Brief Introduction to Guitar Amplification

Some people say that “the tone” of a guitar is in the player’s fingers; others claim that it depends on the wood or on the pickup used. But probably the most important part of the sound of a electric guitar is in the amplifier. Without the amp, you don’t even get any sound!

Considering that most Electric Loog Guitars have already been delivered, we thought it would be cool to quickly write up about guitar amps, at least to get the basics you’ll need to get the best sound out of your guitar.

Standard acoustic guitars were hard to hear in acoustic ensembles, until Leo Fender -one of the pioneers of the electric guitar- added an electromagnetic pickup that could be connected to an amplifier, bringing loudness into the guitar game. And here’s where the story of guitar amplification begins.

The first amps were all tube-based, giving them a smooth and beautiful tone, that became crunchy and mean when cranking up the volume. This was disliked by some musicians but, with time, became one of the most important components in the now well-known electric sound (you can also check out our post on guitar distortion to better get this). In the late 70s and early 80s, solid-state amplifiers which were louder, cleaner and more reliable became the new standard. Yet tube amps had a huge comeback in the 90s – people just love the warm, sweet tube-based sound of old Fender and Marshall amps.

And, in the mid-90s, amplifiers went digital, with digital emulation of amplifiers becoming advanced and ubiquitous enough to become a real option for musicians. These amplifiers can sound like dozens of different amps with just the flick of a switch – or turn your iPad into one when plugged into your guitar (or Loog) with a guitar amp modeler.

Here are some of the most iconic amplifiers in the story of rock music.

Fender Twin Reverb 

Fender Twin Reverb

Pinnacle of the clean guitar sound, the Fender Twin Reverb is almost impossible to overdrive. It sounds super clean and warm, with a great tremolo circuit and a spring reverb. It’s still manufactured and used today.

Famous players: The Beatles in their rooftop concert, Johnny Marr from The Smiths, Jack White.

Vox AC30

Vox AC30

With less headroom than the Twin Reverb, the AC30 -as its name suggests- holds only 30 watts, but don’t be fooled – these are seriously LOUD 30 watts. It has some slight crunchy distortion that is very sensitive to the player’s attack when overdriven. The Vox AC30 is basically the sound of brit rock from the 60s onwards.

Famous players: The Beatles, Brian May from Queen, The Edge from U2, Tom Petty.

Marshall Super Lead

Marshall Super Lead

This Marshall amplifier is THE rock ‘n roll sound. Not as metal as you would think, the sound is fat and creamy. These amplifiers are now rare and sought-after, but were very influential in the story of rock music.

Famous players: Angus Young (he still uses one!), Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Johnny Ramone, Graham Coxon.

Roland Jazz Chorus

Roland Jazz Chorus

The only solid-state amplifier on this list, this amplifier is impossible to overdrive. It sounds clean and a bit sterile, but is great in its own way. The Roland Jazz Chorus was very popular in the 80s and is still in use by some great players. They also can create a beautiful -albeit overused- chorus effect. Oh, and they are indestructible.

Famous players: Andy Summers from The Police, Robert Smith from The Cure, Pat Metheny, thousands of jazz players worlwide.

Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier

Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier

Last but not least, the Mesa Boogie is the definitive sound of alternative rock and metal from the 90s. You know that super distorted guitar sound that covers the entire spectrum of sound? That’s the Mesa Boogie sound. But that’s not just it! It can also produce a great, clean sound or can sound awesome as if on the verge of breaking.

Famous users: Santana, Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit, Dave Grohl, James Hetfield & KirkHammett from Metallica, Tom Delonge of Blink-182.

The Tinkering History of Guitar Distortion

Hands up if, like us, you take guitar distortion completely for granted. It’s dumbfounding to realize that, such as electric guitars themselves, distortion hasn’t been around for that long – or even that it was never popular until pretty much recently.

Yet the awesome thing about distortion is how it started: tinkering on broken amps or guitars, looking to control and expand a new sound that already came up uncontrollably on old, low-fi amps. Most discovered the sound accidentally, like Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm, when recording their song “Rocket 88” in 1951. Rhythm guitarist Willie Kizart got to the studio with a busted amplifier. Depending on whom you ask, the amp had been left in a trunk and rain leaked in, or had fallen off the car – what’s certain is that the resulting sound was pretty cool:

Soon enough, some musicians started to try and control distortion and bring into their own sound, by playing smaller amps to their maximum output. This method was known as “clipping” and widely used by Willie Johnson or Chuck Berry.

