The thing that gives the electric guitar is sonic power is its ability to use distortion and volume to the advantage of the music. This, however, wasn’t always the way. It took us decades to get to this point.
Guitar Player has this great article on how distortion went from being noise to music.
“No-one can dispute the fact that without the right gear, the heavy, distorted guitar tones that we all know and love would never exist. Some might argue that a key element – distortion – was always there since the very beginnings of the electric guitar, but the evolution of the heavy guitar sound from a gear perspective is much more complex than that, involving a combination of a holy trinity of elements – distortion, excessive volume and bass.
“Fortunately, technological progress made these three attributes available at about the same time that creative and cultural attitudes changed to support the new sounds that guitar and amplification equipment offered to players who were willing to expand the boundaries of previous eras.
“In the beginning there was distortion, and it was good. The very first commercial guitar amps that appeared in the early ’30s were tiny, low-wattage combos designed for Hawaiian/steel guitars that featured crude circuits and low-efficiency speakers that created glorious distortion when turned up beyond polite output levels.”