Anyone remember a time before distortion was the norm?

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs' started by Promit, May 27, 2015.

  1. Promit

    Promit Member

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    I'm in my twenties, which means I grew up in the 90s era of Mesa high gain tones. I very much missed the concept of highly distorted guitar sounds being an oddity - by the time I was around, heavy sounds were de rigeur. I've recently grown curious about the early cultural history of overdriven/distorted tones. Sure Wikipedia can tell me what people were experimenting with in the 50s, about The Kinks slashing their speaker cones in 64, and about Keith Richards' use of a drive pedal in 65. That's all very nice and factual, but it's not all I want to know.

    I'm trying to get a cultural perspective on how both musicians and the general public felt about this early on. Of course rock and roll has a storied history of hatred directed its way, but I am curious about this specific point. There must have been people who thought the sound of a tortured amp running flat out or a slashed speaker cone was a stupid fad of an idea? At some point it must have crossed over to being something that guitarists at large were actually trying to do, and that manufacturers would actually advertise as a good thing? Was it a slow process or was distorted guitar the in thing overnight?
     
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  2. Old Chomper

    Old Chomper Member

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    I've heard, or read, that when the gains stages of amp allowed for sustain/distortion, the guitarist loved it because of the saxophone-like quality of the tone. I could easily be incorrect.
     
  3. Blanket Jackson

    Blanket Jackson It's Time For Action Silver Supporting Member

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    Someone on this board once made the observation that many of the iconic guitar solos that have become part of our collective language were achieved with very little dirt, most commonly just an amp with a touch or tube overdrive. Not hard and fast, but since I read that I have found it to be true more often than I had assumed, and have since changed my ideas about using dirt.
     
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  4. Silent Sound

    Silent Sound Member

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    Distortion predates rock and roll by a good bit. Remember, a lot of the rock guitar icons of the sixties were heavily influenced by the blues guitarists of the '40's and '50's. Back in the early days of amplification, 10 watts was a powerful amp. To get it up over the drums (who played a lot softer back then) you had to really crank those amps. So I'd guess distorted guitar probably dates back to the late 1930's, early 1940's. It's certainly evident on recordings by guys like T-bone Walker and Muddy Waters in the '40's. In fact, I've always been surprised at how much Hendrix you can hear in T-bone Walker, or more accurately, the other way around.
     
  5. tmac

    tmac Goldmember Gold Supporting Member

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    There are some older guys here that know. I started playing electric in about 1970/71, in a decent band by '72 We just plugged into what we had (blackface Bassman w/2x12 cab for me) and turned up until it sounded like rock 'n roll. We knew we were making distortion but it was more of a feeling of - "oh, if I turn it up it sounds more like what I hear from Clapton or Cactus, or the Allman Bros. I had a guitar - '64 Gibson SG, a guitar cord, and an amp. Eventually got a wah pedal. You could get a fuzz of some type back then but I never felt I needed a box, tried one and it didn't work for me.. - Clapton didn't need it, Bloomfield didn't, Alvin Lee didn't, they just plugged in and turned up. I wanted a Marshall but they were still kinda rare exotica in '72 and expensive. I think one guy had one in town that I can remember. information was very limited to kids at the time, album cover art or Hit Parader magazine, or Creem magazine, I did not find out about Guitar Player magazine (or couldn't find one) until about '73 it was a very small publication. I asked & looked at the library and they looked at me like I had three heads - "Guitar what magazine?! no kid, we don't have that here"
     
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  6. JackStraw12

    JackStraw12 Supporting Member

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    Distortion takes a bit out of the beauty of a guitar sound IMHO - overdrive though is nice. Perhaps it's the aggressive nature of distortion that takes the beauty away for me? I really think the D-style overdrive is really a beautiful sound but that's described as smoother.
     
  7. stratzrus

    stratzrus Philadelphia Jazz, Funk, and R&B Supporting Member

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    This is true.

    However, distortion entered the pop mainstream in a major way when the Rolling Stones released "Satisfaction". I thought they used one of these but found out otherwise re: the post below but it was the first distortion gizmo I ever saw.

    [​IMG]

    Early fuzz was kind of ratty sounding (Rat pedal anyone?) but it worked in Satisfaction. I think the next big tune that featured it was Over, Under, Sideways, Down by the Yardbirds.

     
    Last edited: May 28, 2015
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  8. e???

    e??? Member

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    I'd say clapton and hendrix kinda led this and yes by copying older blues guys. Happened pretty naturally by trying to get more volume too. Then everybody wants to sound like them, amp builders noted this, and here we are
     
  9. riffmeister

    riffmeister Gold Supporting Member

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    I remember growing up in the 60s and hearing that crazy fuzz tone on the Stones tune "Satisfaction" and going, Holy Schmoly, what's that?!?!?!?
     
