old-fashioned amplifiers do not distort at all unless you turn them up to ear-bleeding concert volumes. Hence the purpose of the pedal. Overdrive and distortion are essentially different amounts of the same thing. The former is basically lighter and less severe than the latter.

Another popular electric guitar effects pedal is the reverb or delay pedal. These pedals layer a guitar's natural sound to simulate either a soft ambiance or a hard echo. The reverb pedal allows you to create the sound you would hear while playing in a wide variety of locations—from small, intimate jazz clubs, to full-sized arenas, to deep, echoey caverns.

The wah-wah pedal, or cry baby, produces voice-like sounds when you move the foot-rocker. Chorus or flange pedals repeat a guitar's input signal, affecting the sound of multiple guitars, while phasers add swirly, otherworldly sounds. A common choice for beginners is a multi-effects box, which is a digital unit that contains decent approximations of all the popular effects.

It's important to keep in mind that exactly how these effects pedals sound depends on many different factors, including the guitar and amp you're using and the genre of music you want to play. Multiple effects pedals can be used at the same time to craft a sound that is totally unique.

Slide/Bottleneck

When I was an 8-year-old girl, newly enrolled in guitar lessons, I was completely enthralled by the sounds emanating from the room across the hall from me, where a teenaged boy was gracefully sliding a glass tube over the strings of his guitar, making music that was fluid and spacey and so damn cool—unlike the plodding "The Song of the Volga Boatmen" I was wrestling. The simplicity and elegance of that glass bottleneck sliding the length of the instrument, and the dreamy music it produced, made a huge impression on me. I couldn't wait for the day when I could get me one.

The slide guitar, also known as bottleneck guitar, is probably the most organic of any guitar effect, and is likely the cheapest piece of gear you’ll ever own. Slide guitar is also a very specialized way of playing. A tube is placed over one of the fingers of the fretting hand, usually the pinky or ring finger, and used to slide over the strings to change the pitch of the notes, allowing you to move between any two notes (or chords) with a continuous rise or fall in pitch, rather than in semitone increments. The slide actually imitates the human voice on the guitar.

From the origins of slide guitar in West Africa, where some sort of object was used to move between notes on a single string; to the vichitra veena, a fretless instrument of India where a glass ball is moved up and down the strings to achieve different tones; to its American connections in the late 1800s to early 1900s when former slaves migrating to the Mississippi Delta at the end of the civil war were seen sliding penknives or pocket razors along the strings of acoustic guitars and homemade diddley bows; to the foreign object some believe was first used to play slide guitar on the Hawaiian islands; to today’s high-tech slide guitar wizardry, every conceivable type of cylinder and bar imaginable that could coax a whine from guitar strings has been tried.

The list of materials from which to make that perfect tube is long—traditional recycled wine bottle necks; pocket razors and penknives; a vast array of metals (bronze, brass, stainless steel, copper and aluminum, with variations of weights and lengths); porcelain and ceramic; medicine bottles and test-tubes; spark-plug socket wrenches and even wood and polished bone have been seen on the digits of many influential slide guitarists throughout the years. Duane Allman once used a glass Coricidin cold remedy bottle. There really are no rules dictating which is the best slide. It's purely a matter of using your own fingers and ears to find the slide tone that works best for you.

Each material produces a distinct tone. Glass slides have a rich sustain and warm tone. Authentic bottleneck slides give a thicker, more "top-end" tone with plenty of bite. The actual color of the bottle glass can also affect your slide tone. For example, blue glass gives a harder, less mellow tone than green glass, which is considered to have the best glass quality for optimum warmth and sustain.

Handblown lead crystal slides are considered by many to offer the sweetest, clearest tones, while metal slides produce a brighter, much more aggressive and dirtier sound due to the extra string noise they make. Porcelain and ceramic slides, meanwhile, produce a smooth tone and sustain, albeit noticeably quieter than glass or metal.

