October 2019 – The Story of Modern Music in 1,500+ Facts – Part VIII

Introduction

Hello and welcome to the 8th article in this particular magnum opus of modern music history. I hope by now, you know the way this works, so I won’t say much more, other than welcome to the 1980s. If not by the start of the ‘80s, at least by the end of the decade, most readers will likely have some experience of living through the many events documented here, although I cannot assume that to be the case. I hope you have some fond memories of the time – personally, I can’t believe how long ago it was, as it seems like almost yesterday to me.

As always, if you would like to (re)visit any or all of the first seven parts (and well over 375 years) of the story to‑date, you can do so here (each link opens a new browser tab):

Once again, although notably shorter than the last four articles, this month is dedicated to a single decade, if only to ensure that it is given sufficient focus.

The Story of Modern Music Part VIII 1980-1989

While arguably not quite hitting the heady heights of the previous three decades, the 1980s (or simply, ‘the eighties’) still had much to relate both about the human condition and musical variety. The 1980s were notable for many catchy, sing‑along‑able chart choons and the emergence of commercial pop videos, along with accompanying fashion trends. One personal observation is that, perhaps, there were the first real signs of divergence between what was happening culturally and the music being produced. Interdependence between society and its music were still there but, maybe, not quite as strongly intertwined as previously.

Historical Context 1980-1989

The 1980s were sometimes called the ‘greed decade’ or the ‘old school days’. There was a worldwide move away from planned economies and towards laissez‑faire capitalism, allied to a western post-industrial move to supply side economic policies. This shift had a destabilizing effect on international trade that led to many developing countries being faced by crippling debt crises. Following the 1970s’ oil crisis, crude oil was in over supply, resulting in a glut during the 1980s. The start of the 1980s saw widespread economic recession and damaging labour disputes that hit the less well‑off disproportionately hard. Downturn was followed by a period of rapid capitalist growth towards the end of the decade. Increased economic prosperity facilitated the ‘yuppie’ boom, epitomised by hot hatchback/sports cars, wine bars and early ‘brick’ mobile phones, accompanied by an insatiable appetite for designer fashion. Western society’s affluence further polarised the wealth divide between rich and poor. Fervent materialism and a status driven desire for exposure acted as a catalyst for the start of the vapid public fascination with the ‘celebrity’ phenomenon and subsequent emergence of banal reality TV ‘entertainment’. Fundamental industrial restructuring took place in the developed world that migrated many countries away from traditional manufacturing towards economies based on IT, finance, tourism and service sectors. A rapid growth in digital technology and consumerism began that would change how people would live, work and play forever, including the advent of the ‘information superhighway’ that we now call the Internet. During the 1980s, the world’s population grew at the fastest rate yet, causing heightened fears about unsustainable human expansion and its impact on the planet’s fragile ecosystem.

Year

Global Events

1980

The massively popular maze video game Pac-Man was released by Japanese software company Namco.

 

The bitter war between Middle East neighbours Iran and Iraq began, which would last until 1988.

 

American volcano Mount St. Helens in Washington State erupted violently killing 57 people and causing widespread damage.

 

Former actor and Republican politician Ronald Reagan was elected to become the 40th President of the U.S.A.

1981

American President Ronald Reagan was shot and wounded by attempted assassin John Hinckley Jr. in Washington D.C.

 

An assassination attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II took place in Vatican City, when he was shot and wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca.

 

The IBM 5150 Personal Computer, commonly known as the IBM PC was introduced, soon establishing it as an industry standard.

 

American actress Jane Fonda published her hugely successful book, ‘Jane Fonda’s Workout’, which spawned multiple videos and an album.

 

NASA’s Space Shuttle programme began with the first launch of the Earth orbiter Columbia.

 

Heir to the British throne, Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.

 

The retrovirus that causes HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) was identified. The life‑threatening condition spread rapidly, becoming a global public health threat and causing widespread hysteria.

1982

King Henry VIII’s Tudor warship and flagship of the British Navy, the Mary Rose, which sank in 1545 during a battle against the French, was raised from the bed of the Solent off the south coast of England.

 

Britain defeated Argentina to regain control of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, following an unprompted Argentinian invasion and occupation.

1983

American telecommunications company Motorola introduced the first mobile telephones to North America.

 

The final episode of the Korean War‑set comedy drama ‘M*A*S*H’ was broadcast, achieving the record for most watched television episode to‑date.

1984

English policewoman Yvonne Fletcher was shot and killed by an unknown gunman in the Libyan Embassy in London, prompting an 11‑day siege of the embassy resulting in Libyan citizens being expelled and diplomatic relations between the UK and Libya being severed.

 

Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, at her residence in New Delhi.

 

American network TV aired the first episodes of crime drama series Miami Vice, produced by Michael Mann for NBC. It was notable for its ground breaking amalgamation of music and visuals. The show ran until 1989.

1985

Politician Mikhail Gorbachev became Russian Premiere and began leading major political and social reform across the USSR.

 

Technology company, Microsoft released the first version of its PC‑based Windows operating system.

 

Acclaimed American screenwriter, director and producer John Hughes released, ‘The Breakfast Club’, followed up a year later by ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ and ‘Pretty In Pink’.

 

The shipwreck of the ocean liner RMS Titanic was discovered in the North Atlantic Ocean, 73 years after it sank in 1912 following a collision with an iceberg.

1986

The American Space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

 

The nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in Ukraine, Russia suffered a catastrophic meltdown, causing global pollution and resulting in devastating radioactive environmental damage.

 

The Soviet Union’s Mir project became the first modular manned space station in low Earth orbit. It was used predominantly as a scientific research laboratory. Mir broke up on re‑entry into the Earth’s atmosphere in 2001.

1987

The animated American family comedy, The Simpsons, first appeared on American television as a series of shorts.

 

The film ‘Wall Street’ was released, typifying the zeitgeist of the 1980s and its ‘greed is good’ power of money mentality, directed by Oliver Stone and starring Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen.

 

The antidepressant medication Fluoxetine, commonly known as Prozac, was approved for use in the U.S.A.

1988

A Pan-Am 747 airliner exploded as a result of a Libyan terrorist bomb, which caused the plane to crash into the village of Lockerbie in Scotland, killing a total of 270 people.

1989

Republican politician George H.W. Bush became the 41st President of the U.S.A.

 

The pro‑democracy protest in Tiananmen Square, Beijing was brutally crushed by Communist Chinese authorities, resulting in many deaths and widespread international criticism over the state’s human rights violations.

 

Russian military forces pulled out of Afghanistan 10 years after invading the country.

 

Significant environmental pollution occurred when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck a reef in Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska, spilling nearly 11 million gallons (37,000 metric tonnes) of crude oil into the coastal waters.

 

The Berlin Wall in Germany, built in 1961 to divide the city and prevent movement between east and west, was demolished, marking massive political change in Europe, including in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Rumania.

 

British computer scientist and engineer, Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, now known as the Internet, while he was employed at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) near Geneva, Switzerland.

Musical Genre Development 1980-1989

After the creative revolutions of the 1950s (rock ‘n’ roll), 1960s (rock and pop) and the 1970s (heavy metal, punk, reggae, disco, rap), the 1980s was largely a decade of reflection, consolidation, cross‑fertilisation and diversification. In short, quite a lot happened but, conversely, there was not a lot that was genuinely new in musical genre subversion. Pop was, erm, as popular as ever with artists such as Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, New Kids on the Block, Wham!, New Edition and Kylie Minogue.

Punk rock’s implosion left a vacuum that needed to be filled and the answer came in post‑punk diversity at the beginning of the 1980s. New wave is associated with the birth of MTV and the music video phase and was seen as a more commercial sub‑genre of post‑punk performed by artists such as Blondie, Talking Heads, Devo, The Cars, The Police, Jam, Elvis Costello, The Smiths, Ian Dury, Adam & The Ants, New Model Army, The Fall, Echo & The Bunnymen, and the Pretenders. Also deriving from post‑punk and encompassing a number of different styles was the new romantic sub‑genre heavily influenced by glam rock from the early 1970s, as exemplified by bands like Duran Duran, Culture Club, Visage, Spandau Ballet, Thompson Twins and Eurythmics. Synth pop also came and went in the post‑punk period of the early‑mid 1980s with electronica‑driven artists like Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Japan, Human League, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, New Order, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) and Ultravox. These highly produced music fads dominated the charts before beginning to decline by the mid‑1980s, followed by a revival of guitar‑driven music, often harking back to previous decades.

World and new age music became popular during the 1980s after being heavily promoted by record companies, even though neither has its roots in the decade. World music (not to be confused with third world music) isn’t really a genre but rather a broad marketing categorisation for a very wide and diverse range of traditional and contemporary music from around the globe including western music that doesn’t fall easily within more clearly defined genres. It also covers music that fuses ethnic influences from other genres to create something different. The umbrella term may also be used to promote niche music that was potentially under threat from music’s big business. Since 1987, World Music Day has become an annual celebration of the global music scene. Two of the leading artists associated with world music are African bands Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Savuka. Western artists such as Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel have embraced world music, fusing it with their own material. New age music is another loose marketing category for music that aims to promote positive mental wellbeing, spirituality and meditation. It is also used to complement physical activities such as yoga and massage. It has also been used to enhance inspiration and to manage stress. New age music is often acoustic or electronic and predominantly ambient (i.e. not having an obvious beat, rhythm or structure), regularly instrumental and minimalist or comprising recorded sound effects from nature. Popular western new age artists include Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, Jean Michel Jarre, Mike Oldfield, Klaus Schulze, Enya, Enigma and Clannad. Both world and new age music have influenced numerous subsequent musical ventures and projects.

