Two music writers explore the history of one of the most iconic instruments of the past 100 years.
The many connoisseurs of the electric guitar are inclined to argue over who put the ax into the hands of so many hewers. Former Guitar World editor-in-chief Tolinski (Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page, 2012, etc.) and longtime Guitar World and Guitar Aficionado contributor di Perna (Guitar Masters: Intimate Portraits, 2012, etc.) push the usual chronologies back into the 1920s, locating its birthplace in Hollywood, its principal author a Texas refugee named George Delmetia Beauchamp. Shrewdly, the authors note that at the very outset there were plenty of collaborators, tinkers, and improvers. If Beauchamp “invented the first fully functional guitar pickup,” then Slovak immigrant John Dopyera had much to do with the first functional resonator, as did Swiss immigrant Adolph Rickenbacker. The point is, as ever, that the guitar was an accretion of inventions by a small army of inventors, almost none of them born in the countries where they made their inventions. The authors trace the evolution of the guitar nicely up to the present, writing knowledgeably of the merits and demerits of Japanese knockoffs, Pete Townshend–inspired amp stacks, and the contributions of mad-dog collectors to the whole rock ’n’ roll genre: if Joe Walsh hadn’t had an extra Les Paul on hand, then Jimmy Page might have played a Stratocaster, and the whole Led Zeppelin thing would have gone down much differently. Some of these stories are well-worn, but the authors are geeky enough to bring freshness to chestnuts through technical nuggets aplenty. Sure, the Beatles and the Stones had their fans and detractors, but their guitar sounds and rigs were different, and in any event, “the British Invasion was to guitar music roughly what the Gutenberg Bible and advent of printing had been to literacy.”
The electric guitar changed the world, and Tolinski and di Perna impressively reveal its epic story.