More Praise for The Birth of Loud
“More than an essential, colorful, and gripping history of the electric guitar, The Birth of Loud introduces Ian Port, the best new non-fiction writer of the past twenty years.”
—Daniel J. Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music
“A rip-roaring journey through the early days of rock 'n' roll, told through the lives of the men whose innovative guitars helped usher it into existence . . . A lively, difficult-to-put-down portrait of an important era of American art that enhances readers' appreciation for the music it depicts.”
“Thoroughly entertaining and deeply informative, this love letter to American creativity and rock and roll belongs in every library and should be read by all rock fans.”
“Ian Port’s found a way to tell the story of the birth of rock ‘n’ roll—for some of us, among the postwar American stories, those that help define who we feel ourselves to be—in beautifully-evoked dual portraits of the men who made the instruments. In doing so, he re-situates this story in its context so neatly it is as if it had never been told before at all.”
– Jonathan Lethem, author Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude
“It’s hard for me to think of an invention more crucial to my interior life than the electric guitar, so in a way The Birth of Loud, Ian Port’s moving, riveting account of the instrument’s development and rise to ubiquity, feels like a sacred text—the story of how I came to be. It’s also a rich and fascinating tale of obsession, ingenuity, and American abandon. Thank heavens for Les Paul, thank heavens for Leo Fender, and thank heavens for Ian Port.”
--Amanda Petrusich, author Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78rpm Records
“Long before Les Paul and Leo Fender were brand names who revolutionized music and changed culture, they were two guys—obsessively tinkering to recreate sounds in their heads. In The Birth of Loud Ian S. Port vividly captures the compulsion and competition that drove these fascinating oddballs to rock the world.”
--Alan Light, former editor-in-chief of Vibe and Spin and author of The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”
“The Birth of Loud channels trickles of intriguing new information into a confluence of big ideas about the history of the electric guitar. This book is essential reading for guitar history maniacs!”
—Deke Dickerson, guitar historian, bandleader, and author of The Strat in the Attic
The Birth of Loud
Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock 'n' Roll
By Ian S. Port
“A hot-rod joy ride through mid-20th-century American history. With appropriately flashy prose, [Port] dismantles some misconceptions and credits some nearly forgotten but key figures. He also summons, exuberantly and perceptively, the look, sound, and sometimes smell of pivotal scenes and songs. The Birth of Loud rightfully celebrates an earlier time, when wood, steel, copper wire, microphones and loudspeakers could redefine reality. Tracing material choices that echoed through generations, the book captures the quirks of human inventiveness and the power of sound.”
“A lively and vivid account of the careers of Fender and his main competition, Les Paul…Port tells the story elegantly and economically . . . one of [his] true strengths [is] his ability to marry an agreeably anecdotal writing style to a musician’s ear. Describing sound is extraordinarily difficult; Port can do it without channeling one of those weird, adjective-heavy descriptions of wine or perfume. I myself have owned and played both a Fender Telecaster and a Gibson Les Paul for many years now, and Port’s descriptions of their respective sonic capabilities is the most articulate and accurate I have ever read. The way a Telecaster snaps and sizzles, the way a Les Paul purrs with liquid, violin-like tones; he just gets it. Port’s descriptive elan is particularly in force in his account of Hendrix’s famous rendition of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock in 1968, which pushed rock guitar playing to a height it may never again reach. Port wisely ends his narrative here, and it’s an apt capstone. The story of these instruments is the story of America in the postwar era: loud, cocky, brash, aggressively new.”
A riveting saga in the history of rock ‘n’ roll: the decades-long rivalry between the two men who innovated the electric guitar’s amplified sound—Leo Fender and Les Paul—and their intense competition to convince rock stars like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton to play the instruments they built.
In the years after World War II, music was evolving from big-band jazz into the primordial elements of rock ’n’ roll—and these louder styles demanded revolutionary instruments. When Leo Fender’s tiny firm marketed the first solid-body electric guitar, the Esquire, musicians immediately saw its appeal. Not to be out-maneuvered, Gibson, the largest guitar manufacturer, raced to build a competitive product. The company designed an “axe” that would make Fender’s Esquire look cheap and convinced Les Paul—whose endorsement Leo Fender had sought—to put his name on it. Thus was born the guitar world’s most heated rivalry: Gibson versus Fender, Les versus Leo.
While Fender was a quiet, half-blind, self-taught radio repairman from rural Orange County, Paul was a brilliant but egomaniacal pop star and guitarist who spent years toying with new musical technologies. Their contest turned into an arms race as the most inventive musicians of the 1950s and 1960s—including bluesman Muddy Waters, rocker Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton—adopted one maker’s guitar or another. By the time Jimi Hendrix played “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock in 1969 on his Fender Stratocaster, it was clear that electric instruments—Fender or Gibson—had launched music into a radical new age, empowering artists with a vibrancy and volume never before attainable.