Music History

Beautiful Noise: A History of Guitar Distortion

I love stuff like this. How did distortion and feedback go from being noise to an essential part of rock’n’roll? This article from Noisey explains.

The discovery of guitar distortion just may be one of the happiest accidents in modern music history. Born the bastard child of dysfunctional amplifiers, its unmistakable fuzzy squall has since gone on to define countless careers (and entire genres). From bowel-loosening doom to antagonistic punk rock and suffocating noise, guitar distortion and amplification are air in the lungs for some of the most influential music ever made.

To start from the beginning: The guitar amplifier first went into large scale production in 1931. A small wooden box with a speaker, Electro String’s seemingly innocuous 10-watt amp was sold as an accessory to the Frying Pan, the first mass-produced electric guitar. For the next 16 years, amps didn’t exceed a puny 10 watts. The groundwork for someone to obliterate what people thought they knew about the guitar amplifier was perfectly laid out.

Then Leo Fender came in with a fucking bomb: the Super Amp.

Fender’s 1947 amplifier pushed 18 watts, resulting in an immediately noticeable increase in loudness. Guitarists across the country scrambled to get their hands on a Super, quickly discovering that the device had something unintentionally beautiful to offer. When you turned its volume up all the way, the amp went into overdrive, wrapping guitar notes in fuzzy distortion. As with many world-changing advancements in technology, guitar distortion came about by accident.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37835 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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