posted on 28 May 2015 22:45 by boringthrill1835
Byline: Kevin Galvin Associated Press

In the hands of masters, it has rocked smoky roadhouses and gently

wept in concert halls. It transformed American music and transported a

multitude of youths from the chill of the garage to the spotlight's

warm embrace.

Now the electric guitar has found a place alongside the light bulb,

telephone and other icons of American innovation at a Smithsonian

exhibit, ``From Frying Pan to Flying V: The Rise of the Electric



``More than any other instrument, the electric guitar has been the

dominant shaping force in American music in the last

half-century,'' said Charlie McGovern, a cultural historian at

the National Museum of American History. ``It completely changed the

direction of the blues. It pretty much rechanneled country music. You

can't have rock 'n' roll without it.''

And you can't overestimate its influence on American culture.

Creators of the blues, country and rock 'n' roll often

were racially or socially marginalized. But the instrument's

simplicity and power gave them, in McGovern's phrase, ``access to


``In the American context, that's democracy,'' he

said. ``The electric guitar became popular because it was very

accessible. It was very democratic.''

No one person can claim credit for inventing the electric guitar,

the product of a dynamic relationship between inventors and innovators.

It was shaped by the music even as its development shaped the music.

Today it's hard to imagine a time when the guitar was

relegated to rhythmic support, a scratching sound lost in the mix. It

lacked the power to stand out in an ensemble.

Guitarists tried home remedies to amplify their instruments,

resulting in poor sound quality and squealing feedback. In 1931,

magnetic pickups were developed to transform strings' vibrations

into electrical impulses that accurately reproduced the sound.

A tool and die maker, the Rickenbacker Co., that same year

introduced the Frying Pan, a stunted Hawaiian steel guitar with pickups.

Pickups became increasingly common in acoustic guitars.

By 1940, Les Paul was tired of the feedback from plugged-in

acoustic guitars. With a 4-by-4-inch piece of pine and a guitar neck, he

fashioned an instrument he dubbed ``The Log,'' convinced the

solid body would limit unwanted noise.

Today, the name of Les Paul is synonymous with Gibson guitars -

Gibson's best-known model is the Les Paul - but the company

rejected The Log in 1940 and finally embraced Paul's idea only

after Leo Fender began producing the Broadcaster a decade later.

As it developed, the electric guitar allowed musicians to sustain

and bend notes in ways that opened a new universe of sound.

In the hands of such pioneers as Bob Dunn, Charlie Christian, T.

Bone Walker and Muddy Waters, the electric guitar's harmonic

possibilities expanded the tonal palettes of jazz, blues and country


The instrument's keening and its biting thunder were

emblematic of rock 'n' roll's cultural revolution.

Plugging in, a player produced a sound much bigger than himself.

Yet while its vast range excited some, detractors complained the

electric guitar didn't make a pure musical sound. Such complaints

persisted deep into the 1960s - Bob Dylan was booed when he brought an

electric guitar to the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.

Perhaps most importantly, the electric guitar was accessible to

players with little money or training.

``You don't need but two or three chords to play the blues, or

to play most rock 'n' roll songs, from `Johnny B. Goode'

to `Psycho Killer,' '' McGovern said.

Thanks to that simplicity, American popular culture echoes with

stories of young men who began practicing in their parents' garages

and played all the way into the footlights.

In the 1950s, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly achieved pop idol status

through their guitar playing. The Beatles inspired thousands of bands.

Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and others were worshiped for their playing in

the late 1960s.

More recently, women broke through. In the 1970s, the Runaways was

one of the first female guitar bands. Today, Los Angeles' L7 plays

with a ferocity to rival any power metal band.

``For 100 bucks, you're in business (if) you've got a

garage to play in,'' McGovern said.


Among items on display through March: Gibson's Flying V,

Fender's Stratocaster, the original Log and Frying Pan, the

Strawberry Alarm Clock's custom-designed Mosrites and Prince's

``Yellow Cloud.''



Photo: John McCann, a blind guitarist, fingers a Fender

Stratocaster featured in the ``From Frying Pan to Flying V''

exhibit at the Smithsonian.

Associated Press

Box: EXHIBIT (See text)

COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News

No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.

Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.


edit @ 22 Sep 2015 10:28:43 by boringthrill1835