Other established genres experienced revivals during the 1980s. For instance, hip hop’s ‘golden era’ spawned a plethora of artists, including LL Cool J, Run–D.M.C., Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys. Jazz also made a concerted comeback of sorts starting in the ‘70s and continuing into the ‘80s with jazz/rock fusion artists like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and Pat Metheny. Partly driven by MTV and ubiquitous pop videos, the 1980s saw the rise of success of mega­‑pop stars like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Lionel Ritchie, Billy Joel, Prince and Whitney Houston. Heavy metal saw a 1980s resurgence that lasted well into the 1990s including artists like, Pantera, Queensrÿche, Extreme, Marilyn Manson and Danzig, while Iron Maiden led the charge of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) genre along with Def Leppard and Judas Priest. Nu‑metal pioneers began to appear at the very end of the decade including, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Staind and Linkin Park.

Musical Facts 1980-1989

Day

Month

Year

Music Fact

3

January

1980

American lo-fi indie/rock singer, songwriter, guitarist, former member of indie rock band The War On Drugs and successful solo artist, Kurt Vile was born in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania.

26

January

1980

American guitarist, singer and songwriter Prince made his first U.S. television appearance on the show ‘American Bandstand’.

19

February

1980

Scottish singer with Australian hard rock band AC/DC, Bon Scott died from acute alcohol poisoning in a friend’s car in London at the age of 33.

14

March

1980

Renowned American music producer Quincy Jones received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1500 Vine Street.

14

April

1980

English heavy metal rock band, Iron Maiden released their storming debut studio album, the self-titled ‘Iron Maiden’ in the UK.

22

April

1980

English indie rock icons, The Cure released their 2nd studio album, ‘Seventeen Seconds’ in the UK.

23

April

1980

English heavy metal band Judas Priest released their classic 6th studio album, ‘British Steel’.

2

May

1980

English alternative post-punk rock band Joy Division played their final live gig with singer Ian Curtis, two weeks before he committed suicide.

18

May

1980

English singer, songwriter and driving force behind post‑punk rock band Joy Division, Ian Curtis was found hanged at this home in Macclesfield, Cheshire at the age of 23.

7

July

1980

English hard rock band Led Zeppelin played their final live concert with John Bonham as drummer in Berlin, Germany.

10

July

1980

Jamaican reggae giants, Bob Marley & The Wailers released their final studio album before Marley’s untimely death, ‘Uprising’.

18

July

1980

English post-punk rock band Joy Division released their classic sophomore studio album, ‘Closer’.

25

July

1980

Australian heavy rock band, AC/DC, released their career-redefining 7th studio album, ‘Back In Black’.

12

September

1980

English rock singer and songwriter David Bowie released his standout studio album, ‘Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)’ in the UK.

20

September

1980

English heavy metal singer and ex-member of Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne released his debut solo studio album, ‘Blizzard Of Ozz’ in the UK.

23

September

1980

Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley made his final live concert performance in Pennsylvania, USA, during which he collapsed on stage.

25

September

1980

English drummer with rock band Led Zeppelin, John Bonham, died tragically of alcohol-induced asphyxia in Clewer, Berkshire at the age of 32.

3

October

1980

English post-punk rock band The Police released their 3rd studio album, ‘Zenyattà Mondatta’ in the UK.

8

October

1980

American alternative rock band Talking Heads released their exceptional career-best studio album produced by Brian Eno, ‘Remain In Light’.

10

October

1980

American singer, songwriter and guitarist Bruce Springsteen released his 5th studio album, ‘The River’.

20

October

1980

Emerging Irish rock band, U2 released their debut studio album, ‘Boy’, to critical acclaim in the UK.

8

November

1980

English rock band Motörhead, released their massive 5th studio album, ‘Ace Of Spades’ in the UK.

8

December

1980

English former member of The Beatles, John Lennon was murdered by gunman Mark Chapman outside the Dakota hotel in New York City at the age of 40.

12

December

1980

English punk rock band, The Clash released their follow up to the epic ‘London Calling’ with their even more ambitious 4th studio triple album, ‘Sandinista!’.

15

December

1980

English guitarist, singer and songwriter with rock band Kasabian, Sergio Pizzorno was born in Newton Abbot, Devon.

16

January

1981

American guitarist, singer, songwriter and founding member of indie/alternative rock band The Strokes, Nick Valensi was born in New York City.

2

February

1981

English heavy metal rock band, Iron Maiden released their sophomore studio album, ‘Killers’ in the UK.

9

February

1981

American Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer, Bill Haley, having been diagnosed with a brain tumour, died at his home in Harlingen, Texas at the age of 55.

15

February

1981

American blues/rock guitarist Mike Bloomfield died from an accidental drug overdose and was found in his car in San Francisco, California at the age of 37.

4

April

1981

UK pop group Bucks Fizz won the 26th Eurovision Song Contest with, ‘Making Your Mind Up’.

14

April

1981

Legendary English indie rock band, The Cure released their classic 3rd studio album, ‘Faith’ in the UK.

11

May

1981

Jamaican reggae singer, songwriter and guitarist, Robert Nesta ‘Bob’ Marley died from cancer in Miami, Florida at the age of 36.

21

May

1981

Rastafarian reggae legend Bob Marley received a state funeral in his home town of Kingston, Jamaica.

6

June

1981

The very first issue of weekly heavy metal music magazine ‘KERRANG!’ was published, featuring AC/DC on the front cover.

1

August

1981

Revolutionary 24 hour music video channel, MTV (Music Television), broadcast for the very first time in the USA at 12:01am Eastern Time, introduced by creator John Lack with, “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll”

8

October

1981

English post-punk rock band Joy Division released their 3rd and final studio album, ‘Still’.

7

November

1981

English singer and former member of heavy metal rock band Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne released his sophomore solo studio album, ‘Diary of a Madman’.

30

January

1982

Legendary American country blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Sam ‘Lightnin’’ Hopkins died from cancer in Houston, Texas at the age of 69.

14

March

1982

American thrash metal band, Metallica performed their debut live concert at Radio City, Anaheim, California, taglined, ‘Metalus Maximus’.

19

March

1982

American heavy metal guitarist Randy Rhoads, best known as member of Ozzy Osbourne’s band died tragically in a plane crash in Leesburg, Florida at the age of 25.

22

March

1982

English heavy metal rock band, Iron Maiden released their 3rd studio album, ‘The Number Of The Beast’ in the UK.

3

May

1982

English indie rock icons, The Cure released their dark and brooding masterpiece 4th studio album, ‘Pornography’ in the UK.

6

May

1982

American singer and actress, Diana Ross received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard.

14

May

1982

English punk rock legends, The Clash released their 5th and penultimate studio album, ‘Combat Rock’ in the UK.

16

June

1982

English guitarist, songwriter and founding member of The Pretenders, James Honeyman-Scott died of drug‑related heart failure in London at the age of 25.

14

July

1982

English heavy metal rock band Judas Priest released their classic 8th studio album, ‘Screaming for Vengeance’.

17

August

1982

Company executives from Philips, Sony and Polygram announced the pressing of the first commercial digital Compact Disc (CD).

20

September

1982

American singer, songwriter and guitarist Bruce Springsteen released his 6th studio album, the often‑overlooked haunting and elegiac, ‘Nebraska’.

1

October

1982

Technology giant, Sony released the first ever digital Compact Disc (CD) player, the CDP-101, to the eager public in Japan.

27

October

1982

Legendary American singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer, Prince, released his top-selling 5th studio album, ‘1999’.

5

November

1982

UK TV broadcaster Channel 4 aired its edgy music and lifestyle programme, ‘The Tube’ for the first time. Presenters included Jools Holland and the late Paula Yates. The show ran for 5 series until April 1987.

30

November

1982

American singer, Michael Jackson released his career‑defining mega‑hit 6th studio album, ‘Thriller’. It is estimated that sales have well‑exceeded 50 million copies worldwide.

11

December

1982

English punk rock and mod revival band, The Jam played their final live concert in Brighton, UK before splitting up for good.

29

December

1982

The Jamaican Post Office released a set of postage stamps commemorating the life and music of reggae legend Bob Marley.

18

January

1983

English guitarist, singer and member of indie pop duo The Ting Tings, Katie White was born in Lowton, Greater Mancester.

28

February

1983

Irish mega-rock band U2 released their highly acclaimed chart-topping gold 3rd studio album, ‘War’.

2

March

1983

The digital Compact Disc (CD) was launched in Europe and America by Philips, Sony and Polygram, 7 months after it had debuted in Japan.

23

March

1983

American Texas blues/rock giants ZZ Top released their massive 7th studio album, the classic, ‘Eliminator’.

14

April

1983

English rock singer David Bowie released his 15th and perhaps most commercial studio album, the great Nile Rodgers‑produced, ‘Let’s Dance’.

30

April

1983

Renowned American Chicago blues guitarist, Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield) died from a heart attack at his home in Westmont, Illinois at the age of 70.

16

May

1983

Pioneering English heavy metal rock band Iron Maiden released their massively successful 4th studio album, ‘Piece Of Mind’.

23

May

1983

Jamaican reggae legends Bob Marley & The Wailers released their studio album, ‘Confrontation’ posthumously, after Bob Marley’s death in 1981.

