The No.1 Website for Pro Audio
 Search This Thread  Search This Forum  Search Reviews  Search Gear Database  Search Gear for sale  Search Gearslutz Go Advanced
The History of Distortion
Old 8th April 2007
  #1
Lives for gear
 
Empty Planet's Avatar
 

The History of Distortion

I mean guitar distortion. We take it for granted now that rock songs can have distorted guitars all the way through the track, but how did all that start? Isn't that story of Keith Richards finding that sick fuzz box in Sam Ash and deciding to use it on their next single...isn't that apocryphal?

Does anyone here know? Really know? Who was the first to use guitar distortion in a recorded track? And if the Stones were the first to use it sparingly, on a riff, who was the first to use it in the form that's so common now, as a guitar texture heard on rhythm tracks throughout the song?

Legends and hearsay stories -- like the one above -- aside, does anyone here really really know?


--------------?


Thanks for any input.




Old 8th April 2007
  #2
Lives for gear
 
ewegogetemtiger's Avatar
Link Wray is often credited with early fuzz/distortion effects
Old 8th April 2007
  #3
Lives for gear
 
woomanmoomin's Avatar
 

I can't answer this accurately until tomorrow, because I need my books for that, but it goes back farther than the Stones. One of Pete Townshend's heroes was this guy who had a habit of knifing his speakers to make them distort, and if the pictures I've seen are anything to go by, he was doing this by about 1960 at the latest.

Apart from that, two amps were plugged into each other for the riff that opened The Kinks' song 'You Really Got Me' as early as August 1964, when a lot of The Stones' repertoire was still blues.

Just read the previous post on finishing mine. That's it. Link Wray. Poked holes in speakers. 1958, according to Wikipedia.
Old 8th April 2007
  #4
Lives for gear
 
bobwarren's Avatar
 

Actually, the story goes somethig like this: guy records an amp with a busted speaker and tries to emulate it live. He said the tone was wrong and used a pencil to poke holes in the speakers to recreate the recorded vibe. Who the guy was, I can't recall. someone help me out. Some old timer obviously.
Old 9th April 2007
  #5
Lives for gear
 
woomanmoomin's Avatar
 

Link Wray?
Old 9th April 2007
  #6
Lives for gear
 
max cooper's Avatar
 

Lots of Chicago blues guitarists; also a guy named Junior Barnard who played with Bob Wills was credited with recording with distortion earlier than just about anyone.

Junior was active around the 1930's.

"Barnard was a loud guitarist who had an overdriven tube sound decades before it became widely popular with rock guitarists. His main guitar, a blond Epiphone Emperor arch-top (occasionally Junior used a Gibson ES-150), was dubbed "*my young radio station," because it had so many wires and controls added on. Although Barnard first electrified his instrument with a DeArmond pickup, he later added another unit from a steel guitar. The two pickups were wired out of phase, and each was amplified through a separate channel. (Junior used both a Fender Pro with a 15" speaker and an Epiphone amplifier.) "

http://www.texasplayboys.net/Biographies/junior.htm

Guys like Hound Dog Taylor, JB Hutto... probably were a lot of 'em tearing it up before the British Invasion.

Link Wray started releasing singles right before 1960 so that'd be a good 25 years after Junior. Link was incredible, though.
Old 9th April 2007
  #7
Lives for gear
 
woomanmoomin's Avatar
 

Junior Barnard. Mentions him on Wikipedia as a fuzz pioneer. He died in 1951!!!
Old 9th April 2007
  #8
Lives for gear
 

This is something that I've thought about and although have no proof to back me up my belief is that the electric guitar was required so that it could be heard above the brass and drums of the big bands. Since the first amps were probably around 5 watts I suspect the players kept cranking it up and it started to distort. They probably hated the sound but it was the best they had in order to be heard. however some young guitar player in the audience thought this was cool and started to want to emulate the sound.

After that young kid got the sound he wanted by overdriving the tube amp he got a band together and eventually was heard by the original guitar player (in the big band) who now thought the sound was cool because this guy was making it sound cool in the context of the music. So now he starts cranking up his amp on purpose....and so on until we reach today where distortion has as many flavours as ice cream.

I'm probably way off but it sure is romantic!

jim
Old 9th April 2007
  #9
Lives for gear
 
woomanmoomin's Avatar
 

That sounds like a good plot for 'Crossroads II' or something!!

Actually, if you replace the tube amp bit with pickups, this reminds me of the story of Charlie Christian (and of the birth of electric guitar).
Old 9th April 2007
  #10
Lives for gear
 
vernier's Avatar
First known distortion is in the song "Rocket 88" from 1951.
Old 9th April 2007
  #11
Lives for gear
 
woomanmoomin's Avatar
 

Junior Barnard played LOUD though, apparently, and died in 1951. I don't know what recordings there may be of Bob Wills and his Texas Cowboys...