Yet most cases of distortion continued to happen coincidentally, by accident, with wider discoveries made once musicians tinkered with their amps in order to recreate the sound on stage or at the recording studio.

This is the case of Link Wray and his Ray Men, when they were invited to Cadence Records’ to record their song “Rumble”. Wray was not happy with how un-distorted the crisp, studio sound left the song, so he took a screwdriver to the amp and got to work – resulting in the first instrumental song banned from radio for its odd sound, which the American public thought would provoke juvenile delinquency:

What the song did provoke, though, was the interest of two bands that eventually went down in history for their own sounds: The Kinks and The Who. Both bands are known for having tinkered with instruments to create new sounds, but they’re also a huge part in instrument manufacturers taking notice of the need to control distortion.

First came trying to introduce distorted tones into amps, with Leo Fender and Jim Marshall (with a little help from his friend Eric Clapton), paving the way. But in 1960, Grady Martin went a step further. While recording for Marty Robbins’ “Don’t Worry”, Martin busted a key fuse on his bass, resulting in this distorted sound:

Martins actually took the time to figure out what went wrong – and then replicate it to play the song on stage. The result was probably the first fuzzbox ever made, which inspired The Vultures to try their own hand with the sound. Manufacturers started building their own, but not many musicians caught onto it.

Then, in 1965 The Rolling Stones’ released Satisfaction, using the Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone, which sold out its entire stock in less than a year after the song came out. In 1966, Jimmi Hendrix decided to combine the fuzzbox with Wah Wah pedals and Univibes – and the rest is history. And that’s only less than 50 years ago to reach the awesome, well-known sound of this Electric Loog Guitar distorting away:

The Hound Dog Taylor Sound

Hound Dog Taylor

 

We’ve recently become obsessed with a Blues musician who might have been the godfather of Punk and one of the pioneers of Rock n Roll as we know it. We’re obviously talking about Hound Dog Taylor. Just watch him in action:

 

 

 

Hound Dog Taylor was born in 1915 in Mississippi. He was born with 6 (six!) fingers in each hand, and his first instrument wasn’t the guitar – it was the piano. However, by the time he was in his twenties he has sold his Blues soul to a super-cheap Japanese teisco guitar with a slide. His resulting trademark sound was dirty, messy, raw and totally unheard of at the time.

He quickly gathered a loyal following with his wild and unpredictable shows, and became a favorite in the Chicago South and Westside. In the 60s he formed his band, Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers. All their shows started with him shouting “Hey! Let’s have some fun!” before he became a tight little wad of energy and frenzy. Punk rock, anyone?

Hound Dog Taylor's hand

Speaking of punk rock: Taylor’s hand.

He died in 1975 and his epitaph was already written by him, several decades ago. His tombstone reads “He couldn’t play sh*t, but he sure made it sound good!” A true artist!

Old school Blues guitarists like Hound Dog Taylor were a HUGE inspiration for the Electric Loog Guitar (that also got some news this week on Kickstarter, if you’re interested). Vintage pickups with some distortion and a slide can sound AMAZING, something you can’t really get with a standard or expensive guitar – that’s why lots of professional guitar players hunt down these old, beaten-up, super cheap guitars – Jack White’s a huge example of this, and a big fan of the Hound Dog Taylor sound.

There are more videos on Youtube which you can check out, and even listen to some of his records. Here’s another great live performance:

 

Listen to a complete album here:

 

And get more info here, here and here.

What other old school musicians do you geek out about? Let’s us know and we’ll DEFINITELY check them out!

The Electric Loog Guitar Color Guide

Last week we opened a survey on Kickstarter so that Electric Loog Guitar backers could choose the guitar color they wanted and give us their address. We got a lot of comments asking for Pantone numbers and real-life pictures and, even though some helpful folks dug up some pictures from our instagram account, we thought it would be helpful to have everything in one place. That place is here 🙂

Electric Loog Guitar Color Guide Electric Loog Guitar Pantone Color Guide

So just scroll down to the color you want and find a real-life picture, Pantone number and color code to make an informed decision. We’re working on a pro photo shoot to have even more pics to share soon, but these pics from NAMM 2014 and Toy Fair NY should work for now!