12

June

1983

Influential American blues slide guitarist and singer J.B. Hutto died from cancer in Harvey, Illinois at the age of 57.

13

June

1983

Emerging American blues/rock guitarist and singer, Stevie Ray Vaughan with his band Double Trouble released their debut studio album, ‘Texas Flood’.

25

July

1983

Up-and-coming American thrash metal band Metallica released their standout debut studio album, ‘Kill ‘Em All’.

20

October

1983

American country music guitarist Merle Travis died of a heart attack at his home in Tahlequah, Oklahoma at the age of 65.

10

November

1983

English singer, songwriter and one-time member of punk rock band Generation X, Billy Idol released his highly popular 2nd studio album, ‘Rebel Yell’.

15

November

1983

English singer and former member of heavy metal rock band Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne released his 3rd solo studio album, ‘Bark At The Moon’ in the UK.

2

December

1983

Music television channel MTV aired the full 14-minute pop video to Michael Jackson’s massive hit single, ‘Thriller’ for the first time.

1

January

1984

Widely regarded as the founding father of British Blues, guitarist and broadcaster Alexis Korner died of lung cancer in London at the age of 55.

21

January

1984

American rock band Bon Jovi released their debut studio album, the self-titled ‘Bon Jovi’ in the U.S.

1

April

1984

American soul singer Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his father in Los Angeles, California at the age of 44.

26

April

1984

Eleven years after the famous original Cavern Club in Liverpool, UK was demolished in 1973, it was rebuilt and the new venue opened its doors.

4

May

1984

The classic music rock/mock/documentary film about the experiences of an English rock band, ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, directed by Rob Reiner, was released in the UK.

15

May

1984

American blues rock guitarist, Stevie Ray Vaughan with his band Double Trouble released their 2nd studio album, ‘Couldn’t Stand the Weather’.

19

May

1984

American southern rock band ZZ Top released their hit single, ‘Legs’ with the B-Side ‘Bad Girl’, both from their career‑defining album, ‘Eliminator’.

21

May

1984

Emerging indie rock band, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their impressive debut album, ‘From Her to Eternity’.

4

June

1984

American singer, songwriter and guitarist Bruce Springsteen released his massive 7th studio album, ‘Born In The U.S.A.’.

14

June

1984

American country singer Dolly Parton received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard.

25

June

1984

Legendary flamboyant American musician Prince released the massive original soundtrack album for the film, ‘Purple Rain’.

30

July

1984

American thrash metal rock band Metallica released their sophomore studio album, ‘Ride The Lightning’.

3

September

1984

English heavy metal rock band Iron Maiden released their classic 5th studio album, ‘Powerslave’ in the UK.

16

September

1984

Talented Georgian/British singer, songwriter and guitarist Katie Melua was born in Kutaisi, Georgia.

24

September

1984

English electronic/alternative rock band Depeche Mode released their 4th studio album, ‘Some Great Reward’ in the UK.

27

September

1984

Canadian pop-punk singer, songwriter and guitarist, Avril Lavigne was born in Ontario.

1

October

1984

Irish rock band U2 released their classic 4th studio album, ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ in the UK.

20

November

1984

American pop singer, Michael Jackson received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6927 Hollywood Boulevard.

3

December

1984

Assembled super group Band Aid released their massive Christmas charity single, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ in response to the famine in Ethiopia.

15

December

1984

Charity super group, Band Aid entered the UK singles chart at number 1 with their song, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ in aid of Ethiopian famine victims.

22

January

1985

Australian guitarist, famous for working with Alice Cooper and Michael Jackson, Orianthi Panagaris was born in Adelaide, South Australia.

13

May

1985

English rock band Dire Straits released their massive hit 5th studio album, ‘Brothers In Arms’.

4

June

1985

American guitarist with heavy rock band Black Stone Cherry, Chris Robertson was born in Kentucky.

29

June

1985

English rock singers David Bowie and Mick Jagger recorded their version of the classic Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ soul hit, ‘Dancing In The Street’ in support of the Live Aid charity.

13

July

1985

Two Live Aid fundraising concerts took place in London and Philadelphia to benefit the plight of Ethiopian famine victims.

30

September

1985

American blues/rock guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan with his band Double Trouble released their 3rd studio album, ‘Soul to Soul’.

9

October

1985

Japanese artist Yoko Ono dedicated the Strawberry Fields memorial in New York City’s Central Park to her late husband, John Lennon on what would have been his 45th birthday.

28

October

1985

American Texas blues/rock trio, ZZ Top released their 9th studio album, ‘Afterburner’, the follow up to their massive 1983 hit, ‘Eliminator’.

30

October

1985

American thrash metal masters Anthrax released their career classic 2nd studio album, ‘Spreading The Disease’.

4

January

1986

Irish bass guitarist with rock band Thin Lizzy, Phil Lynott died of complications due to septicaemia in Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK, at the age of 36.

6

January

1986

English singer, songwriter and guitarist of indie/rock bands Arctic Monkeys and The Last Shadow Puppets, Alex Turner was born in Sheffield.

3

March

1986

American heavy metal band Metallica released their 3rd studio album, the last with Cliff Burton playing bass guitar in the line-up, ‘Master Of Puppets’.

14

March

1986

The classic film inspired by the mythology surrounding blues guitarist Robert Johnson, directed by Walter Hill, ‘Crossroads’ was released in the USA.

17

March

1986

English electronic/alternative rock band Depeche Mode released their 5th studio album, ‘Black Celebration’ in the UK.

19

May

1986

English singer, songwriter and former member of progressive rock band Genesis, Peter Gabriel released his commercially successful 5th solo studio album, ‘So’.

20

July

1986

The feature film ‘Sid And Nancy’ focusing on the tragic lives of Sex Pistols’ bass guitarist Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen premiered in London. The film was directed by Alex Cox and starred Gary Oldman.

25

August

1986

American singer and songwriter Paul Simon released his classic 7th solo studio album, ‘Graceland’.

28

August

1986

American pop singer, Tina Turner received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1750 North Vine Street.

27

September

1986

American bass guitarist and songwriter with thrash metal rock band Metallica, Cliff Burton was tragically killed in a tour coach crash in Dörarp, Sweden at the age of 24.

29

September

1986

English heavy metal band Iron Maiden released their 6th studio album, ‘Somewhere In Time’ in the UK.

7

October

1986

American thrash metal band Slayer released their huge genre classic 3rd studio album, ‘Reign In Blood’.

15

November

1986

American hip-hop group from NYC, Beastie Boys, released their debut studio album, ‘Licensed To Ill’, including their massive hit single, ‘(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)’.

2

December

1986

Supremely talented Australian bass guitarist and singer, Tal Wilkenfeld was born in Sydney.

21

January

1987

American soul legend Aretha Franklin became the first woman inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

22

February

1987

American pop artist and manager of experimental rock band Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol died following gall bladder surgery in New York at the age of 58.

9

March

1987

Irish rock band U2 released their 5th studio album, the massive ‘The Joshua Tree’ in the UK.

22

March

1987

American thrash metal masters Anthrax released their career classic 3rd studio album, ‘Among The Living’.

30

March

1987

Diminutive American singer, songwriter and guitarist Prince released his ambitious, epic change of direction 9th studio album, ‘Sign ☮ The Times’.

2

April

1987

Highly acclaimed American jazz drummer Buddy Rich died from respiratory and heart failure following treatment for a brain tumour in Los Angeles, California at the age of 69.

5

May

1987

English indie rock icons The Cure released their lip‑smacking 7th studio double album, ‘Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me’ in the UK.

2

June

1987

Virtuoso Spanish classical guitarist Andrés Segovia died from a heart attack in Madrid at the age of 94.

14

July

1987

American rock group The Steve Miller Band received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1750 Vine Street.

21

July

1987

American hard rock band, Guns N’ Roses released their storming debut studio album, ‘Appetite For Destruction’.

3

August

1987

English heavy metal rock band Def Leppard released their best-selling classic 4th studio album, ‘Hysteria’.

25

August

1987

American singer and songwriter Michael Jackson released his 7th solo studio album, ‘Bad’, as a follow up to his massive 1982 LP, ‘Thriller’.

11

September

1987

Jamaican reggae artist Peter Tosh was shot dead along with two others by a gang of three armed robbers at his home in Kingston, Jamaica at the age of 42.

12

September

1987

English alternative rock singer and songwriter Morrissey left his band, The Smiths to pursue a successful solo music career.

21

September

1987

American bass guitarist and member of jazz fusion band Weather Report from 1976-1981, the inimitable Jaco Pastorius died from injuries following an altercation at a club in Wilton Manors, Florida at the age of 35.

28

September

1987

English electronic/alternative rock band Depeche Mode released their 6th studio album, ‘Music For The Masses’ in the UK.

8

October

1987

Legendary American rock ‘n’ roll guitarist Chuck Berry received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1777 North Vine Street.

15

October

1987

American virtuoso instrumental rock guitarist Joe Satriani released his classic 2nd studio album, ‘Surfing With The Alien’.

1

December

1987

Puerto Rican guitarist and singer, Jose Feliciano received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6541 Hollywood Boulevard.

31

December

1987

After 17 years and 445 episodes, British TV broadcaster, the BBC aired the final edition of contemporary music show, ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’.

20

January

1988

Legendary English pop/rock band The Beatles were inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

11

April

1988

English heavy metal band Iron Maiden released their 7th studio album, ‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’.

5

May

1988

Highly successful English singer and songwriter Adele MBE was born in London.

