101 Greatest Moments in Guitar History 1971 - 1978

March 14, 2005

Deep Purple - Machine HeadFripp and Eno - No PussyfootingJeff Beck - Blow by BlowKiss - AliveFrampton Comes AliveAl Di MeolaVan HalenAt Fillmore East Released, 1971

This Allman Brothers tour de force delivers incredible Les Paul/Marshall tones, amazing playing from Dickey Betts, and utterly astounding slide work from Duane Allman. Duane’s sophisticated, Coltrane-influenced celebrations of bizarre harmonic sensibilities and microtonal lines ushered in the era of modern electric slide and established him as the “Hendrix” of slide guitar. It’s almost too much—especially given the added bounty of great songs, beautiful interplay between all the instruments, and jaw-dropping solo excursions. Even producer Tom Dowd’s skillful “edits” can’t reign in the overflowing genius of this seminal jam band.

“Smoke on the Water” Released, 1972

Machine Head is a classic album with great rhythm lines and solos from Ritchie Blackmore on “Highway Star,” “Lazy,” and “Space Truckin’.” But when you’re talking about classic licks, you can’t top “Smoke on the Water,” which is likely the most played guitar riff of all time. And Blackmore’s magical double-stop riff was just the introduction. Players who ventured further were treated to his sublimely influential neo-Baroque approach to heavy guitar.

Robert Fripp Introduces Frippertronics, 1973

In September 1972, Brian Eno invited Robert Fripp to his apartment studio to try out a tape-looping system he’d assembled using two Revox reel-to-reel recorders. Fripp plugged in his Les Paul Custom and a fuzz pedal, and improvised what would become the 21-minute-long “The Heavenly Music Corporation” (included on the duo’s 1973 release, No Pussyfooting)—a proto-ambient work that Fripp frequently cites as one of his most significant performances. Creating harmonic structures by building up layers of sustained single-note lines, and then soloing over them, Fripp discovered, as he put it, a way “for one person to make an awful lot of noise.”

Blow by Blow Released, 1975

Some guitarists try to reinvent themselves all the time, but no one does it as artfully as Jeff Beck. When Blow by Blow was released in March 1975, Beck seemed to go overnight from a fiery, blues-based rocker who would throw in some eastern flavors, to a guy who absolutely owned jazz fusion. His tone, phrasing, taste, dynamics, and ability to veer inside and outside of changes was truly mind boggling. The album also reaffirmed the guitarist as a tonal pervert who wasn’t afraid to explore farty fuzz textures.

Alive! Released, 1975

Kiss’ image—and, more importantly, the marketing of that image—excited millions of kids worldwide about the guitar like no one had since the Beatles. And it’s not just about the makeup, either, because the band’s music crammed every last vinyl groove with guitar. But Alive!, released October 1975, transformed Kiss from cultish Creem magazine darlings to international superstars, ultimately logging more than four million in album sales. Long live the Kiss Army!

DiMarzio Jumpstarts the Aftermarket Pickup Biz, 1975

Guitarist/guitar technician Larry DiMarzio taught himself to build pickups after realizing that stock models weren’t giving rock players the power they desired. While working for guitar builder Charlie LaBue and the Guitar Lab in the early ’70s, DiMarzio developed a high-output humbucker that would eventually become the Super Distortion. Introduced when DiMarzio Pickups formed in 1975, the Super Distortion promised “more sustain, more push and drive, and a more desirable overdrive than any pickup ever made by anyone.” Big claims for sure, but as endorsed by Al Di Meola, Rick Derringer, Earl Slick, Ace Frehley, and John Abercrombie, the Super Distortion suddenly caused players to become very interested in aftermarket pickups.

Ramones Invade England, 1976

On America’s 200th Independence Day, a U.S. band assaulted Great Britain, and helped ignite yet another discomforting revolution for the realm: punk rock. The Ramones’ July 4, 1976 U.K. debut concert gave the Sex Pistols and all the disaffected malcontents wallowing within England’s rock underbelly a raison d’être. The Ramones’ image, songs, attitude, and sound were perfect. The model was set. New bands formed, old bands got with the program. And, for a time, the world trembled over a new order. Hey! Ho!

Nady Introduces the Nasty Cordless, 1976

John Nady first began working on a wireless system for guitar in 1968, and debuted his Nasty Cordless in 1976. Although a system from Vega had come out shortly before, Nady’s design had several advantages: a lower price, a simpler interface, and a dramatically improved signal-to-noise ratio, thanks to Nady’s patented companding technology. The Nasty Cordless became an instant hit, and collected high-profile testimonials from users such as Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, and Van Halen. By the ’80s, the updated Nady Wireless enjoyed a virtual monopoly with 85 percent of the bands on Billboard’s top-grossing tour chart using Nady rigs.

Frampton Comes Alive Released, 1976

Ex-Herd and Humble Pie guitarist Peter Frampton had already played on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass when he struck multi-multi-platinum with this 1976 double-disc recorded live at San Francisco’s Winterland Arena. Frampton’s melodic jazz-influenced, non-pentatonic note flurries were thrilling, the songs were fabulously sing-along-able, and the Heil Talkbox-powered “guitar vocalizations” were a wonderful gimmick. For a moment in time, Frampton represented the glory of what it meant to be a rock-guitar god.

Hartley Peavey CNC’s Guitars, 1976

Inspired by the consistency of gunstocks—and dismayed by the inconsistency of hand-shaped guitar necks and bodies—Hartley Peavey stole a riff from the firearms manufacturers and brought CNC routing and the copy lathe to guitarmaking. First used to produce the Peavey T-60 guitar in 1976, the new method delivered unmatched precision and consistency, and made it possible to bring high-quality, affordable U.S.-made guitars to market.

Al Di Meola Goes Solo, 1976

Al Di Meola was already a veteran of Return to Forever when, at 22, he released Land of the Midnight Sun. His ungodly chops, flawless picking, and “Mutola” technique were all in jaw-dropping form on this record. Di Meola would go on to win the GP Readers’ Poll so many times that he had to be disqualified from consideration.

Van Halen Released, 1978

The atomic bomb of post-Hendrix guitar. The very first guitar sound on this 1978 landmark features Eddie Van Halen picking behind the nut of his “Frankenstein” Charvel. The second cut was “Eruption,” which was a frightening barrage of fretboard genius that no one had heard anything like before—or will likely experience since. Rarely has any player emerged with his tone, chops, and style so fully realized. Mr. VH would soon bring his 6-string pyrotechnics to the pop world with his solo on Michael Jackson’s hit “Beat It,” reinforcing his standing as rock guitar’s reigning badass.

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