1.  Light Blue

Light Blue

Pantone #291

Pics:

Blue Electric Loog Guitar Blue Electric Loog Guitar Blue Electric Loog Guitar LOOG2A_celeste

2. Seafoam Green

Seafoam Green

Pantone #352

Pics:

Green Loog Guitar Green Loog Guitar Green Loog Guitar

3. Vanilla Yellow

Vanilla Yellow

Pantone #600

Pics:

Yellow Electric Loog Guitar Yellow Electric Loog Guitar Yellow Electric Loog Guitar

4. Off-White

Off White

Pantone #427

Pics:

White Electric Loog Guitar White Electric Loog Guitar White Electric Loog Guitar

5. Pale Red

Pale Red

Pantone: #182

Pics:

(Sorry that we only have these two!)

Red Electric Loog Guitar Red Electric Loog Guitar

 

How to Make Your Own Cigar-box Guitar

It’s no secret by now that we’re huge fans of cigar-box guitars. From their humble southern origins to how you can’t be entirely sure of their personality until they’re actually, you know, built, these three-string and four-string guitars have always captured our interest. Which is kind of obvious if you think about it: one of the Loogs is actually inspired on the classic cigar-box shape, all the Loogs have three strings and, well, you kind of have to assemble them before playing 😉

Loog I

So considering how we’re always sharing links to videos and posts and pictures of these fascinating homemade three-strings, we thought it might be time to actually nudge you toward building one yourself. We’re not going to lie – where DIY is involved, cigar-box guitars aren’t exactly the easiest in the Pinterest to-do file. But they are NOT as hard as they seem – and definitely NOT beyond any single one of you.

We’re obviously leaving the step-by-step instructions to the experts who’ve done these before, but have selected some instructubles that seem the clearest to us.

Cigar-box guitar and ampUNDER $25: For instance, these are the most complete step-by-step instructions we found. Brian Saner even divides the instructions in five parts to make sure you’re not missing anything (there are even historic facts, videos of famous cigar-box guitarists and the sort) AND only spends around $25 on building it. You can find part one here, part two here, part three here, part four here and part five here.

GENERIC: Of course, you could use a more hands-on approach and go the simpler route with the generic instructions on wikihow. We’d recommend you check them out even if you’re looking for something with more pictures and a clearer step-by-step; it makes a good job of explaining the steps from another POV.

4-string cigar-box guitar4-STRING UNDER $50: However, this user on Instructubles built one for his brother for under $50 and using almost no power tools. Just a quick thing though – his has four strings instead of three.

 

FULL-BLOWN EXPERT EDITION: And finally, one of our favorites. Mark Frauenfelder, editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine took a shot at building his own and the results are breathtaking. His approach does, however, require a wider set of tools and more finished, pro look that might scare some beginners away. But if you’re up to the challenge – don’t let us stop you!

Cigar-box guitar detail

Think you’ll start making one this weekend? Don’t be shy and show us your final guitar! You can comment here, find us on Facebook, on Twitter, or even drop us a direct line.

Happy building!

Naming Your Guitar

B.B. King's Lucille

B.B. King's Lucille

I’ve often wondered how one goes about naming a guitar. I’ve heard many people say that guitar names should always be female and be reminiscent to women who’ve done the guitarist wrong. Then again, I do have a friend who named his Hammertime and then kept telling people they couldn’t touch it.

Others think naming guitars is silly while most naming purists think that it actually makes them play better. I’m going to have to go with the latter.

 

B.B. King named his Gibson guitar Lucille, while Eric Clapton’s Blackie was as popular as Slowhand himself. Other famous guitar names include Pearly Gates (Bill Gibbons), Betty Jean (Jimi Hendrix), Old Black (Neil Young) and Red Special (Brian May, who actually built his electric guitar with his Dad).

We’re always going on and on about how building or assembling a Loog with your kid creates a greater bond with the actual guitar. Naming it does the same. I remember naming my first guitar, an unbranded acoustic, Fabiola. I just liked the name and it stuck. Poor Fabiola has seen better days but I still think of her fondly. Her. See what I did there? I just turned into one of those people who personalize inanimate objects. With guitars and cars I don’t seem to mind, though.

Have you named any of your guitars? Or better yet, have you named your Loog? I’m embarrassed to say I still need to name mine… any ideas? (And no, this post wasn’t entirely an excuse to get cool names for my Loog. I promise.)