5

July

1988

American thrash metal rock band, Slayer, released their mega hit 4th studio album, ‘South Of Heaven’.

14

August

1988

American blues/rock guitarist Roy Buchanan was found hanged (a disputed suicide) in a jail cell after he was arrested for public intoxication in Fairfax, Virginia at the age of 48.

25

August

1988

American heavy metal rock band Metallica released their classic 4th studio album, ‘… And Justice For All’.

19

September

1988

Alternative rock band Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds released their highly acclaimed 5th studio album, ‘Tender Prey’.

30

September

1988

English former member of The Beatles, John Lennon received a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1750 Vine Street.

10

October

1988

Irish rock band U2 released their classic 6th studio album (and complementary ‘rockumentary’ film), ‘Rattle and Hum’ in the UK.

18

October

1988

American alternative rock band Sonic Youth released their landmark 6th studio album, ‘Daydream Nation’.

19

October

1988

Legendary American delta blues guitarist and singer, Son House died of cancer of the larynx in Detroit, Michigan at the age of 86.

6

December

1988

American singer, songwriter and musician, Roy Orbison died of a heart attack in Hendersonville, Tennessee at the age of 52.

18

January

1989

Music greats, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Otis Redding and others were inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

2

May

1989

English indie rock group The Stone Roses released their eponymous debut studio album, ‘The Stone Roses’.

2

May

1989

English indie rock icons, The Cure released their near‑perfect career-defining 8th studio album, ‘Disintegration’ in the UK.

29

May

1989

American guitarist, John Cipollina of rock band Quicksilver Messenger Service died of alpha‑1 antitrypsin deficiency in San Francisco at the age of 45.

1

June

1989

Underground American grunge band, Nirvana released their debut studio album, ‘Bleach’ to an unsuspecting public.

6

June

1989

Legendary American blues/rock guitarist and singer, Stevie Ray Vaughan with his band Double Trouble released their 4th and final studio album before SRV’s tragic death, ‘In Step’.

15

July

1989

English progressive rock band Pink Floyd performed a live concert on a floating stage at Venice, Italy, watched by over 200,000 people.

25

July

1989

American rap rock band, Beastie Boys released their classic sophomore studio album, ‘Paul’s Boutique’.

12

September

1989

English virtuoso instrumental rock guitarist Jeff Beck released his impressive 6th studio album ‘Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop’ in the UK.

26

November

1989

British pop/rock band, Squeeze performed in concert for the very first broadcast of ‘MTV Unplugged’ in the US.

13

December

1989

One of the best‑selling artists of all time, American country/pop singer and songwriter Taylor Swift was born in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Tailpiece

Well that’s the eighties for you in a (sizeable) nutshell. We are now getting much closer to the end of the story (at least as far as I am able to document it) and the new millennium beckons tantalisingly out of reach. However, before that, we will fill in the gap with the 1990s next month. Will it be a Brave New World or just more of the same? To discover the facts behind the memories, please return here next month for some more manic music history. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Never trust your memories but cherish the good ones regardless”

© 2019 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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August 2018 – A Potted History of the Guitar Part VI

Hello again, guitar history fans and welcome to August 2018’s article in the series on the history of the guitar. There is no point in beating about the bush, it’s time to dive right back in where we left off last month with the birth, and now – to extend the analogy – the growth of the electric guitar from early years to adolescent hood.

If you wish to recap on previous articles before starting here, the ‘Potted History of the Guitar’ series, can be accessed here (each part opens in a new browser tab):

The Modern Solid Body Electric Guitar

This part of the guitar’s story covers the period of fundamental and rapid innovation as well as pragmatic entrepreneurialism that starts around the late 1940s and early 1950s, a period of intense creativity that would come to define the modern electric guitar. Once the essential foundations were laid by Rickenbacker, Gibson and a few others, the popularity of the guitar was about to explode.

Since the time of the guitar ‘big bang’, instruments would continue to be improved and refined; an incremental process that continues unabated up to the current day. However, nothing like the level of creativity that heralded the ‘dawn’ of the electric guitar era. It was the start of a so‑called ‘golden era’ that would last about 15 years.

While acoustic guitars continued to develop after the 1930s, they were just about as loud as they were going to get without some form of amplification. Electric archtop and early solid body electric guitars had started the ball rolling during the first half of the 1930s and guitarists were buying into the increasing trend for electric guitars of one sort or another.

While not alone in influencing guitar development, today’s ‘big two’ companies – Fender and Gibson – have between them, been responsible for, or at last instrumental (sic!) in, many of the major innovations and landmark electric guitars since the 1950s. Therefore, the focus here is predominantly, but not exclusively, on the contribution from these two major manufacturers.  Much credit though is due to the vast number of other guitar builders – way too many to mention them all by name – that have played their part in developing the musical landscape over the decades, and which we enjoy today. Without their competition to keep the ‘big two’ on their toes, the quality and price equation might have gone too far in opposite directions. Thankfully, there is no monopoly in the guitar market – far from it in fact – and that fact, as it turns out, is a very good thing for musicians all over the world.

However, before the story moves on to Fender and then Gibson, we need to take a short diversion before getting back on track…

Bigsby Guitars

No history of the formation of the electric guitar would be complete without some mention of Paul Adelburt Bigsby (1899-1968). P.A. Bigsby was a motorcycle racer, inventor, designer and builder based in California. Bigsby has often been quoted as saying confidently, “I can build anything”.

Historically, Bigsby might be better known for his iconic Bigsby vibrato systems. Less well known is that Bigsby was also responsible for pioneering solid body electric guitars as well as for revolutionising pedal steel guitars.

Bigsby collaborated with lap steel guitarist Earl ‘Joaquin’ Murphey (1923-1999) of Spade Cooley’s orchestra in the 1940s. Murphey helped to persuade Bigsby to start making guitars in the first place, in around 1946/1947. Bigsby built Murphey several steel guitars by 1947, with two or three necks. Murphey’s successor in Cooley’s band, another steel guitarist called Speedy West (1924-2003), not wishing to be outdone, also commissioned Bigsby to build him a custom pedal steel guitar in 1948.

Around the same time, successful country and western artist and good friend, Merle Travis (1917-1983) asked Bigsby to fix a wayward vibrato on his Gibson L-10 guitar. Bigsby subsequently went on to build a complete solid body electric guitar for Travis, based on a sketch Travis had made. Travis’s Bigsby guitar attracted a lot of attention and other artists queued up for Bigsby to make further custom guitars, including for acclaimed session guitarist with the ‘Nashville A-Team’, Grady Martin (1921‑2001).

Bigsby’s guitar designs not only seem familiar, but also seem well ahead of their time for 1948, especially when compared to anything else on the market. The Bigsby Merle Travis guitar has a single cutaway body not dissimilar to Gibson’s Les Paul models and a neck/headstock outline that bears a notable resemblance to Fender’s Stratocaster. Bigsby’s design predated both the Les Paul (1952) and the Stratocaster (1954) by several years. Many have contended that Gibson and Fender plagiarised, rather than simply being influenced by, Bigsby’s original designs. Hindsight provides the opportunity to speculate but the truth is shrouded in idle debate and misinformation.

Partly because he wanted to make most of the parts himself, Bigsby only produced a very small number of finished custom‑built instruments up until 1956, where after he concentrated on the vibrato business. However, as his guitars never entered full production, his legacy consists of a few unique examples of his craftsmanship. Unfortunately, Bigsby kept no records of his creations. The company he founded undertook extensive research and can document 47 steel guitars and only 6 standard guitars, along with a few other custom instruments surviving to the current day. Others may yet come to light at some point to be authenticated.

Bigsby’s name is now synonymous with his ubiquitous vibrato tailpieces, which have adorned countless guitars since the 1950s. Bigsby sensibly filed a patent for his ‘tailpiece vibrato’ in November 1952, which was granted by the U.S. Patent Office in March 1953. The rest, as ‘they’ say, is history.

When his health started to fail, Bigsby sold his company to retired Gibson president Ted McCarty in 1966. Paul Bigsby died 2 years later in 1968 at the age of 68. Subsequently, Gretsch bought the Bigsby enterprise from McCarty in 1999. Bigsby Guitars is now making limited edition guitars under the patronage of Gretsch.

Many of those aware of Bigsby’s pioneering work feel that he should be given greater credit for his contribution to guitar history. One might only wonder at the course of modern guitar history had Bigsby capitalised on his creative designs. Bigsby may have been first in a lot of areas but it was other companies that catered for the market and it is the commercial success brought about by mass production which is where the story then continues.

Fender Solid Body Electric Guitars

Clarence Leonidas ‘Leo’ Fender (1909-1991) was an electrical engineer by trade. He started out in business as Fender Radio Service in 1938, repairing radios, phonographs and valve amplifiers. Recognising the growing demand for his skills from the music industry, Fender looked to use his growing expertise in that area. Along with business partner and former Rickenbacker employee Clayton ‘Doc’ Kauffman, Fender co‑founded the short‑lived K&F Manufacturing Corp in 1945. K&F’s intention was to manufacture musical instruments and amplifiers, including lap steel guitars that were particularly popular at the time.

By 1946, Fender had parted ways with Kauffman and established the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company, based in Fullerton, California. The company, known to most simply as Fender, has become one of the pre‑eminent and most widely recognised manufacturers of electric guitars, basses and amplifiers in the world. Historically, Fender is particularly important because of its ground breaking role in making electric instruments and amps accessible to mass markets eager for the new‑fangled technology in the 1950s.

