What is it that keeps the guitar in our minds and hearts? Is it the instrument’s flexibility or its power to inspire social change?
What is the essence of the guitar? Why is it arguably the most popular musical instrument of all time? The fact that you are reading these words is testament to the guitar’s ubiquitous reach. It pervades our daily world and informs our experience. Think about it: The guitar has either been at the forefront or close by on the sidelines of every social movement and change in America for well over a century.
As the cowboys drove their herds north along the Chisholm Trail, the guitar was there. When African slaves toiled in American cotton fields, they sang their stories accompanied by a 6-string. During the Dust Bowl, displaced families passed time plucking and migrant workers rode the rails to the strum of the guitar, using it as a weapon of survival. Woody Guthrie—a famous transient himself—wrote and performed powerful activist protestations that helped build trade unions, and were echoed decades later at the sit-ins and folk festivals of the 1960s. But it was most certainly the British Invasion that catapulted the guitar past the accordion and saxophone as the instrument of the masses.
“The guitar really gave me an identity,” explains guitarist Matt Beck, the son of two classical musicians. “It gave me a personality that was different from the classical instruments my parents had.” Beck saw the line in the sand as a call to arms that allowed him to carry on the family business in his own image. “What drew me in was that it sounded modern,” he says, further underlining the social split the guitar can represent.
That divide fueled a desire and a career playing a wide range of music. Today, Beck spends his time playing on Broadway shows like Rent and Spiderman, and performing with Matchbox 20, a gig he’s held down for over a decade. He sees the guitar’s flexibility as its greatest asset, and his career underlines that as well. Although he acknowledges the ease of learning guitar basics as a reason for its popularity, he is quick to add “a guitar is easy to play, but difficult to master.” As for his take on the guitar’s place in history, Beck says, “I definitely see the guitar in the American experience as a centerpiece—it’s the folk instrument of our country.”
Echoing that sentiment is guitarist and collector Errol Antzis. He remembers hearing guitarist Michael Schenker holding a single feedback-drenched note during the intro of a UFO song. “Wow, what is that sound?” he recalls thinking. “That’s when I decided to start playing guitar.” For Antzis, it was a defining moment: The piano lessons got ditched and it was 6-strings from that day on. Antzis spent years gigging professionally before switching gears and going back to school. Although he carved out a career in finance and publishing, he’s never stopped making music. Today, his dazzling collection of instruments is enviable, and his musical talent has allowed him to record with some of his guitar heroes. “I don’t have a problem,” he says of his vast guitar holdings, “I have a passion.”
For those musicians and many other young people, the Anglo version of American blues and R&B that dominated the album charts and radio waves spurred them to pick up and play guitar. For others, it led to a desire to build. For renowned builder Ken Parker, listening to the Ventures inspired him to construct a guitar out of cardboard as a child, but it was the Fab Four that really knocked him out.
“The Beatles inoculated America with American music,” says Parker. “Their take on R&B lit up the whole world and it went crazy on guitars.”
Parker’s infatuation for the sound and song of the guitar has manifested itself in a lifelong career building instruments. Reinterpreting and morphing the guitar’s form has been his calling card, similar to the way rockers of the late 20th Century distorted and bent their music. Reflecting his own first encounters with guitar music, Parker strives to bring the joy of discovery to others. “An instrument can give you goose bumps,” he explains. “I’m trying to create something that makes you not watch TV, but go to the guitar case instead.”
Reflecting on the guitar’s enduring ability to speak for new generations, amp builder and restorer Blackie Pagano points out that, “When you look at a Fender Stratocaster, which was designed in the 1950s, it still looks modern.” For young artists, it may also be a connection to the past. By strapping on a guitar—and thus donning an iconic musical costume—they can conjure up some vintage mojo.
Pagano sees the guitar’s innate ability to channel the performer’s personality as its strength. “In the end, it’s what you can get out of it, and I’ve seen guys do amazing things with stuff you’d pull out of the trash.” When pressed to explain why the guitar remains popular today, even with tech-savvy young artists, Pagano says with a laugh, “Even the junk of yesterday is more interesting to use than today’s best technology.”
