sister rosetta

Last Call: Why We Like Distortion
Sister Rosetta Tharpe used overdrive in both her voice and her guitar playing to captivate audiences.

While researching guitarists’ obsession with tone, I found a fascinating take on why heightened sound frequencies excite humans.

In the beginning, everybody building gear wanted a purity of signal. Pickups and amps were designed to eliminate distortion and leave the natural sound of strings and wood uncolored. Les Paul himself felt like the P-90 pickup in his signature guitar was too prone to overdrive, so he stuck a DeArmond pickup in the neck of his No. 1 until Seth Lover came to him with the ultra-pure alnico V, Gibson's “staple pickup," in 1953. Then something unexpected happened. When guitar players cranked up their amps to be heard over the crowd, the musicians and the audience were seduced by the distortion that engineers were trying to avoid.

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