Leo Fender’s vision had less to do with building small numbers of bespoke instruments and more to do with commercial large‑scale manufacture of instruments using tried and tested production methods. Fender wanted the electric guitar to be straightforward to manufacture as well as easy to service and maintain. Leo Fender asked George William Fullerton (1923-2009) to join the company in 1948. Fullerton’s appointment was important, as he would become a long‑term business associate not only at Fender but also in subsequent post‑Fender enterprises, including Music Man and G&L (an acronym standing for George & Leo).

Even though Fender had introduced amplifiers in 1947, Fender’s business began focusing on guitar designs and in c.1949 the company started making prototypes of what would eventually become the iconic Telecaster. The early prototypes used a body largely designed by George Fullerton. The first prototype exhibited a 3‑a‑side lap steel‑style headstock, while the second attempt looked more Fender‑like. Both prototype headstock designs bore a similarity to those seen on Bigsby’s guitars.

Fender offered the first mass-produced Spanish-style solid-body electric guitar to the public in 1950. The initial few guitars were single pickup models called the Esquire, although confusingly, a small number of Esquires were also ordered with two pickups.

The production dual pickup model was originally named the Broadcaster until Gretsch objected to the use of the name, as they had produced drums using the Broadkaster name since the 1920s. Fender complied and for a short period between February and August of 1951, the guitar appeared with no name on the headstock, leading to the popular nickname ‘Nocaster’ to describe its curious temporary anonymity.

Fender filed a patent for the Telecaster design in April 1951, which was awarded quite quickly by the U.S. Patent Office in August 1951. The familiar twin pickup single cutaway guitar, now formally named the Telecaster was made available to the public from mid‑1951 and has, remarkably, remained in continuous production ever since.

Although instantly recognisable nowadays, the Telecaster was unlike anything that had come before. The way they were put together was revolutionary; using a modular construction comprising a single cutaway slab body of solid ash wood and a removable maple neck secured by four screws on the back of the body. The simple and sturdy design proved not only resilient but also efficient and relatively cheap to manufacture using established assembly line techniques of the time.

While there have been many variants of the Telecaster over the years, including the Custom, Deluxe, Thinline and Elite, the original fundamental design elements have remained largely unchanged over many decades.

Not content with the success of the Telecaster, Fender and this team went on to design and market the enormously popular Stratocaster in 1954. Unlike the Telecaster, the Stratocaster employed a futuristic double cutaway ash body with deep rib and forearm contours for player comfort, 3 single coil pickups and a clever floating vibrato system. Fender retained the bolt‑on maple neck, albeit with a shapelier headstock than the Telecaster and eerily reminiscent of Bigsby’s earlier design. Fender filed a patent application for the Stratocaster’s ‘tremolo’ (a misnomer – it is actually a vibrato) design in August 1954, which was subsequently awarded in April 1956. The Stratocaster, like the Telecaster before it, became phenomenally successful with consumers and has been in continuous production since its launch.

Just as revolutionary for bass players, Fender also pioneered the commercially successful electric solid-body bass guitar. The Precision bass first appeared shortly after the Telecaster in 1952 and before the Stratocaster. Before the Precision, bass players had to contend with cumbersome acoustic, hollow body, fretless upright basses. The Precision was an ergonomic godsend, especially for travelling musicians. Like a guitar, the Precision featured a fretted neck making the instrument much more accessible to neophytes wanting to jump on the bandwagon of popular electric guitar music in the 1950s and 1960s. The 34”‑scale fretted neck gave practical credence to the new bass’s name – Precision. Fender filed a patent for the bass guitar in November 1952, which was awarded in March 1953.

Initially, the Precision took many design cues from the Telecaster before updates in 1954 and 1957 gave it the now‑familiar characteristics more akin to the Stratocaster. Not resting on their laurels, Fender followed up the hugely successful Precision with the twin‑pickup offset Jazz bass in 1960.

These four models – Telecaster, Stratocaster, Precision and Jazz – represented the enduring ‘core’ models around which Fender experimented with other designs. It is very unusual in industrial design history to ‘get it right’ first time and then for those products to remain relevant for over six decades (… so far, and counting). However, Fender seemed to have achieved just that. Fender, however, not content to stand still, kept innovating.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Fender also introduced two luxury contoured offset‑waist body models; the 25½”‑scale Jazzmaster in 1958 and the shorter 24”‑scale Jaguar in 1962. Both models used entirely new single coil pickups and both had separate, complex ‘rhythm’ and ‘lead’ circuits. The controls were not intuitive, which put off some players. The high‑price of the Jazzmaster and Jaguar may also have deterred customers and both models failed to attract the intended target audience – traditional jazz guitarists wedded to the competition’s archtop designs. However, both the Jazzmaster and Jaguar gained a significant boost from an unexpected source. Popular west coasts surf musicians including The Beach Boys and The Ventures adopted the new offsets and gave them some legitimacy. Ultimately though, poor sales led to Fender discontinuing the Jaguar in 1975 and the Jazzmaster in 1980. Wisely, Fender has subsequently successfully reissued both models for newer generations to discover.

One of the key success factors for Fender was the introduction of custom colour options in addition to the limited standard blonde and sunburst finishes. Custom colours were based on popular automobile paints made by DuPont during the American car craze of the 1950s. Customers could custom order new guitars from a range of exciting colour finishes for an additional 5% upcharge. Fender was also open to accepting standard colour guitars for factory refinishing in the custom colours. Popular names for the custom colours included Olympic White, Lake Placid Blue, Daphne Blue, Sonic Blue, Shoreline Gold, Burgundy Mist, Sherwood Green, Surf Green, Foam Green, Fiesta Red, Dakota Red, Candy Apple Red, and Shell Pink. Early models with genuine custom colours are relatively rare and have since become highly desirable with vintage guitar collectors; some guitars fetching a hefty premium on the vintage market compared to the standard colours. Many of those original custom colours phased out by 1969 to 1972 have now become very popular again as standard colours in the 21st Century.

Strategically, Fender tried to cover all bases by also introducing a range of short-scale (initially 22½” and then 24”) ‘student’ models including the Musicmaster (1956), Duo‑Sonic (1964), Mustang (1964) and Bronco (1967). To differentiate the ‘student’ instruments from the pro‑level models, Fender designed hardware and finishes that was unique to these models. The Musicmaster and Bronco had single pickups, while the Duo‑Sonic and Mustang had two pickups. The Mustang and Bronco also featured bespoke vibrato systems while the Musicmaster and Duo‑Sonic had fixed bridges. While these budget models have found a strong following by those in the know, they have had chequered histories, all having been discontinued and reissued over the years. Seen as peripheral to the ‘core’ classics, the high volume low cost guitars undeservedly attract a lower profile and lower resale values on the vintage collector market despite being made at the same factory, by the same staff, using the same materials and tools.

In the minds of most guitarists, Fender was a solid‑body guitar maker. After the failure of the Jazzmaster and Jaguar to persuade traditionalists to change brand, Fender attempted to compete with Gibson’s popular ES range of semi‑acoustic guitars. Fender introduced the fully hollow‑body Coronado in 1966, designed by German luthier and Rickenbacker guitar designer Roger Rossmeisl. The Coronado retained Fender’s ‘bolt‑on’ maple necks with six‑a‑side headstocks, although the pickups used were unusually DeArmond single coil models. Unfortunately for Fender, the ill‑fated Coronado proved a commercial failure and was discontinued in 1972. After a short‑lived venture into archtop jazz guitars with the rare Montego and LTD models between 1968 and 1972, Fender tried again in1976 with the introduction of the upmarket semi‑hollow humbucker‑equipped Starcaster. Like the valiant attempts before it, the Starcaster met with the same consumer resistance and proved equally unsuccessful, resulting in it being summarily discontinued in 1982. Notably, both the Coronado and Starcaster models were reissued by Fender in 2013 and continue in production today.

There have been many other Fender solid body electric guitars over the years including the Bass V & VI, the Electric XII, Bullet and Lead amongst numerous others.  In addition, there were many variations on a theme, for instance the Coronado came in Antigua, Wildwood, XII and bass versions. Similarly, the Musicmaster and Mustang also had short‑scale bass models. Other examples include parts‑bin oddities like the Swinger and Maverick. Many later experiments were undertaken by the Japanese arm of Fender without any risk to the company’s ‘Made in USA’ standing. Japanese‑only models include the Performer, Katana and the Gibson‑like set neck Flame. Many of these low volume under‑the‑radar guitar models are often described as ‘forgotten Fenders’.

As covered in Part IV of the story, Fender has also sustained a very successful line of guitar and bass amplifiers dating from the late 1940s right through to the current day, including landmark valve amps such as the Princeton, Champ, Bassman and the mighty Twin Reverb (among many others). Like Marshall and Vox from the UK, Fender amps have become synonymous with modern electric guitar music.

The successful honeymoon period for Fender was, however, not destined to last forever. In early 1965, Leo Fender sold his company to the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), reportedly for $13m. Despite investment and efforts to diversify the product lines, manufacturing quality varied considerably due to poor management and cost cutting, particularly during the 1970s. Industry reputation and credibility waned and Fender sales suffered significantly, especially in the face of aggressive competition from Japan. One of the strategies adopted by Japanese companies at the time was, despite the existence of U.S. patents, to flagrantly copy American guitar designs. Japanese companies produced large numbers of guitars built to high standards and sold at low prices. This shameless targeting of American products placed an already struggling Fender under considerable pressure. By 1981, Fender had brought in Dan Smith from Yamaha as Marketing Director to oversee selective guitar redesigns and, along with Fender luthier (and founder of the Fender Custom Shop) John Page, to breathe new life into Fender’s fortunes.

