There are few instruments more powerful than the electric guitar. When the first primitive models appeared in the 1920s, no one gave them much thought. The electric guitar was brand new, unproven, and completely lacking in any kinds of traditions and gravitas enjoyed by the piano, the violin, or any number of brass instruments.
Besides, unlike all the other instruments in use, they required electricity, a concept that was still quite new. Electric household appliances were just starting to catch on. Having a radio was still a new thing.
But over the next 30 years, the electric guitar found its place in music, helped along by technology, the need for volume, changing social conditions, and the ever-evolving musical tastes of the public. By the 1960s, the electric guitar was regarded as one of the most powerful inventions of all time. It was the sound behind rock’n’roll and all the social and cultural changes that it created. It was the sound of freedom, power, rebellion, joy, heartache, aggression, and more.
In short, the electric guitar defined music for the latter half of the 20th century–and still an essential part of popular culture. And although there have been several challenges to its supremacy over the decades, it’s not going away anytime soon.
But how did this once semi-obscure acoustic instrument get electrified in the first place? Who were the inventors and promoters? What technological innovations were needed? And of all the noisemakers you could choose, how did it become the foundation of rock?
This is the story of the electric guitar, part 1.
Songs heard on this show:
- Smashing Pumpkins, Rocket
- Soundgarden, Black Hole Sun
- U2, I Will Follow
- REM, So. Central Rain
- Foo Fighters, Everlong
- Bob Marley, Jammin’
- The Pixies, Here Comes Your Man
- Ramones, Rockaway Beach
- Dick Dale, Misirlou
This is Eric Wilhite’s playlist
The Ongoing History of New Music can be heard on the following stations:
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