Saturday, April 13, 2013

Classic Rock: The Roar of the Electric Guitar

Gypsy Sun and Rainbows
Gypsy Sun and Rainbows
by Michael Pickett

From the first overdriven guitar sounds of Chuck Berry to the slabs of golden tone from Eddie Van Halen, classic rock guitars are a study unto themselves in the evolution of popular music through the decades.

Naturally, amplification and technology have something to say about the sounds that unfolded from the 60s through the 90s, but cataloging the elements virtuoso players like Jimi Hendrix, Alex Lifeson and the aforementioned Van Halen brought to the party is equally important.

While Scotty Moore fueled Elvis' recordings and Chuck Berry gave us some of the first riff-rock, the Beatles and The Who carved out a niche for themselves with Rickenbacker electrics and 100 watt stacks of Hiwatt amplifiers, respectively.

The Beatles led bands like the Byrds, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and others to mine the Ricky-based sound they initial pioneered (before finding their own way to early overdriven sounds in the studio).

The Who continued to ramp up their guitar sounds with Pete Townsend cranking his Les Paul through stacks of amps live and in the studio. Bands like Cream would find Eric Clapton and solo artists like Jimi Hendrix, Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck firing up hyper-amplified rigs of their own to create signature sounds on pieces like 'Sunshine of Your Love', 'Won't Get Fooled Again' and 'Communication Breakdown'.

From there, the metal thunder of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Rush were just a step away.

As the 70s saw effects pedals (stomp-boxes) powering the rock and metal sounds of Deep Purple's Ritchie Blackmore, the wah-inflected tone of Michael Schenker and the hot-rodded, insanely great sound of Edward Van Halen, guitarists began to redefine what it meant to have golden tone and achieve the elusive status of 'guitar god'.

But the 80s, while rich with effects boxes and achievable sounds, proved that songwriting and sound were still key, as a thousand bands began to tastelessly imitate the pioneers that had gone before, but without the tone, taste or compositional ability that had made bands like Zeppelin and Van Halen great.

As with all eras, there were still standout artists with superb sounds like U2's The Edge, Def Leppard's Phil Collen and Steve Clark, Journey's Neal Schon and, of course, Alex Lifeson and Eddie Van Halen.

The sounds of guitar would continue to evolve over time, and if you spend even half-an-hour on a classic rock radio station, you'll hear an incredible cross-section of guitar sounds and styles that illustrate a growth in technology and ability over the course of decades.

Love the sound of classic rock? ... check out Pickett's free music at:

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