After making considerable improvements across the business, 20 years after being sold to CBS, a management buyout was initiated by CEO William Schultz (1926‑2006). In retrospect, Schultz is now widely regarded as ‘the man who saved Fender’. Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company was acquired from CBS by its own employees in 1985 and the newly privatised company was renamed Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC). The sale did not, however, include the existing Fullerton factory, so Fender was forced to construct a new plant at Corona, California which started limited manufacturing in late 1985.

After two years of restructuring the business, the post‑CBS Fender American Standard Stratocaster was introduced in 1987. While superficially similar to previous models, the American Standard was a significant model that signified the company’s return to form and commercial prosperity. In the same year (1987), Fender set up their in‑house Custom Shop (nicknamed ‘The Dream Factory’), based at their Corona facility in California. The aim of the Custom Shop was to showcase just what Fender’s master luthiers were capable of building.

Fender’s headquarters are now based in Scottsdale, Arizona, with North American manufacturing facilities in Corona, California, and Ensenada in Mexico. Off-shore production of budget Squier guitars and basses is based in Korea and Japan. Fender has continued to innovate, introducing ‘custom shop’, ‘vintage reissue’ and ‘relic’ instruments and a range of electronics to a market hungry to recapture the ‘golden years’ of pre‑CBS Fender instruments and amps.

We have become so familiar with the Fender Telecaster, Stratocaster and Precision, that we sometimes forget just how revolutionary these designs actually were back in the 1950s and what they, perhaps unwittingly, came to represent. Looking a little more broadly helps to put things into context. Loud and brash electric guitars undoubtedly helped to define the musical uprising brought about by the advent of rock ‘n’ roll. At the same time, a western social and cultural transformation was taking place in the wake of post‑WWII austerity and despite prevailing conservative Cold War political paranoia. Affluent and often puritanical middle class values allied to consumers’ relentless drive to satisfy materialistic aspiration were fuelled by media, film and television. Opposing the status quo was a growing urban resentment, an angry youthful rebellion boosted by emerging anti‑conformist liberalism and radical demands for greater personal freedoms. Fundamental change was, arguably, inevitable. The turmoil created in the 1950s began to reshape the fabric of society in both the U.S. and the UK and this, in turn, propelled musical experimentation and creativity at a pace never seen before. Fender’s electric guitars not only enabled that particular wave to be ridden with verve, passion and a certain degree of teenage angst, but also came to symbolise many defining events for a frustrated generation, a subversive movement that would last well into the 1960s. When Marlon Brando was asked the question in the film ‘The Wild One’ (1953), “Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” he retorted disinterestedly “whadda you got?” For a while at least, it was hip to be cool and cool to be hip.

If there are any guitars that qualify for the terms ‘iconic’, ‘classic’ and ‘industry standard’, these original Fender models have to be up there with the best and most enduring industrial design wonders of all time. In particular, the timeless design of the ‘Tele’ and the ‘Strat’ have persisted in the minds of guitarists over many decades, and will surely continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Those ‘new’ guitars back in the 1950s are now hugely valuable vintage instruments and are part of our collective music heritage. Vintage Fender guitars, basses and amplifiers are much sought after by collectors, musicians, dealers and enthusiasts alike, with many key models originally made prior to the CBS takeover in 1965 now reaching high vintage guitar market values. Authentic vintage instruments associated with successful artists (and with documented provenance) attract an even higher price premium on the collectable market, for instance, Eric Clapton’s famous c.1956 ‘Blackie’, which was sold for $959,500 to Guitar Center at Christie’s in New York in 2005.

Gibson Solid Body Electric Guitars

The history of Gibson guitars is much longer than that of its main current‑day rival Fender and much of this has already been covered elsewhere. The crucial part that Gibson played in this stage of guitar evolution is picked up again here in the mid‑20th Century.

During the 1940s, popular American jazz guitarist, performer and musical inventor Les Paul (1915-2009) – born Lester William Polsfuss – had become increasingly unhappy with the compromises experienced by electric acoustic archtop guitars. In an attempt to overcome the shortcomings, Les Paul had been actively experimenting with guitar design from around 1939. A famous early prototype electric guitar assembled by Les Paul out of hours at the Epiphone factory around 1940 was nicknamed ‘the log’, which was essentially a solid piece of 4”x4” pine timber running the length of the body, providing the base for the strings, bridge assembly and pickups. To make the design appear more guitar‑like, Les Paul attached a traditional guitar neck and two hollow guitar ‘wings’ from an Epiphone archtop on either side of the ‘plank’.

Les Paul had originally approached Gibson as early as 1941 but no interest was shown by the company.  He tried again in 1945 or 1946 and his ideas were once again rejected. It wasn’t until 1950 that newly‑appointed Gibson president, Theodore ‘Ted’ McCarty (1909-2001) brought in Les Paul to act as a consultant in response to Fender’s newly launched solid body electric guitars. Like Leo Fender, McCarty could not play the guitar, so he worked very closely with those who could.

In 1951, Gibson began producing prototypes of a solid body electric guitar designed by McCarty in consultation with Les Paul. One of the many prototype designs (shown following restoration below) is relatively close to the final production in all but detail.

Gibson was already losing ground, and business, following the introduction of Fender solid body guitars that appealed to young musicians exploring new musical ideas. To many consumers, Gibson’s models were seen as staid and, compared to the modernistic Stratocaster, frankly old fashioned, tired and boring. For Gibson, it was important that any sold body electric guitar design would be all‑new while also remaining consistent with the values, quality and reputation of the company. It was also crucial that the new instrument would be quite different from Gibson’s competition, whether existing or emerging. Crucially, before the new guitar was launched, McCarty agreed a deal with Les Paul for it to carry Les Paul’s name on the headstock and for him to be an integral part of Gibson’s advertising campaign.

In July 1952, Gibson launched the now-iconic solid-bodied guitar, the Gibson Les Paul Model, finished in metallic gold, equipped with dual P90 pickups and a trapeze tailpiece similar to those found on the company’s archtop guitars. For a number of years, the Les Paul Model and its variants were the only solid body guitars made by Gibson. The range was extended from the basic ‘gold top’ to the upmarket black and gold Les Paul Custom in 1953 featuring a standard bridge, one P90 pickup and a unique Alnico V ‘staple’ pickup at the neck, a unique design intended to appeal to jazz guitarists.

To broaden appeal, Gibson introduced two affordable slab‑body single cutaway Les Paul models, the Junior with a single P90 pickup in 1954 and Special with dual‑P90 pickups in 1955. These rather utilitarian models retained the body outline but with few of the upmarket features of the carved‑top Les Pauls.

By 1957, the Les Paul’s P90 single coil pickups began to be replaced with Gibson’s PAF (Patent Applied For) humbucking pickup. The process started with the now‑iconic 3‑pickup Les Paul Custom ‘Black Beauty’.

1958 saw the Junior and Special updated to a new double cutaway body and the option of cherry or outrageous TV Yellow, a colour allegedly designed to show up well on black & white TV screens of the time.

Following poor sales of the original Les Paul ‘gold top’ model, the guitar was rejuvenated in 1958 by renaming it the Standard. The Standard’s specification was changed substantially – a cherry sunburst finish was applied to a maple‑capped mahogany body, the PAF pickups became the norm and a tune‑o‑matic bridge and ‘stop’ tailpiece were standardised. Some, but not all, of the tops exhibited an attractive matched 2‑piece ‘flame’ maple top. Around 1,700 of the now‑legendary ‘Burst’ Les Paul Standards were produced between 1958 and 1960 and all have become highly collectable on the vintage guitar market. The original sunburst Standards have become the aspiration of many guitar enthusiasts. These rare instruments are widely regarded as representing the epitome of Gibson guitar’s ‘golden age’.

The Les Paul models weren’t the only new instruments aiming to establish Gibson’s electric guitar credentials. The late 1950s saw a number of new guitar designs including the McCarty‑designed ES-335 semi‑acoustic, which first appeared in 1958. The ES‑335 was significant because of a solid centre block running through the body and on which the pickups and bridge were mounted, essentially much like Les Paul’s ‘log’ experiment. The semi‑hollow body construction was important in reducing acoustic feedback in high gain situations compared to fully‑hollow archtops. Gibson also released a lower cost hollow‑body ES model with dual P90s, called the ES-330 and two upmarket siblings, the ES‑345 and ES‑355.

The late 1950s was a period of intense innovation at Gibson. In addition to the Les Paul and the ES series, Gibson designed two ‘modernistic’ guitars intended to compete with Fender’s popular solid guitars, the Explorer and Flying V, both of which were introduced in 1958. A third ‘modernistic’ series model, the Moderne, was patented and prototypes might have been constructed but no actual verified examples have ever come to light, let alone reached the vintage collector market. The Moderne has become something of a myth and an original 1950s example is seen by many collectors as the ‘Holy Grail of guitar collecting’. Gibson (re‑)issued a Moderne in small numbers in the early 1980s and again occasionally since.

