Around 1930, a group of guitar designers in southern California fitted instruments with an electromagnetic device called a pickup - and forever changed the face of popular music. taken up by musicians as diverse as Les Paul, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, and the MC5, the electric guitar would become not just a conduit of electrifying new sounds but also a symbol of energy, innovation, and desire in the music of the day. This volume is the first full account of the historical and cultural significance of the electric guitar, a wide-ranging exploration of how and why the instrument has had such broad musical and cultural impact. This book ranges across the history of the electric guitar by focusing on key performers who have shaped the use and meaning of the instrument: Charlie Christian, Les Paul, Chet Atkins, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, the MC5, and Led Zeppelin.
It traces two competing ideals for the sound of the instrument: one, focusing on tonal purity, has been favoured by musicians seeking to integrate the electric guitar into the existing conventions of pop music; the other, centering on timbral distortion, has been used to challenge popular notions of "acceptable" and "unacceptable" noise. "Instrument of Desire" reveals how these different approaches to sound also entail different ideas about the place of the body in musical performance, the ways in which music articulates racialized and gendered identities, and the position of popular music in American social and political life.
Steve Waksman is the 1998 winner of the Ralph Henry Gabriel Dissertation Prize awarded by the American Studies Association. He is Visiting Professor of History and American Studies at Miami University in Ohio, and is Assistant Editor of the Journal of Popular Music Studies.