We meet once again,
The history of the guitar is quite fascinating. It traces back to the Middle East and Europe, way before the term “guitar” was even used. It has survived mass migrations, wars, famine, and just about anything else you can think of. You can dedicate your entire life to understanding the guitar’s history and cultural impact, from the 9th Century until today.
We are going to focus on very modern guitar history, from the last 100 years or so. Yes, that is an extremely short period compared to the instruments’ long history. However, it is also the period that made the guitar the most popular instrument on earth. Here are the nine moments that marked modern guitar history
Gibson introduces the ES-150
In 1936 Gibson introduced the ES-150, its first production electric guitar. ES standing for Electric Spanish, and the 150 was to reflect its price tag of $150. The ES-150 featured a single-coil bar pickup, which was designed by Walt Fuller. This instrument was used by legendary jazz guitarist Charlie Christian (considered the first great jazz guitarist in history), helping make the guitar a popular model at the time. Even though the ES-150 was not the first electric guitar produced, it was the first one to attain some level of popularity.
Fender introduces the Stratocaster
The Stratocaster was introduced to the market in 1954. It became extremely popular and remains the most popular solid-body guitar model to this day. It was not the first model produced by Fender, but the most popular by far. It has become a “must-have” electric guitar for any professional guitar player, especially for session guitarists.
The Beatles play the Ed Sullivan Show
In 1964 a relatively unknown band from England went on stage to play the famous Ed Sullivan Show. By then the guitar had already become a popular instrument in popular music. After the Beatle’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, the entire world wanted to buy a guitar and form a band. It started in the U.S. and then snowballed to the rest of the world. Kids in every living room were dreaming of having their band and guitar.
Jimi Hendrix plays Monterey Pop Festival
This was the first high profile gig that Jimi Hendrix had in the U.S, where he set his guitar on fire. It set the stage for the release of Are You Experienced by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. That appearance and the subsequent album showed the world a completely new way to play guitar, including the production of “impossible” sounds by Hendrix. It skyrocketed Hendrix to a new level of consciousness.
Woodstock Music & Art Fair
This legendary festival displayed the talents of Alvin Lee, Carlos Santana, Richie Havens and Pete Townsend with The Who. But here again, the stage belonged to Jimi Hendrix. The legendary guitarist protested the War in Vietnam among other government atrocities with an incredibly wicked version the U.S National Anthem. This moment marked the festival and became a symbol for the 1960s. All of it delivered with the ferocious musicality of Hendrix on his faithfull Stratocaster.
Black Sabbath is released
The British band Black Sabbath created heavy metal with the release of their album Black Sabbath. It gave way to a new way of playing guitar, based on heavy distortion and killer riffs. This album would influence generations of legendary guitar players. Everyone from Metallica to Slayer and even Guns N’ Roses would have their guitarists heavily influenced by the playing of the great Tony Iommi
Joe Satriani releases Surfing With The Alien
There is a before and after for rock guitar that took place in 1987. Surfing with the Alien showed the world that the guitar could stand on its own to make an entirely instrumental album that was also commercially successful. Before this album, guitars typically played second fiddle to singers. In other words, there was always singing involved, then the guitar solo could come in.
Joe Satriani said no more with the release of Surfing With The Alien. It started a new era for rock guitar, and the world took notice that is you are good enough, you can make an entire album of just instrumental guitar cuts.
Al Di Meola releases Land of the Midnight Sun
Al Di Meola redefined what a guitar god is with the release of Land of the Midnight Sun. The jazz fusion guitarist showed the world his jaw-dropping technical prowess on the instrument. His picking technique and dazzling speed combined with exotic scale use made major shredders feel like they were just learning the minor pentatonic scale.
Van Halen is released
Van Halen marked the arrival of a new prophet for rock guitar. Not since Jimi Hendrix had the world experienced such ferocity in rock. Eddie Van Halen showed the world that a new sheriff had arrived. This album single-handedly destroyed the dreams of droves of guitar players that thought were good enough to make it in rock n roll.
Wrapping it all up
The history of the guitar is long, complex and full of twists and turns. The fact that the guitar has been the most popular instrument in the world for decades is a testament to its appeal and unique characteristics. Even though the history of the instrument is enough to fill out several books, we just focused on a few events that took place in the last century.
All of the events mentioned above, along with the recordings and appearances have become immortalized. All of them remain transcendental today, not only for guitarists everywhere but for its impact on music, culture, and society as a whole. It is still extremely challenging to measure the impact that the guitar has had. But rest assured, despite some reports to the contrary, the guitar is here to stay and will never lose its pivotal position in history. And that is a beautiful thing.
That’s it for this week. Stay tuned and…