While the futuristic Flying V and Explorer models were well ahead their time, sales of these radical instruments was very poor. In 1958, Gibson sold only 81 Flying Vs and 19 Explorers. The following year (1959), only 17 Flying Vs and 3 Explorers were sold. It is hardly surprising then that both models were withdrawn by 1959-1960. A few further examples were constructed in the early 1960s from parts. As only small numbers of the original release Explorers and Flying Vs were made, they have become very highly sought after and valued. Gibson, however, would return to these original designs and has successfully reissued both the Flying V and Explorer many years later.

Like Fender, Gibson recognised that they had to cater for the lower end of the market in order to attract new and younger players to the fold. In order to make budget guitars accessible without affecting sales of their premium models, Gibson introduced a range of simple low cost ‘student’ guitars, called the Melody Maker, from 1959. The basic Melody Makers, featuring distinctive narrow headstocks, slab bodies and all‑new Fender‑like narrow single coil pickups, were produced in large numbers at Gibson’s Kalamazoo plant alongside the classics. The Melody Maker’s body shape went through four incarnations during its lifetime, with only 2 bearing a similarity to existing Gibson electrics. Although the Melody Makers proved very popular and sold in large numbers, they were nevertheless withdrawn by 1971. Gibson has re‑used the Melody Maker name on a number of occasions since the original models.

Despite the now‑legendary reputation of the Les Paul Standard, sales of the model remained relatively stagnant and, in 1961, Gibson were forced to take action. Effectively, production of the Les Paul ceased and a new design was introduced in 1961, even though it retained the ‘Les Paul’ moniker.  The new model was another design shift with a thin double cutaway mahogany body with contoured upper bouts and pointed ‘devil’ horns. Allegedly, Les Paul didn’t favour the guitar’s design and no longer wanted to be associated with it. In addition, Les Paul separated from his wife Mary Ford and the divorce settlement may also have been a pecuniary factor in his decision to drop his name from the guitar. By 1963, after Les Paul’s name was removed, the model was re‑designated the Gibson SG (standing for ‘Solid Guitar’). The Gibson SG has remained in continuous production since 1961 and, ironically, it has become the company’s most commercially successful model in Gibson’s long history. Like the single cutaway Les Paul before it, the SG model came in a number of variants, the single‑P90 Junior, the dual‑P90 Special, dual‑humbucker Standard and 3‑humbucker Custom.

The single cutaway Gibson Les Paul may have gone but it was not forgotten. It reappeared in 1968, and then only after second hand guitars became popular at around the time of the British blues explosion, led by guitarists such as Eric Clapton and Peter Green, as well as other contemporary musicians of the time, including Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Paul Kossoff. The Les Paul has had numerous variants over the years including notable models such as the Les Paul Deluxe, Professional, Recording, Artisan and Studio models, and many guitarists have had signature models released to celebrate the artists’ association with the company.  Since its reintroduction in the late 1960s, the Les Paul has remained in continuous production and, along with the Fender Stratocaster, it has become one of the most recognisable design icons of modern‑day guitar music.

Gibson continued to innovate into the early 1960s, introducing more convention‑busting designs. McCarty, hired famed car designer Ray Dietrich (1894‑1980) to cash in on the American automotive craze of the time. The new model was called the Firebird, which featured a more rounded‑off Explorer‑like outline, through‑body construction and rear‑facing banjo tuners. These first Firebirds, produced in 1963‑1964, were known informally as ‘reverse’ bodied because the upper treble bout was more pronounced than the bass bout. Again, due to poor sales and high manufacturing costs, Gibson simplified the fundamentals and ‘flipped’ the body to produce the ‘non‑reverse’ Firebird, made between 1965 and 1969, when it was withdrawn. As with many of other unsuccessful early Gibson solid body designs, the company has reissued the Firebird in both ‘reverse’ and ‘non‑reverse’ formats since. Other variants were made including the 12‑string Firebird XII and the Thunderbird bass.

McCarty stood down from Gibson in 1966 and became president of Bigsby Guitars. McCarty later collaborated with, influenced and mentored up‑and‑coming ambitious American luthier Paul Reed Smith of PRS Guitars. Smith honoured McCarty’s contribution to guitar building by dedicating him with a PRS McCarty model. McCarty died in 2001 at the age of 91.

As with competitors, Fender, Gretsch and Rickenbacker, the 1970s was a period of controversial experimentation while under ‘corporate’ ownership. Gibson produced many other solid body electric guitars than have been mentioned so far. Among the many ‘forgotten Gibsons’ of the period, there are some notable examples, including the Challenger, Corvus, Firebrand, Invader, L6-S, Marauder, RD series, S‑1, Sonex‑180 and the Victory.

While Gibson may have had considerable success with guitars, it has never quite found the same formula for basses, amps and acoustics as some of its competitors, including Fender. That doesn’t mean to say they haven’t made notable examples; they have, it’s just that they haven’t had the popular impact and longevity to warrant mainstream success alongside the recognised ‘classics’.

After McCarty’s departure, Gibson came under increasing commercial pressure. Things came to a head in 1969, when Gibson’s parent company, Chicago Musical Instruments Ltd (CMI) was taken over by a South American brewing company called ECL and then became a subsidiary of Norlin Musical Instruments in 1974. In the same year, Norlin shifted production of Gibson guitars from its long‑term home in Kalamazoo, Michigan to Nashville, Tennessee. In 1984, Gibson finally closed its old factory at Kalamazoo.

Following a similar pattern to Fender’s travails at the time, Gibson underwent a period of poor quality control and severe financial difficulties, often blamed on corporate interference by executives who knew little about, and cared little for, the company’s pedigree and its customer base. Ultimately, as happened with Fender, the company returned to private ownership in January 1986 to focus on its core business. The Gibson Guitar Corporation was close to liquidation when it was bought by three businessmen, Henry E. Juszkiewicz, David H. Berryman and Gary A. Zebrowski. Under the new management, the business was once again repositioned as a maker of high quality professional musical instruments.

While production of Gibson’s sold body guitars remained in Nashville, further production plants were also opened in Memphis, Tennessee (1984) for semi‑hollow models, as well as Bozeman, Montana (1989) for acoustic guitars. After having bought out its main American competitor Epiphone in 1957, Gibson strategically repositioned Epiphone as a budget brand and relocated production of Epiphone guitars to Japan in 1970 and then to Korea in 1983, mainly producing low‑cost versions of famous Gibson models.

In order to cater for the more exclusive end of the market, Gibson produced select instruments under an in‑house Custom Shop operation. Juszkiewicz built on the internal Custom Shop operations, the roots of which date back to around 1984 (3 years before Fender established its Custom Shop), and which became a separate facility based in Nashville from October 1993.

The Gibson Guitar Corporation, still a private company, has its headquarters based in Nashville, Tennessee and continues to develop and produce high quality instruments into the 21st century. However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Gibson. In May 2018, after a period of unsuccessful diversification into peripheral consumer electronics products and rapidly rising debts, Gibson entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. The widely anticipated move was intended to give the company sufficient time to restructure the business, with Henry Juszkiewicz still as CEO. Gibson intends to focus on profitable core musical instrument products, while divesting itself of the remainder of its ill‑fated and loss‑making lifestyle ventures. It is likely that Gibson’s rationalisation programme will succeed and the company will avoid liquidation. Like the phoenix symbolised on its Firebird guitars, Gibson will surely rise again from the ashes and achieve long‑term financial security.

Many vintage Gibson solid body electric guitars are highly regarded by collectors, musicians and enthusiasts alike, with many key models reaching high or very prices on the vintage guitar market with the 1959 sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standard is held in particularly high esteem. It will be interesting to see if a resurgent Gibson will be able to recapture the pinnacles of past glory. Watch this space…

Other Major American Electric Guitar Brands

While it might seem from the previous two sections that Fender and Gibson were the only companies responsible for all the key milestones in the solid guitar’s evolution, this is in fact far from reality. There have been innumerable manufacturers from around the globe that have been highly influential in shaping the market.

Epiphone – Epiphone’s illustrious history dates back to 1873 when the Stathopoulo family emigrated from Greece, via Turkey, and arrived in New York in 1903. The family set up a business in America making banjos and mandolins. By the end of WWI, the company became ‘The House Of Stathopoulo’, then changed its name to the ‘Epiphone Banjo Company’ in 1928, the same year that they started producing acoustic guitars. The name Epiphone derived from a combination of owner Epaminondas Stathopoulo’s nickname, ‘Epi’, and the Greek word ‘phon-’ meaning ‘sound’ or ‘voice’. In addition to musical instruments, Epiphone started producing amplifiers in 1935. Epiphone was Gibson’s main competitor in the production of high‑quality instruments, particularly archtop guitars in the 1930s and 1940s, such as the De Luxe, Broadway and Triumph models. It was only after World War II that Epiphone began to struggle, eventually resulting in its acquisition by Gibson in 1957. Initially, the new generation of Epiphone guitars were still made in Gibson’s American facilities, even though many of their instruments were re‑branded Gibson models. During the 1960s, Epiphone’s Casino, which was effectively their version of the Gibson ES-330, became particularly famous because of an association with English pop/rock band The Beatles. In recent decades, the Epiphone brand has come to represent the affordable end of Gibson’s output, complementing the parent company’s product lines. In the early 1970s manufacturing was migrated to the Far East, first in Japan, then Korea and, since 2004, Epiphone guitars have been made in a dedicated factory in Qingdao, China. Other well‑known model Epiphone names from their past include Emperor, Riviera, Sheraton, Olympic, Wilshire and Crestwood.