Also, I wonder where we should draw the line between playing loud and employing distortion.
Old 9th April 2007
  #12
Lives for gear
 
Curve Dominant's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by woomanmoomin View Post
Actually, if you replace the tube amp bit with pickups, this reminds me of the story of Charlie Christian (and of the birth of electric guitar).
Indeed. It started with Charlie Christian.

It started the very second a guitar became amplified, because there will always be distortion IE "harmonic overtone induced character" the second you amplify something, anything.

I was always under the impression the Yardbirds' 1966 "Over Under Sideways Down" was a milestone in the popularization of the "fuzz sound" being a "cool thing." I mean, people used fuzz before that, but you need a hit record utilizing a production gimmick before it truly catches on.

From Wikipedia:
"Due to the influence of Jeff Beck's experimentation with guitar distortion, the album is considered a precursor to heavy metal."

It's like turntablism: The question isn't "Who did it first?" but rather, "What was the first HIT SONG with record scratching?"

-Eric @ Studio Curve Dominant
Old 9th April 2007
  #13
Lives for gear
I asked Eldon Shamblin about Junior Barnard. He said Junior was Mr. Hot Licks long before it became cool to plug in your guitar and play a guitar solo. His tone was more "dirty" compared to that of Eldon and Charlie Christian who were more tone for their "bell like" electric guitar tones.
Old 9th April 2007
  #14
Lives for gear
 
max cooper's Avatar
 

Eldon Shamblin was a true giant of guitar playing. Wow, you met him!
Old 9th April 2007
  #15
Lives for gear
 

As much as I like western swing and cowjazz I have never heard Junior Barnard!

I have stuff that Jimmy Bryant recorded on 9/25/1950 at Capitol Studios in Hollywood and while it isn't FUZZ per say... it ain't clean.
That amp was raked! All 15 watts of that Fender Pro!
Rake means running (raking) your hands across all of the knobs, so they are ALL on "10"
(a term coined by Joe Kubeck after I told him how my friend set his Silvertone amp)

If you think about it, having your amp "raked" is going to produce a more saturated/sustained tone which will better emulate horns and horn section stuff.
Horn parts and harmonies were the flavor de jour in the days when early electric GTR was being pioneered. The dink, dink, dink of a GTR that WAS NOT overdriven just wasn't in the same universe a s a horn section. Horns kinda' have that rounded/slightly buzzy/rasp.

Also, the tone of almost ALL steel in the late '40s and '50s is definitely an overdriven/saturated sound.
Listen to a Hank Williams song and that steel ain't being played clean through that amp!

I pretty much imagine that as amp wattages got higher things cleaned up.

Now obviously this doesn't apply once Marshalls came along (Vox aren't exactly clean either.) Rememeber that an early Marshall was Jim Marshall's take on a Fender.
By the late '50s the Fenders that Mr.Marshall would have been emulating were pretty clean. It is pretty much the tubes in Marshalls as well as the output transformer that caused them to differ from the Fenders.

I have read about who first used a distortion pedal, but I forget the deatails.
Didn't Jeff Beck use a Sola?
Fuzz boxes were around before Jeff Beck, but he popualized it for sure.
Then praise be to Jimi, the Fuzz Face into a Marshall was thought of.
If you think of it... Jimi had to go to England to "get his tone."
Well, I guess it was "OK" before then, but his time in England cemented it!

We need to thank these people each and every day!
Old 9th April 2007
  #16
Lives for gear
 
Disjointed's Avatar
 

i have also heard tale.. that one of the earliest recorded (really distorted tracks) was in a marty robbins song...

a bad tube that got tracked un-heard.... but they liked it and kept it....

distortion sounds great too...

but i cant remember the name of the song right now... (or the year).. it might or might not beat out "rocket 88"

Old 9th April 2007
  #17
Gear Maniac
 

The song was "Don't Worry Bout Me". One of the mixers channels was distorting baddly & it sounded cool, so they left it in. Fantastic song too!
Old 9th April 2007
  #18
Gear Addict
 
Lownotes's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by ozraves View Post
I asked Eldon Shamblin about Junior Barnard. He said Junior was Mr. Hot Licks long before it became cool to plug in your guitar and play a guitar solo. His tone was more "dirty" compared to that of Eldon and Charlie Christian who were more tone for their "bell like" electric guitar tones.
Very cool!
Old 9th April 2007
  #19
Lives for gear
 
Kestral's Avatar
 

Maybe this is just a story or myth or legend but I heard that distortion got started in recording way back in the day when racism was much more prevalent, only white people were rich enough to own studios. So when black musicians came in to record, the engineers and producers would overdrive the pres and compressors (back then they were all vaccum tube based so you can imagine how nice that would have sounded) to cause distortion, which was considered not desirable at the time, in order to mess things up for the black musicians.

