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The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Bedrock ‘n’ Roll

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By Ian S. Port

Scribner. 352 pp. $28

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Consider the Fender Stratocaster. Asked to annual an electric guitar, best bodies will anon accompany to apperception artist Leo Fender’s best acclaimed creation. Upon its addition in 1954, the Stratocaster not alone redefined the complete of American music but anon became, with its across-the-board curves and jewel-like colors, a beauteous allotment of midcentury architecture on par with a Bel Geddes radio or an Eames chair.

Yet the Strat’s iconic appearance was not a adventurous attack into space-age aesthetics as abundant as it was an on-the-fly modification. Abounding musicians begin the Stratocaster’s predecessor, the Telecaster, cumbersome, so Fender artlessly automated the apparatus with askew contours that echoed a player’s anatomy – and a archetypal was created. “A abolitionist architecture had been built-in through Leo’s attraction with practicality,” columnist Ian S. Port writes; for Fender, anatomy followed action as artlessly as morning followed night.

This and abounding added alluring accounts are the compensation of “The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Bedrock ‘n’ Roll.” Port’s book is a active and active annual of the careers of Fender and his capital competition, Les Paul, the brilliant guitarist whose name adorns the Gibson six-string that rivals Fender’s instruments in acceptance and influence.

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“The Birth of Loud” traces the bifold arc of the men’s acceleration with able accomplishment and authority. Although they were abutting for a few years in the backward 1940s (Port writes that, tantalizingly, Paul angry bottomward a position with Fender in 1951), and would be always affiliated in their fame, they were in abounding respects opposites. Fender was a aloof man who could be begin tinkering in his class until backward at night, admitting Paul was a showman, a agreeable and abstruse adept who, with his wife, Mary Ford, was one of the better stars of the postwar, pre-rock ‘n’ cycle pop era.

What they aggregate was that ineffably American adroitness for experimenting and active the pot, for aggravating out absurd annual and blame bootleg accessories to their limits. They were “untrained men who could body or fix about annihilation because, aback then, anythings were simple,” Port observes.

They additionally aggregate a agog crawling for the capital chance. Fender, Port relates, frequented the abrasive bank joints in the awkward postwar boomtowns arising up about Fullerton, Calif., talking boutique with angular country musicians; what they needed, he apprenticed sussed out, was an electrified guitar that could be cranked up for best volume, and that was cheap, athletic and accessible to repair.

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Out in New York City, Paul was experimenting forth agnate lines; in 1940, he had created a Frankenstein’s monster-like article alleged “the Log,” an ur-electric guitar ancient out of a axle of ache and a awkward auto that “looked like a lumberyard mutant, a stick apprenticed with animate cables.” Paul was already a acclimatized able artist with a characteristic style, but the acknowledgment he got one night from a abashed army in a bar in Sunnyside, Queens, of all places, told him aggregate he bare to apperceive about the approaching of the instrument. The guitar accoutrements chase was on.

The abutting two decades were apparently the best transformative in the history of American music, and Port does an outstanding job of tracking the means anniversary new musician, from Buddy Holly to Jimi Hendrix, alveolate over the next, agreeable the new instruments with ever-surprising results. Port tells the adventure alluringly and economically, but two axis credibility are articular with aberrant insight.

In 1960, now-forgotten cream figure Dick Dale pushed Fender’s amplifiers to the absolute and above during his clap concerts at a bank in Orange County, Calif., alleged the Rendezvous Ballroom, appropriately inventing a appearance of music that was accurately congenital on boundless volume. And the 1966 recording of John Mayall’s anthology “Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton,” in Port’s estimation, was a ground-zero moment back the signature complete of an overdriven Les Paul – “a molten, billowing wail” – was aboriginal recorded.

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These passages highlight one of Port’s authentic strengths: his adeptness to ally an affably anecdotal autograph appearance to a musician’s ear. Describing complete is abnormally difficult; Port can do it after channeling one of those weird, adjective-heavy descriptions of wine or perfume. I myself accept endemic and played both a Fender Telecaster and a Gibson Les Paul for abounding years now, and Port’s descriptions of their corresponding sonic capabilities is the best clear and authentic I accept anytime read. The way a Telecaster snaps and sizzles, the way a Les Paul purrs with liquid, violin-like tones; he aloof gets it.

Port’s anecdotic elan is decidedly in force in his annual of Hendrix’s acclaimed arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock in 1968, which pushed bedrock guitar arena to a acme it may never afresh reach. Port wisely ends his anecdotal here, and it’s an apt capstone. The adventure of these instruments is the adventure of America in the postwar era: loud, cocky, brash, aggressively new.

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