Dick Dale Invents Surf Guitar, 1962
Dick Dale invented it, and if you play it, he owns you, because you’re probably just aping what he has already done. When Dale released Surfer’s Choice in 1962, he became one of the first guitarists to really bring it with massive volume, and his intensity, attitude, machine-gun riffery, and penchant for spewing middle-eastern melodies were documented as the real secrets of surf guitar. It ain’t just about reverb-drenched notes, kids!
Ernie Ball Gets Slinky, 1962
In the early ’60s, varieties of guitar strings were pretty limited, and Ernie Ball saw an opportunity. He approached Leo Fender with the idea of making strings in specific gauges—including lighter gauges that would appeal to the burgeoning rock and roll movement and its bend-happy players. Fender wasn’t interested. Neither was Gibson. So Ball did it himself, calling his new strings “Slinkys.” The result was a massive success that not only powered rock guitar, it also allowed fastidious players of all styles to tailor individual string gauges to their particular performance needs and desires.
The Yardbirds Form, 1963
While the Yardbirds introduced the world to Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, the band was also one of the first white-blues aggregates. From there, the group became early architects of psychedelia (on the Beck-fueled “Heart Full of Soul” and “Shapes of Things”), set the standard for controlled musical chaos with its trademark rave ups, and ended up as a hitmaker.
Maestro FZ-1 Debuts, 1963
Sporting a circuit invented by a Nashville recording engineer named Glen Snotty (who apparently decided to give the design to Gibson/Maestro), the Fuzz-Tone was the equivalent of the “shot heard ’round the world” for the stompbox biz. The FZ-1 didn’t sell well initially, but that changed after Keith Richards deployed it on the Rolling Stones’ 1965 hit “Satisfaction.” Maestro shipped some 21,000 FZ-1s the following year, and the demand for the effect (helped along by Tommy Tedesco’s use of it on the Green Acres theme) became so huge that other makers here and abroad were literally forced to begin making their own units, further spreading the gospel of buzz.
Fender Unveils the Twin Reverb, 1964
Introduced in 1964 as the top gun in Fender’s combo line, the Twin Reverb’s combination of power and flexibility has kept it an essential tool for legions of blues, country, funk, and rock players. With four 6L6s driving a pair of 12" speakers, the Twin Reverb offers plenty of muscle, and its great-sounding reverb—a hallmark of most original blackface models—enhances its huge, ballsy clean response. To get a taste of the Twin Reverb in all its snappy, singing glory, listen to Roy Nichols working his twangy magic on a Tele through a Twin on Merle Haggard’s 1969 live album Okie from Muskogee. Now that’s country!
Beatlemania Sweeps America, 1964
For 99.999 percent of today’s players who were old enough to have functioning pleasure centers in 1964, the Beatles’ February 9 performance on The Ed Sullivan Show was the defining moment of their musical lives. The combined impact of the music, the clothes, the hair, the screaming girls, the marvelous guitars and amps, and the fabulous cool that seemed to emanate from John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s every pore was all it took to transform legions of homebodies and dilettantes into committed rockers.
Pete Townshend Auto Destructs, 1964
Feedback, a low ceiling, and a tall, crazed guitarist—who was inspired by the auto-destruction techniques of performance art—kicked off an orgy of instrument smashing that has incited similarly horrific episodes of axe murder ever since. During a fall ’64 Who gig at north London’s Railway Tavern, Pete Townshend repeatedly smacked his Rickenbacker against the ceiling while trying to shake off some feedback whistles. Townshend’s art-school cronies loved the “performance,” and they dared him to abuse his guitar again for the band’s second set. “The guitar broke,” said Townshend, who readily accepted the challenge, “and the audience was waiting for me to sob over it—like, ‘Hey, that’ll teach you to jump around like a lunatic.’ I had no recourse but to look as though I meant to do it. So I smashed up the guitar even more and jumped all over the bits, which gave me a fantastic buzz.” Unfortunately, fans now expected the Who to destroy their gear at every gig—a situation that drove the group to the brink of bankruptcy until the success of Tommy made such excesses a relative non issue.