10 guitar gear pioneers
The guitar world’s ultimate overachiever, Les Paul’s inventor chops even outstripped his jaw-dropping jazz guitar technique.
If Dragon’s Den had existed back in the post-war era, they’d have flung wads of cash at his volley of brainwaves, which included multi-tracking, echo chambers and flange - not to mention the eponymous solidbody Gibson that ensures his immortality.
Forget the duck in the nappy - the only Orville you need to know is the founder of Gibson.
He took the contoured construction of violins and fused it into his archtop guitars - the ancestors of loads of classic axes, including the ES-335…
Loar arrived at Gibson’s Kalamazoo factory in 1919 and promptly sprayed maverick genius over the drawing-board, from the iconic L-5 model to his electrostatic pickups.
Weirdly, Gibson sent him packing, but Loar’s pickup-equipped models finally flew when he set up Vivi-Tone in the 30s.
In 1936, when Fuller was tasked with creating a pickup for Gibson’s ES-150, he played a blinder, eclipsing Rickenbacker’s existing ‘horseshoe’ with a steel bar design that focused the magnetic field. Endorsed by blues icon Charlie Christian, the ES-150 commercial electric guitar hit.
As we’re talking pickups, we have to give a bit of love to Lover, whose 1957 humbucker beat the buzz of the single-coil and gave rock’s emerging heavy mob a fatter, filthier tone. Lover’s original PAF units are still the holy grail today.
Imagine Purple Haze without an Octavia...
Thank goodness then, that Hendrix fell in with British Admiralty engineer Roger Mayer during his London breakout, who had a sideline building fuzz boxes - the rest is rulebook-reshaping history.
Floyd D Rose
Patenting his floating tremolo in the late 70s, Floyd Rose was turned down flat when he approached Fender.
Their loss. By the mid-80s, the designer had teamed up with Kramer to create the squillion-selling Baretta, and saw his unit abused by everyone from Eddie Van Halen to Dimebag Darrell.
Yeah, he played those pretty arpeggios on Boston’s deathless More Than A Feeling.
But for gearheads, Scholz’s pivotal moment was 1982’s Rockman: a compact DI box that let guitarists plug direct into the mixer without the ball-ache of mic’ing their amp. Cue revolution.
In 1962 Jim Marshall’s shop in Hanwell was a place of black magic.
He might have started out trying to ape the Bassman with British parts, but his use of different components, Celestion speakers and 6L6 valves meant more gain, richer harmonics - and a queue of decibelhungry hairballs out the shop door.
Don’t be fooled: that bespectacled gent stood awkwardly at the bandsaw is more rock ‘n’ roll than the hypothetical lovechild of Slash and Keef.
Leo’s hit rate in the 50s was amazing, with the Tele, Strat, Precision and Bassman cementing the design principles that endure to this day. There’s an argument that no-one has done more for your gigbag - and he didn’t even play!