What happened was people started buying those "black records", loving the sound of the records and the rest is history. A great story showing good karma payback, for how people trying to screw other people around had it backfire on them.
Old 9th April 2007
  #20
Lives for gear
 
max cooper's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by dbbubba View Post
As much as I like western swing and cowjazz I have never heard Junior Barnard!
cowjazz is a good term. Bob Wills really gave country music an "uptown" feel. They were like the other end of the spectrum to guys like Hank Williams who had that "dirtbucket" feel (also super cool).

Tommy Duncan was a total crooner.

<object width="425" height="350"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/HgS4oRbr6Ds"></param><param name="wmode" value="transparent"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/HgS4oRbr6Ds" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" wmode="transparent" width="425" height="350"></embed></object>
Old 9th April 2007
  #21
Lives for gear
 

Giving any particular person all the credit for this seems silly. I sure there were tons of guys who accidently turned their amp up too loud and liked it without deriving the idea from somewhere else.
Old 9th April 2007
  #22
Gear Guru
Thanks all for the early history. Bob Wills kicks and doesn't get enough credit as one of the prime influences on early rock.

For the modern sense of distortion Dave Davies on "You Really got Me" may have been the first. Also George Harrison with the feedback and fuzz on "I Feel fine" (both 1964). And Eric Clapton on the Mayall Bluesbreakers album (1966) might have been the first guy to plug a Les Paul into a Marshall and really played that long, singing sustain.
Old 9th April 2007
  #23
Lives for gear
 
woomanmoomin's Avatar
 

Hey, I've just read on Wikipedia (again) that Dave Davies also made holes/gashes in his speaker(s) for 'You Really Got Me'. God bless Link Wray!!
Old 9th April 2007
  #24
84K
Lives for gear
 
84K's Avatar
cool thread!!!
Old 10th April 2007
  #25
Lives for gear
 
Empty Planet's Avatar
 

Interesting info. Thanks everyone.



Cheers.

Old 10th April 2007
  #26
Gear Guru
 
Sounds Great's Avatar
 

I think that was sometime in the 50's when Michael J Fox travelled back in time and freaked people out with his wacked out distorted guitar. heh
Old 10th April 2007
  #27
Lives for gear
 
Kris's Avatar
heh heh heh
Old 10th April 2007
  #28
Gear Addict
 
macle's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by PRobb View Post
Also George Harrison with the feedback and fuzz on "I Feel fine" (both 1964).
That was John Lennon!

Another great Lennon distorted sound is on Revolution, plugging straight into the console, and overdriving the pres. And I read recently somewhere George Harrison saying he thought it was an awful sound!
Old 10th April 2007
  #29
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by max cooper View Post
Eldon Shamblin was a true giant of guitar playing. Wow, you met him!
I aspired to be a jazz studies major at the University of North Texas. When I was a senior in high school, I hunted around for a guitar teacher and found Eldon. Each lesson with Eldon was like going to meet Moses. Unfortunately, being young, I didn't realize how lucky I was to go meet him once a week.
Old 10th April 2007
  #30
Gear Guru
 
Sounds Great's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by macle View Post
That was John Lennon!

Another great Lennon distorted sound is on Revolution, plugging straight into the console, and overdriving the pres. And I read recently somewhere George Harrison saying he thought it was an awful sound!

I thought it was kind of neat when I was younger. As I get older, it just sounds buzzy, kind of like plugging direct and overdriving a pre.

Not as bad as Neil Young's Hey Hey My My, however. What is that?
Post Reply

Welcome to the Gearslutz Pro Audio Community!

Registration benefits include:
  • The ability to reply to and create new discussions
  • Access to members-only giveaways & competitions
  • Interact with VIP industry experts in our guest Q&As
  • Access to members-only sub forum discussions
  • Access to members-only Chat Room
  • Get INSTANT ACCESS to the world's best private pro audio Classifieds for only USD $20/year
  • Promote your eBay auctions and Reverb.com listings for free
  • Remove this message!
You need an account to post a reply. Create a username and password below and an account will be created and your post entered.


 
 
Slide to join now Processing…
Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Similar Threads
Thread
Thread Starter / Forum
Replies
bongo / High End
15
Shaman / Gear free zone - shoot the breeze
24
father_obvious / Low End Theory
12
chrasmardan / Geekslutz Forum
16
JB3 / High End
11

Forum Jump
Forum Jump