“Classical Gas” Actually Becomes a Hit, 1968
Any instrumental that reaches number one is pretty remarkable, but topping the charts with a classical guitar has happened exactly once, with Mason Williams’ epic “Classical Gas.” This little ditty has been covered by monster players such as Chet Atkins, Glen Campbell, and the California Guitar Trio, and in 1998, BMI stated “Classical Gas” has garnered more airplay than any other instrumental. Not bad for a tune Williams wrote to “have a piece to play at parties when they passed the guitar around.”
Electro-Harmonix Debuts the LPB-1, 1968
It’s hard to imagine now that people actually lined up at the 1968 NAMM show in Anaheim, California, to buy EH founder Mike Matthews’ little one-transistor Linear Power Booster. But that’s how hungry players were back then for something that could overdrive the living you-know-what from just about any amp. The LPB-1 ushered in the notion of high-gain preamps, and even Hartley Peavey says he was one of those standing in line at the EH booth—admitting that the LPB-1 inspired the preamp design of his first Classic amplifier. Simple as it was, the LPB-1 paved the way for the development of the distortion pedals and high-gain amps that have shaped rock and roll (and caused us all to lose some top-end off our hearing).
Led Zeppelin Released, 1969
A Telecaster and a Supro amp never sounded better than this. Jimmy Page wasn’t the first guitarist to do a heavy brand of blues rock, but he hit an absolute home run when he released this stunning album on January 12, 1969. Page also became one of rock’s first artist/producers, and proved himself to be a master not just of blues, but also English folk, psychedelia, proto-punk, early heavy metal, and sound.
Santana Released, 1969
It’s pretty sad to think that before Santana hit the streets in August 1969, the words “Latin” and “rock” were viewed as mutually exclusive. But when Carlos Santana juxtaposed his Latin heritage with his love of Peter Green and Jimi Hendrix, this early masterwork established Latin rock, and drew a musical line to Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys, and anyone who marries world beats and Latin rhythms with soaring guitar.
Woodstock Celebrates Peace, Love, and Guitars, 1969
The legendary Woodstock Music & Art Fair—held August 15, 16, and 17, 1969—had more killer guitar moments than Wavy Gravy had acid trips. Consider proto-shredder Alvin Lee going all pentatonic on “I’m Going Home,” Carlos Santana’s transcendent “Soul Sacrifice,” the Who absolutely ruling before Pete Townsend tosses his dead SG Special into the crowd, and Richie Havens’ captivating “Freedom.” But it’s Jimi Hendrix’s legendary rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” that towers over all the rest as the defining moment—not only of the festival, but, quite possibly, the entire decade.
John McLaughlin Records with Miles Davis, 1969
McLaughlin’s mostly improvised contributions to Davis’ transitional In a Silent Way on February 18, 1969 quickly lead to numerous other Davis sessions, including the seminal Bitches Brew (featuring a song actually titled “John McLaughlin”) six months later, and 1970’s rocking Jack Johnson. McLaughlin’s Hendrix-meets-Coltrane fretboard fury on those dates—concurrently with Tony Williams’ Lifetime—established him as a revolutionary jazz-fusion guitarist. These moments also set the stage for McLaughlin’s groundbreaking Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Black Sabbath Released, 1970
The birth of heavy metal is right here. There may have been “heavy” bands before this, but those were all just blues bands compared to Sabbath. When Tony Iommi seized upon the unholiest of intervals—the tritone—and played it with such a disturbingly sinister tone on the title track, he established the blueprint for every metal band that followed.
Mesa/Boogie Debuts the Mark I, 1970
Randall Smith pioneered high-gain amplifiers when he began modding Fender Princetons in the late ’60s for more power and, especially, more preamp distortion. “How far can I boost this little amp” was Smith’s self-stated goal, and when Carlos Santana got hold of one of Smith’s hot-rods, his reaction was, “Man, that little thing really boogies.” Introduced in 1970, the Mark I made it possible to get nearly unending sustain at volumes suitable for the stage or your bedroom. It seemed like a miracle at the time, and Smith deserves huge kudos for giving players tremendous tonal flexibility in a small, easy-to-carry package.
Maestro Debuts the PS-1, 1970
The first practical solid-state phase-shifter for performing musicians was developed by synth pioneer Tom Oberheim in 1970. Resulting from Oberheim’s attempts to clone the sound of a rotary speaker (but differing from the earlier Univox Uni-Vibe, which used photo resistors and a pulsating light to modulate its circuit), the PS-1 produced a seductive swirl that was all its own. It was soon added to Maestro’s ever-growing product line, and between 1971 and 1975, Oberheim built and sold around 40,000 PS-1s to the Gibson-owned company. The PS-1 defined the sound of phase shifting, opening the door to the next generation of compact phasers that would soon follow from MXR and Electro-Harmonix.
Ovation IntroducesFirst Piezo Acoustic/ Electric, 1970
When Ovation began experimenting with piezo pickups in their roundback Legend acoustics, it was largely an effort to keep their star endorser Glen Campbell happy—although rockers probably got the most benefit from the technology. As the piezo system was relatively resistant to feedback, the Legend enabled rock players to perform on loud stages with an acoustic guitar. In addition, the innovation established a (like it or not) “piezo sound” that defined acoustic-electric tone for years.
6- and 12-String Guitar Released, 1971
Lots of folks got their first taste of high-octane fingerstyle guitar with Leo Kottke’s 1971 Takoma debut. Kottke’s way had been paved, in large part, by acoustic maverick John Fahey, but Kottke ultimately proved more accessible to the public (a situation that was helped along by his wry sense of humor in concert). This record features all of Kottke’s dazzling chops, as well as his near-seamless blending of styles such as pop, folk, blues, and classical.