Slide guitar has become commonplace in many music genres including blues, country, Hawaiian, and rock, whose icons like John Lennon, The Stones' Brian Jones, and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour have all incorporated the technique into their music. At some point in my youth, I did as well.


The ever-evolving world of guitar gear continues to change the way we hear music. The key is to get out there and experiment with all the gadgetry that's available today. There's a whole sonic palette at the guitarist's fingertips and toes. Getting your hands on some gear helps to develop your ear as you hear and analyze the difference between tonewoods, pickups, amp designs, effects, etc. And improving your tone makes you want to play more. Plain and simple.

I play mainly bare bones guitar these days, save for an occasional amp, maybe a pick from time to time, a capo when necessary, and a slide for kicks. So for those of you with more sophisticated taste in gear, what would you add to the list and why? What guitar gear has changed the way you play music?

image By MaGIc2laNTern (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
# 1
Alexgee
Registered User
Joined: 01/04/08
Posts: 1
Alexgee
Registered User
Joined: 01/04/08
Posts: 1
09/28/2012 5:20 pm
Well, I'm a gadget freak, so as far as effects go, the more the better, although I go through phases where I find myself using a few at a time, mostly to embellish the sound of my amp (boogie mk IV combo), and try to use them to fit the song I'm playing at the time. Then I go through phases when I use a lot and go overboard to create bizarre sounds.
It's all good.
# 2
mslavik
Registered User
Joined: 02/12/12
Posts: 1
mslavik
Registered User
Joined: 02/12/12
Posts: 1
09/28/2012 5:41 pm
If you could expand the list to include a fifth highly influential item, you could do worse than adding the electric bass guitar.

I assume that the first electric basses showed up in the early 1950s. By the early '60s, virtually every popular musical ensemble of any size had a bass guitarist.

The portability of the bass guitar, compared to that of a stand-up bass, facilitated the emergence of many thousands of groups and opened the door to playing bass to countless individuals.
# 3
susanmcgee
Registered User
Joined: 03/04/12
Posts: 2
susanmcgee
Registered User
Joined: 03/04/12
Posts: 2
09/28/2012 7:07 pm
Just want to say a well written interesting article, thank you. susanmcgee.
# 4
pete56
Registered User
Joined: 08/19/06
Posts: 1
pete56
Registered User
Joined: 08/19/06
Posts: 1
09/28/2012 9:51 pm
Well written article. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the pioneers who persisted with their vision and passion.
# 5
LIMEY1
Registered User
Joined: 06/25/08
Posts: 14
LIMEY1
Registered User
Joined: 06/25/08
Posts: 14
09/29/2012 12:23 am
This is a beautifully written article, thank you for the memories.
# 6
wildwoman1313
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
wildwoman1313
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
09/29/2012 1:37 am
You're right, Alexgee. Long as you're making music—loaded with effects or none at all—it's all good. ;)

Thanks for responding with an awesome addition to the list, Mslavik! Yeah, the bass became popular in the 1950s, thanks again to Leo Fender. But the very first electric bass dates back to the 1930s, when it failed to achieve market success. Interesting, huh?

