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The Electric Guitar

, 248 pages

35 color illus., 12 b&w illus.

June 2004



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The Electric Guitar

A History of an American Icon

Since the guitar was first electrified in the 1930s, it has become an American icon and has transformed the soundtrack of our lives with its wide range of sounds—from seductive twang to howling distortion. Relatively inexpensive, easy to learn, and fun to play, the electric guitar is a truly democratic instrument. Millions have purchased Rickenbackers, Gibsons, Fenders, and other brands of guitars over the decades, fueling daydreams of fame and fortune.

In The Electric Guitar: A History of an American Icon, scholars working in American studies, business history, the history of technology, and musicology come together to explore the electric guitar's importance as an invention and its peculiar place in American culture. Documenting the critical and ever-evolving relationship among inventors, craftsmen, musicians, businessmen, music writers, and fans, the contributors look at the guitar not just as an instrument, but as a mass-produced consumer good that changed the sound of popular music and the self image of musicians.

Avoiding the familiar stories, The Electric Guitar covers the careers and influence of guitar heroes such as Buddy Holly and Jimi Hendrix, but it also looks at lesser known but equally influential guitarists, such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Ike Turner. It also explains the importance of record producers such as Lee Hazlewood, effects pioneers like Roger Mayer, and electronics engineers such as Jim Marshall—all of whom played vital parts in constructing the sounds we associate with the electric guitar. From inventor's workbench to factory floor to recording studio, André Millard and his colleagues trace the development of the instrument, its use across musical genres, and its profound impact on popular culture and American identity.

André Millard is the director of American studies and a professor of history at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is the author of America On Record: A History of Recorded Sound and Edison and the Business of Invention, the latter available from Johns Hopkins.

"One will be intrigued by the abundance of tidbits and pieces of little-known guitar-oriented trivia... A worthy contribution to historical, sociological, and musicological scholarship."

"This is a rich, complex exploration of the subject."

"The Electric Guitar displays tremendous enthusiasm for the guitar and for popular music. It addresses the technological development of the instrument in great detail, and it takes up a number of contextual issues central to understanding the guitar's development as an icon in American culture, including narratives of invention, gender roles and instrumentation, the interplay of independent and corporate business models, and the importance of amateur music making in the United States. Neither esoteric nor overly celebratory, it will appeal to the scholar, the student, and the enthusiast."

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