Gretsch – Another famous manufacturer with a long history dating back to 1883 is Gretsch. The company was founded by Friedrich Gretsch (c.1856-1895). Gretsch arrived as a 17 year old German immigrant to the United States in 1872. By 1883, aged 27, Gretsch was manufacturing banjos, tambourines, and drums from a modest shop in Brooklyn, New York. It wasn’t until the big band era of the 1930s that guitars became part of Gretsch’s core business with models like the Synchromatic and Electromatic. Gretsch became hugely successful with the explosion of blues, country and rock ‘n’ roll music in the 1950s. The man behind many of Gretsch’s iconic designs including the flamboyant White Falcon was guitarist Jimmie Webster (1908‑1979), who worked as sales and demonstration representative for Gretsch. NB. Webster was known as the inventor of the ‘Touch System’ of playing in the 1950s, popularised by Van Halen as ‘two‑hand tapping’ in the late 1970s. The demand for Gretsch guitars during this period enabled Gretsch to compete head on with Gibson and Fender. Gretsch’s association with guitarist Chet Atkins propelled their now‑iconic 6120 from 1955 to massive popularity. Like many other companies in the 1960s, Gretsch struggled and was bought out by Baldwin Pianos in 1967. By 1981, after a period of significant decline Baldwin finally wound up production of Gretsch instruments. Fred W. Gretsch purchased the brand name in 1985 and several attempts were made to restart production, including manufacturing in the Far East. Gretsch has been under Fender patronage since 2002 with Fender having the controlling interest and the Gretsch family retaining ownership. A rejuvenated Gretsch company, with Fender’s support and endorsement from rockabilly guitarist Brian Setzer has, once again, become successful. Well‑known model Gretsch names from their history include the White Falcon, Country Gentleman, Tennessean, Viking, Anniversary, Jet and Corvette, often carrying obscure and confusing numerical model numbers.

Rickenbacker – Rickenbacker’s history is shorter than some of its competitors and has been widely covered in other parts of the guitar’s story. Rickenbacker only emerged in the early 1930s first as Ro‑Pat‑In then as Electro before formally adopting the Rickenbacker name. Rickenbacker was crucial in the early development of the electric guitar. However, it wasn’t until the late 1950s that Rickenbacker’s fortunes found a new lease of life and took a major upturn that would lead to the current day. In 1953, Adolph Rickenbacker sold his company to music industry businessman F.C. Hall (1909‑1999), founder and CEO of media company Radio-Tel. Under Hall’s ambitious leadership, the company introduced a number of innovative guitar models, which proved popular with many bands during the nascent rock ‘n’ roll era. In an inspired move, Halll hired illustrious guitar maker Roger Rossmeisl (1927-1979) in 1954. Rossmeisl was responsible for the design of Rickenbacker guitars including a number of iconic instruments released in the late 1950s, including the ‘Capri’ 300 series guitars from 1958 and the equally influential 4000 series basses from 1957. Both of these designs, along with a number of others, are still in production today. Rickenbacker’s artist association with, particularly, The Beatles and The Byrds in the 1960s, cemented the brand’s rightful place in guitar history.

Danelectro – While it may not be an obvious choice for coverage, it is worth mentioning Danelectro. The company was founded in 1947 by Lithuanian immigrant Nathan ‘Nat’ Daniel (1912-1994) and based in New Jersey. The company started out by making guitars, basses and baritones for other companies including Silvertone models for the Sears & Roebuck department stores and mail order, and Airline models for Montgomery Ward. The strategy enabled Danelectro to start making guitars using its own name by 1954. Daniel innovated by using unorthodox materials and construction techniques, at least hitherto unusual in the guitar building industry. The resulting instruments have a distinctive look and sound that also enabled the company to produce no-frills instruments at competitive prices for the mass market. In a clever move under the Silvertone brand, they produced guitars with a valve amp built into the guitar case, so customers could buy everything they needed in one convenient, portable package. The brand is important historically because it enabled many young aspiring musicians to buy instruments at low cost. The unique approach also attracted many professional players to use Danelectro instruments, including guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Rory Gallagher, Jimmy Page and Beck. Like many other American companies, including Fender and Gibson, Danelectro struggled in the 1960s and was sold to industry giant MCA in 1966, only for the factory to be closed down in 1969. The brand was resurrected and started making guitars again in 2006.

PRS – Compared to some of the well established brands that have been around much longer, PRS Guitars is really the new‑kid‑on‑the‑block, founded by American luthier Paul Reed Smith in Annapolis, Maryland in 1984. In a relatively short period of time, PRS has gained an enviable reputation for high quality instruments and amps, cleverly finding a niche in the market that is different from their competitors. Taking design influences from Fender and Gibson amongst others and adding something new and fresh of their own, PRS managed to build substantial market share rapidly from seemingly nowhere.  Having guitarist Carlos Santana on board from the start and bringing in ex‑Gibson president Ted McCarty as Smith’s mentor didn’t harm the company’s credibility either. PRS introduced stunning instruments, starting with the Standard and Custom, recognised for their immaculate craftsmanship. Many PRS instruments have distinctive features including exquisite highly figured tone woods, superbly engineered hardware and distinctive unique ‘bird’ fingerboard inlays. The company grew swiftly; relocating to a major new American factory in 1996 and from 2003 PRS established a range of more affordable SE (standing for ‘Student Edition’) models manufactured in Korea. PRS’s success demonstrates that the industry’s barriers to entry are not insurmountable and with the right strategy, it is still possible to enter the market and to grow market share despite well‑established competition, and without being straightjacketed by historical constraints.

Other Guitar Brands From Around the World

Guitar design, production and sales are not restricted to just a few large American companies. In America alone, there are many thousands of guitar manufacturers past and present. Many names will be familiar, such as Ernie Ball/Music Man, Peavey, Guild, Jackson, Dean, BC Rich, Ovation, Supro, National, Kay, Harmony, etc., through to innumerable custom and boutique luthiers. Some of these manufacture instruments in the U.S. while others are American companies that source part or all of their guitars from the Far East. A quick look around the globe highlights many other fertile guitar making territories…

Europe – Particularly following World War II when embargoes and tight trade restrictions limited exports of guitars from America, a combination of high demand for guitars and low supply provided an opportunity for some enterprising European companies to fill the gap. Many of these guitars followed the influence of American designs in the knowledge that young people in Europe aspired to emulate their American counterparts. Britain and continental Europe have produced many guitar brands over a long period of time including from illustrious companies such as Burns, Duesenberg, Eko, Framus, Hagstrom, Höfner, Hohner, Patrick James Eggle, Shergold, Gordon Smith, James Trussart, Vigier, Vox, Warwick, Watkins, Zemaitis, etc.

Far East – The Far East isn’t only responsible for producing low cost guitars for American and European guitar brands. During the 1970s, Japanese firms were producing affordable, high quality copies of American guitars, taking advantage of high labour prices and poor quality control in the U.S. However, there has also been a notable history of guitar manufacture in its own right, including some very quirky and idiosyncratic models. Many of the big names from Japan include, Aria, ESP/LTD, Ibanez, Italia, Teisco Tokai, Yamaha, etc.

Eastern Bloc – While not widely recognised as a guitar‑making region, largely because of its nationalistic political regime and economic protectionism, the Eastern Bloc countries have produced a diverse range of instruments over an extended period of time. There is a vast array of models bearing many unfamiliar names such as, Aelita, Formanta, Jolana, Migma, Tokina, etc.

As you might expect, the fascination with the world’s favourite instrument is genuinely global and they have been made in every corner of the world, including Australia, Canada, South America and, to a lesser extent, the middle east (where the guitar’s story began after all!) and Africa.

Other Factors

Although this section focuses on electric guitar production, it is worth remembering that acoustic guitar manufacturing is also thriving in the 21st Century with famous specialist brands such as Martin (based in Pennsylvania since 1833) and Taylor (based in California since 1974) at the forefront of innovation and technological development. Of the major American electric guitar makers, it is only really Gibson that also has a reputable range of professional acoustic instruments. Elsewhere, Yamaha has a strong range of Far Eastern acoustic guitars. There are numerous other manufacturers to be found producing fine acoustic guitars at all price points in the market.

The 21st Century landscape of guitar production is one of global diversity and differentiation. Modern guitars may have been hugely influenced, if not defined, by a small number of American companies but it is by no means a monopolistic industry; quite the opposite in reality. The long‑term viability of guitar making is inextricably linked to the music industry and what happens will rely heavily on musical trends and influences.

There have been many challenges to the dominance of the electric guitar, notably during the 1980s and 1990s with proliferation of synthesizers and in the 2000s as home production of electronic music became affordable and accessible. However, the popularity of the guitar seems (relatively) assured, despite many cynical commentators regularly proclaiming ‘the death of guitar music’. Digital technology is bringing a new challenge to guitar makers, so it will be up to countless luthiers around the world to rise to the challenge, seek new opportunities, adapt the guitar and make it truly a universal instrument and secure its future success for generations to come.

End of Part VI

Over these last six instalments, I have covered the guitar’s history from its vestigial beginnings in the ‘Cradle of Civilisation’ to the birth and proliferation of the electric guitar. There is just a little of the long and winding path left to travel and I hope you’ll join me for the remainder of the story. The next article has yet to be written, due to personal circumstances. While I hope to publish it next month, it is by no means certain. Fingers crossed. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Quote of the Month’: “Contrary to popular opinion, great minds most definitely do not think alike. Similarly, great musicians do not play or sound alike.”

© 2018 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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