This is a fantastic narrative history of the early development of the solid body electric guitar and bass. Ian S. Port's great storytelling brings the divergent lore of Fender, Les Paul, and Gibson guitars to life, offering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the pioneers that provided the tools to make rock 'n' roll possible. Recommended By Greg L., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
"A hot-rod joy ride through mid-20th-century American history" (The New York Times Book Review), this one-of-a-kind narrative masterfully recreates the rivalry between the two men who innovated the electric guitar's amplified sound — Leo Fender and Les Paul — and their intense competition to convince rock stars like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton to play the instruments they built.
In the years after World War II, music was evolving from big-band jazz into rock 'n' roll — and these louder styles demanded revolutionary instruments. When Leo Fender's tiny firm marketed the first solid-body electric guitar, the Esquire, musicians immediately saw its appeal. Not to be out-maneuvered, Gibson, the largest guitar manufacturer, raced to build a competitive product. The company designed an "axe" that would make Fender's Esquire look cheap and convinced Les Paul — whose endorsement Leo Fender had sought — to put his name on it. Thus was born the guitar world's most heated rivalry: Gibson versus Fender, Les versus Leo.
While Fender was a quiet, half-blind, self-taught radio repairman, Paul was a brilliant but headstrong pop star and guitarist who spent years toying with new musical technologies. Their contest turned into an arms race as the most inventive musicians of the 1950s and 1960s — including bluesman Muddy Waters, rocker Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton — adopted one maker's guitar or another. By 1969 it was clear that these new electric instruments had launched music into a radical new age, empowering artists with a vibrancy and volume never before attainable.
In "an excellent dual portrait" (The Wall Street Journal), Ian S. Port tells the full story in The Birth of Loud, offering "spot-on human characterizations, and erotic paeans to the bodies of guitars" (The Atlantic). "The story of these instruments is the story of America in the postwar era: loud, cocky, brash, aggressively new" (The Washington Post).
"In The Birth of Loud, Ian S. Port has sorted out the facts of the electric guitar's much-mythologized genesis and cultural conquest. He turns them into a hot-rod joy ride through mid-20th-century American history. With appropriately flashy prose, he dismantles some misconceptions and credits some nearly forgotten but key figures."
New York Times Book Review
"Lushly descriptive and detailed...[the book] is richly illustrative in bringing these rock giants and the tools of their trade to life in a squall of beautiful feedback."
"Ian Port has created a perfect blend of popular history, social commentary, and enough guitar details to satisfy the most rabid six-string geek. This is a fascinating book."
Jonathan Kellerman, bestselling novelist and author of With Strings Attached: The Art and Beauty of Vintage Guitars
"It's hard for me to think of an invention more crucial to my interior life than the electric guitar, so in a way The Birth of Loud, Ian Port's moving, riveting account of the instrument's development and rise to ubiquity, feels like a sacred text — the story of how I came to be. It's also a rich and fascinating tale of obsession, ingenuity, and American abandon." Amanda Petrusich, author Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78rpm Records
About the Author
Ian S. Port is an award-winning writer and music critic whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Village Voice, The Threepenny Review, and The Believer, among others. He is also the former music editor of the San Francisco Weekly. A lifelong guitar player and California native, he and his wife now live in New York City. The Birth of Loud is his first book.