So what is it that keeps the guitar in our minds and hearts? Is it the instrument’s flexibility or the rebellion it represents? I’d wager that it’s both these things and more. Unlike horns and woodwinds, you can sing while playing, and it’s easier to learn (and carry) than a piano. We hold the guitar to our bodies like a lover and caress the strings. In our hands, it communicates our most intimate feelings and stories.
In the end, even though it wasn’t invented here, the guitar is the most American of musical instruments. From the cowboys to the latest bands gracing the festival stages, the guitar has created our nation’s greatest export—American music.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Flare is a dual-function pedal with a tube-like booster and a 1970s-style ring modulator effect that can be played separately or together.
Flare’s ring modulator is based on the iconic tone of the original Dan Armstrong Green Ringer. This vintage classic was made famous by Frank Zappa who loved the unusual modulations created by generating a harmonic octave over notes. Messiah’s version offers two control knobs: a “Sparkle” tone attenuator and output Level control. Its taupe-gold body, purple and green knobs and stick-figure rock ’n’ roller holding up a flame convey an appropriately rockin’70s vibe.
In a unique twist, Messiah’s Flare pairs the ringer with a warm tube-style boost instead of a fuzz. Flare feeds the booster into the ringer for an extra punch, while preserving the Green Ringerspirit. The ringer side also turns any fuzz into an octafuzz, and it has the ability to quiet signal background noise fed through it.
The booster side features a single Boost knob to control the MOSFET circuit, making it very tube-amp-friendly with a warm, organic boost and gain of up to 32dB.
The pedal is a distinct improvement over the 1970s pedal that inspired it. “Most ringer pedals don’t track well,” Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “The player can’t rely on repeating the same effect even with the most consistently played notes. We carefully matched the components, so our ringer follows your every move, producing that slightly dirty octave you expect on demand.”
Messiah developed this vintage octave pedal with flexible features so that people who love that messy, dirty Zappa-esque sound can get there with ease but there’s also something for those who have not fallen in love with fuzz or the Green Ringer alone. Flare offers an array of sonic options while retaining simplicity in the controls.
Each Flair Pedal Includes:
- 3 control knobs: Boost, Sparkle, and Level
- Two effects – Ring Modulator and Boost – can be used together or separately
- Space-saving top side jacks
- Durable, cast aluminum alloy 125B enclosure with fun artwork
- Easy to see, illuminated True-bypass foot switch
- Standard 9V pedal power input
Flare Pedal Demo
Messiah Guitars pedals are designed with an explorative player in mind. Like their custom guitars and amplifiers, Messiah’s pedals are hand-crafted in Los Angeles for a long life with guaranteed quality.
Flare retails for $199.00 and can be purchased directly at Messiah Guitars or you can hear it in person at Impulse Music Co. in Canyon Country, CA.
For more information, please visit messiahguitars.com.
This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal.
If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and QUACKS like a duck, then it must be a duck. That's how we came up with the name for our new envelope filter. This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal. Trevor explains how this is possible in the launch video, as well as gives a demo on Le Canard’s operation.
The attack control determines how quickly the filter responds to the envelope, and the decay sets how quickly the filter releases afterward. The range controls which frequency spectrum the filter does its magic on. Add to this relay-based full-bypass switching with failsafe, and you've got one crazy little quacky beast. It is so expressive that you'll want to give up on your rocker-wah forever.
The MayFly Le Canard envelope filter features:
- Super fast responding envelope follower. Touch it and it jumps!
- Range control to dial in the character of the filter
- Attack control to control how fast the filter moves on that first touch
- Release control to control how slowly the filter slides back to baseline
- Full bypass using relays with Fail SafeTM (automatically switches to bypass if the pedal loses power)
- Cast aluminum enclosure with groovy artwork
- MSRP $149 USD ($199 CAD)
Introducing the MayFly Le Canard Envelope Filter
All MayFly pedals are hand-made in Canada.
For more information, please visit mayflyaudio.com.
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more.
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.