I am a guitar teacher and tribute musician by trade and pre-ordered this as soon as I found out about it. I figured it would help to have some historical perspective on the thing I hold in my lap all day. I get to spend my hours showing people how to play “Wonderwall” or pretending to be Izzy Stradlin. If I’m never going to get a real job I should at least excel at my odd career choice.
This book mostly does what it sets out to do and describes both the players and manufacturers with humor and detail. My only gripe is that it weirdly skips over the entire 1990s…because no significant electric guitar music happened in the 90s?
“Play It Loud” opens in the early 1900s with the development of the “frying pan” electric guitar by a guy named George Beauchamp. This insight alone was worth picking up the book. The Gibson Les Paul is often named as being the “first” electric guitar and I now have a smarmy, annoying correction to throw in at parties and I’m sure it will go over really well. Frying pan all the way baby! But I digress. The book moves on through the inception of big, still-existing guitar companies like Gibson, Fender and Gretsch and describes how their development was spurred by the demands of early guitar heroes like Charlie Christian, Muddy Waters and Chet Atkins. It continues through the birth of rock n’ roll, Beatlemania, Stones…uh…mania, Bob Dylan’s electric moment and the rise of Jimi Hendrix. These musicians and their careers have been written to death, but it was still entertaining enough to hear how their innovations and demands directly impacted how guitars were made.
Now around 1975 I was starting to get more and more excited. There’s Van Halen! And Steve Vai! And the partnership between Steve Vai and Ibanez that was how we ended up with that weird guitar with the handle cut into it. And you know what the acrid smell of hair metal’s burning corpse means…GRUNGE. Exactly what a guitarist born in 1983 wants to read about. Bring on the pawnshop gear and weird vintage pastel Fenders and the smashing of all the things. I’M HERE FOR IT.
And so after a kind of boring few pages about some dude sneaking backstage in the late 80s to make Ted Nuget try this guitar he made (ok, so that was Paul Reed Smith and he’s important I guess), I turn the page and there’s…Jack White? No seriously, did I fall asleep on the train and lose my bookmark? I shit you not, I flipped back a few pages to make sure I hadn’t like, missed what must be an extensive chapter on guitars in the 1990s somehow? Was there some dark age of guitar manufacturing in about which I was not informed? And if there was why didn’t the book inform me?
Anyway, the book goes on to detail the neo-garage rock movement of the early 2000s and the White Stripes and Black Keys’ penchant for playing vintage budget plastic guitars from the Sears catalog. The chapter loops back around to talking about the 90s a bit as it explores more experimental artists like Sonic Youth and Glenn Branca, and the name Nirvana is mentioned once maybe. They talk about how awesome it was that punk and grunge were inclusive of women and that’s like the first time a woman is mentioned in the book. Meh.
In summation, two things: 1.This book is totally worth picking up if you’re interested in electric guitars and rock music on a nerd level. 2.I have a feeling it was written by a baby boomer.