101 Greatest Moments in Guitar History 1954 - 1957

March 14, 2005

The Fender StratocasterBlackboard JungleThe Fender Stratocaster Is Born, 1954

In 1954, Fender rolled out its futuristic Stratocaster. Armed with three pickups, swooping lines, and a superbly designed trem, the Strat redefined the notion of what an electric guitar was all about—in addition to offering players of the era a seemingly limitless variety of sounds.

Elvis Records with Scotty Moore, 1954

Scotty Moore had met the young Elvis Presley the day before he carried his Gibson ES-295 into Sun Records on July 5, 1954 to cut some tracks. The first few were nothing special, but when they went into an up-tempo version of “That’s All Right (Mama),” the earth moved. The rest is history.

Gibson Patents the Humbucker, 1955

It was Gibson engineer Seth Lover who figured out how to make a great sounding pickup that didn’t hum. By connecting two single-coil pickups in series—with the coils out of phase with each other electrically and magnetically—the signal noise of one coil was effectively cancelled by the signal noise of the other coil. A patent request was filed on June 22, 1955, and the pickup was introduced on steel guitars (1956) and then on standard guitars in 1957. A decal with “Patent Applied For” was added to the pickups in late 1957, thus making “PAF” one of the major acronyms to be learned by every vintage guitar freak.

“Rock Around the Clock” Opens Blackboard Jungle, 1955

Bill Haley and the Comets had released the song a year before, but it was its placement at the beginning of this shocking (for the time) teenage gang movie that shot “Rock Around the Clock” to number one, and galvanized the tune’s position as an early rocker’s anthem. Danny Cedrone’s amazing guitar solo is the cherry on top of this landmark track.

Scotty Moore Buys an EchoSonic, 1955

The first practical tape echo was invented and built into a combo amp by Ray Butts—a radio repairman who was trying to make it possible for players to create the echo effects used by Les Paul on his early recordings. Chet Atkins bought the first EchoSonic in 1954, but Elvis Presley’s guitarist Scotty Moore used the amp extensively to obtain his trademark slap-back echo onstage. Butts’ patented tape-loop technology later found its way into the Echoplex, which has effectively defined the sound of tape echo ever since.

“Maybellene” Released, 1955

On May 21, 1955, Chuck Berry plugged his Gibson ES-350T through a Fender amp, and—in his words—uncorked “a high-performance mixture of frenetic syncopation and pure adrenaline.” Berry’s rollicking guitar riffs—translated from boogie-woogie piano—pretty much invented rock guitar, and influenced everyone from the Beatles to Keith Richards to you.

“Train Kept A’Rollin” Released, 1956

When Rock ’N Roll Trio guitarist Paul Burlison dropped his amp after a gig in Philadelphia and knocked a tube loose, it lead to one of the earliest examples of distorted rock guitar. Burlison replicated the fuzzy roar by intentionally dislodging one of his amp’s tubes when the Trio entered the studio in 1956 to record its debut album. But that’s not all—Burlison’s riffing on Tiny Bradshaw’s jump blues “Train Kept A’Rollin” created an alliance of sound and fury that inspired Beck, Clapton, Page, hordes of rockabilly rebels, and even Aerosmith.

Buddy Holly Gives America a Strat Attack, 1957

Until Buddy Holly was televised on The Ed Sullivan Show in late 1957, many Americans probably still pictured guitars as either acoustics or jazz boxes. Holly’s performance on the popular variety show exposed the country to a sleek, sexy, and modern solidbody rock guitar.

Ricky Nelson Rocks The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, 1957

In the troubled early years of rock and roll, an unlikely crusader named Ricky Nelson brought rock music into the homes of middle America through his closing performances on this wholesome family sitcom starring his father and mother. Even cooler was the fact that Ricky had a young, Tele-wielding James Burton at his side, and countless Telecaster aficionados would tune in to hear Burton peel off his awesome licks on Nelson’s teen hits such as “Hello Mary Lou.”

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