101 Greatest Moments in Guitar History 1957 - 1961

March 14, 2005

Johnny Burnette - and the Rock n' Roll TrioRobert JohnsonBo Diddley Delivers The Beat, 1957

On his eponymous 1957 debut album, Bo Diddley gave rock and roll its most-identifiable pulse—as well as a primal thump that exploded with all the sex, sweat, and swagger rock had to offer. What would come to be known as the “Bo Diddley Beat” was a standard African rhythm, but when Bo first used it to propel tunes such as “I’m a Man” and “Who Do You Love,” America’s parents were treated to a groove that scared the holy hell out of them.

Lonnie Donegan Launches Skiffle, 1957

Lonnie Donegan’s music for the working class (based on American jug band jazz) showed scores of British teens it was possible to start a band with just an acoustic guitar, a washboard, and something resembling an upright bass. And, if you were lucky, you might sell three million records, as Donegan did with his version of Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line.” The working-class kids who emulated Donegan include the Beatles (especially John Lennon, whose first band, The Quarrymen, was a skiffle group), the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Page, Brian May, Mark Knopfler, and Albert Lee.

“Rebel Rouser” Released, 1958

This irresistible tune off Duane Eddy’s 1958 debut album popularized rock instrumentals, Gretsch guitars, and the sound known as “twang.”

“Rumble” Unleashed, 1958

“If it hadn’t been for Link Wray and ‘Rumble,’ I would never have picked up a guitar,” said Pete Townshend. That’s some endorsement, even though it doesn’t truly capture the pre-punk bombast that Wray’s savage distorted chords wrought on Eisenhower’s America. Wray recorded the ferocious instrumental with a ’53 Gibson Les Paul and a Premier amp, punching holes in the amp’s two 10" speakers to emulate the ragged overdrive he heard when performing the song live through a distorted P.A. system. The result was, arguably, the first recorded example of power chords.

Gibson ES-335TD Unveiled, 1958

Introduced in the spring of 1958, the thinline ES-335 was one of the highlights of Ted McCarty’s reign at Gibson. Essentially a solidbody in archtop clothing, the 335’s key feature was a solid block of maple running down the middle of the body to which the bridge and stop tailpiece were mounted, solving the feedback problems associated with amplified semi-hollowbodies once and for all.

Vox Introduces the AC15, 1958

A key element of British Invasion-era rock, the Dick Denny-designed AC15 was like nothing else available in England at the time, because it was designed from the get-go to be a guitar amp. Running a pair of EL84 output tubes in cathode-biased configuration produced tons of shimmering harmonics that poured out like a blizzard of nails when the amp was turned up. The stylish AC15 changed the game for guitar players, and it paved the way for the ultimate expression of Vox rebellion, the AC30.

The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery Released, 1960

When Wes Montgomery threw down the eight tracks for The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery on January 26 and 27, his sublime octaves, smooth-as-silk phrasing, and impossibly rich tone established him as The Man for post-Charlie Christian jazz guitar. In fact, the album was so influential that two Montgomery compositions, “Four on Six” and “West Coast Blues,” became instant standards.

King of the Delta Blues Singers Released, 1961

Robert Johnson cut his legendary tracks in 1936 and 1937, but it wasn’t until Columbia put out this record in 1961 that most people heard the guitar playing behind the enigmatic legend. This is the record that just about every British rock and blues player points to as the source.

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