And thanks so much for the kind words Susanmcgee, Pete46, and Limey1. Glad you guys got something out of the piece.
# 7
DUDEKING1999
Registered User
Joined: 02/05/12
Posts: 4
DUDEKING1999
Registered User
Joined: 02/05/12
Posts: 4
09/29/2012 3:01 am
I think I prefer just a nice combo tube amp with a clean channel and dirty channel. It's not as complicated. It works with electric or acustic electric. If you needed it to be louder just use a microphone thru a PA system.
I also couldn't live without my little Vox Jack amp for practice. I can jam and my wife dosen't loose any sleep. LOL
# 8
wildwoman1313
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
wildwoman1313
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
10/03/2012 8:06 pm
I prefer simplicity as well, DUDEKING1999. And no, we mustn't wake the spouse while jamming. :D
# 9
Nomad2
Registered User
Joined: 09/10/12
Posts: 31
Nomad2
Registered User
Joined: 09/10/12
Posts: 31
10/04/2012 10:01 pm
Another great article. Knew a little about the Gibson Les Paul as a friend of mine had one years ago, but not to that extent. Many thnx.
# 10
wildwoman1313
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
wildwoman1313
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
10/05/2012 6:17 pm
Many thanks to you, Nomad2! Glad you liked the article.
# 11
gypsyblues73
Registered User
Joined: 05/02/10
Posts: 43
gypsyblues73
Registered User
Joined: 05/02/10
Posts: 43
10/08/2012 3:15 pm
Curious fact: the sawed-off guitar sides that Les Paul used to make "The Log" came from an Epiphone, which was Gibson's biggest competitor at the time (and which Gibson would later acquire, of course).
# 12
wildwoman1313
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
wildwoman1313
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
10/08/2012 6:37 pm
Interesting tidbit. Thanks gypsyblues73.
# 13
vickram1
Registered User
Joined: 04/06/13
Posts: 1
vickram1
Registered User
Joined: 04/06/13
Posts: 1
05/21/2013 1:21 pm
Great article, but I think you are leaving out something rather important when you don't mention the tremelo bar. I think the first ones may have been built by the Bigsby company, as used by people like Duane Eddy and Les Paul in the fifties. The Fender Stratocatster had a completely different system, but without it, Jimi Hendrix would have had a very different sound. Check out "Star Spangled Banner," and "Machine Gun." The whammy even makes a rather important appearance on "Little Wing." Later on Floydd Rose came out with an even more efficient and flexible model as used by people like Eddy Van Halen, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.

As a guitarist myself, I have always been fond of the whammy, or tremelo unit... or twang bar (as it is sometimes called) on a guitar. I personally use it a lot and I love other guitarists who use it well - not always an easy task. A couple of my favorites who are still out there using it to great effect, are Jeff Beck and Adrian Belew... check out Adrians album "Twang Bar King," and you will surely be converted.
# 14
maggior
Registered User
Joined: 01/27/13
Posts: 1,723
maggior
Registered User
Joined: 01/27/13
Posts: 1,723
05/21/2013 3:29 pm
Originally Posted by: vickram1Adrian Belew... check out Adrians album "Twang Bar King," and you will surely be converted.


When playing with King Crimson, I've seen Adrian get temelo effects by pushing forward on the neck and back on the guitar body. I seem to recall it was a red strat he was doing this with. Not something I'd do with mine, but it works for him :-).
# 15
wildwoman1313
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
wildwoman1313
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
05/21/2013 5:26 pm
If there had been room to write on a fifth piece of gear, the tremolo bar would've been my choice. Thanks for your comment, Vickram1. And yours as well, Maggior.
# 16
Schecter60
Registered User
Joined: 12/15/12
Posts: 1
Schecter60
Registered User
Joined: 12/15/12
Posts: 1
05/21/2013 8:38 pm
This might actually be the most interesting and straight forward piece written about the evolution of modern guitar. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Although I'm not a fan of over doing the guitar effects, I do appreciate their merit in creating "your" sound. But I do love that stripped down sound of an ES335 just as much as I love the beefed sound of a raging Strat. Thanks, very well written.
# 17
wildwoman1313
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
wildwoman1313
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
05/21/2013 10:50 pm
Hey thanks, Schecter60! Glad you liked.
# 18
porpoiseorig
Registered User
Joined: 02/20/14
Posts: 1
porpoiseorig
Registered User
Joined: 02/20/14
Posts: 1
05/16/2014 7:52 pm
Hi
Just for the records it was George Breed a maintenance worker who invented the first electric guitar in 1890.

Cheers
# 19
wildwoman1313
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
wildwoman1313
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
05/16/2014 10:23 pm
Hey, Porpoiseorig! Thanks for your comment. I was not familiar with George Breed. Learn something new every day. ;) For anyone else who may not have heard of Breed, here's some info on him. And a little more info. Cheers, Porpoiseorig!
# 20

Please register with a free account to post on the forum.