  10. Jim Fisher

    Jim Fisher Silver Supporting Member

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    Yep...."Back In The Day" :) Started playing in '63 doing mostly R&B covers using a BF Twin Reverb. The standard was loud and clean in those days. As music morphed into more R&R stuff I just couldn't get that old TR to dirty up even set at 10, and there really were no OD pedals on the market - just fuzz pedals - which I hated. So I used a Shure mic mixer as sort of a pre-amp and was able to get the sound I wanted. Back then overdriving an amp meant it was ready to blow up!

    Jim, geezing again!
     
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  11. Timbre Wolf

    Timbre Wolf GoldMember Supporter Gold Supporting Member

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    In earlier days of amplified guitar, distortion was regarded with greater rancor than merely being thought stupid - it was held as an outrage, an offense to the senses. That's what gave early rockers and bluesmen (and women!) a lot of their bad-boy charm.

    Did you know that Link Wray's instrumental guitar song Rumble was banned from airplay because the combination of it's gritty sound and its title was feared to inspire a riot? It was an instrumental! Those were different times...

    - Thom

    p.s. Link Wray rocked!! :dude
     
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  12. corn husk bag

    corn husk bag Silver Supporting Member

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    Yep, Link Wray rocked, used controled feedback, made cool tunes.

    Steve
     
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  13. corn husk bag

    corn husk bag Silver Supporting Member

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    Oh yes, I forgot to let you know. I was in art class, someone put on the newly released Jimi Hendrix, Are you Experienced album. Everything changed after that. In that class half the people loved it and half hated it. I loved it!

    Steve
     
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  14. karmadave

    karmadave Member

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    Guitarists were overdriving their amps from the earliest days of electric guitars (40's and 50's). However, distortion fuzz or whatever you call it really didn't become the norm until the late 60's with groups like Cream, the Rolling Stones, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience leading the way. Heck, even the Beatles started in with heavy distortion on songs like Revolution. By the late 60's, early 70's R&R was loud and distorted!
     
  15. fusionbear

    fusionbear exquirentibus veritatem Gold Supporting Member

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    Nope, the quest for dirt was always on my radar back in the mid 70's when I started playing....
     
  16. CheeseGrater

    CheeseGrater Member

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    Great thread! I love hearing about how things were in this hobby/occuoation before my time.

    being 30 something, the first time i realized distortion was something i loved was hearing the riff in "No More Tears". I had heard plenty more well before then, but that was the first time i heard it.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2015
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  17. ELmiguel

    ELmiguel Member

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    This is the pedal Keith Richards used to record Satisfaction. Not the Vox Distortion Booster.

    Here's a link to the 10 most iconic stompboxes.
    http://www.premierguitar.com/articles/10_Stompboxes_That_Changed_the_World?page=2

    [​IMG]
     
  18. Rusty G.

    Rusty G. Member

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    When I was a kid back in '74, I bought a Kustom 150 amp (non-tube) and 2 X 15 cabinet. It was black. . .the old tuck and roll and I played a Telecaster Deluxe (two humbuckers). My bass player and best friend bought a Fender Bassman head and 2 X 15 cabinet. We found that the bass sounded better in the solid state Kustom and the Fender Bassman distorted nicely with my guitar. Of course, we had a P.A. . .but we weren't mic'ing the guitars when we first started. We just turned up loud to play at gyms and gigs, and mic'ed our voices. That Fender amp became my distortion. . .cranked amp. Can't do that nowadays. A few years later, we started mic'ing everything with a Peavey Festival system.

    Listening to the sounds of guitars that influenced my playing, like the Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival, it's amazing that lots of the tones were pretty clean, with just a touch of tube overdrive. Now, John Fogerty did use some kind of pedal on his Kustom 200, but it seems like a lot of his tone was clean.
     
  19. Whiskeyrebel

    Whiskeyrebel Member

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    I'm nowhere near as young as you but I missed "clean as default" by a wide margin too (class of 1987).

    If I have enough clean volume to make the guitar vibrate and help the notes sustain, that sounds almost as good as distortion, though I love my dirt too. Maybe a lot of what players prefer about "power tube distortion" is really the fact that many amps are loud enough to increase sustain acoustically at the point that the power amp breaks up. On the opposite end of that spectrum is the clean tone that just goes "bink" and dies out like a stretched rubber band.
     
  20. rongtr

    rongtr Member

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    My experience with electric guitar started around 1970, and I was listening to Cream, Hendrix, Mountain, Allman Brothers-and I was trying to figure out how to get that sound. I bought an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff because of the ads back then that said Hendrix and Santana used it, but it didn't sound like that to me. I had a transistor Thomas Organ era Vox amp (I think it was a Super Berkley) that got rained on after an outdoor gig, and then sounded amazing when I turned it up-for about a month, and then it quit. I started hearing about Boogie amps that had master volume controls, so I had friends that were into electronics work on installing master volume controls in my amps around '74. First was a Super Reverb that I traded in for a four hole Marshall 50 watt amp (It might have been a plexi) and then put a master volume in it. Remember, these were the days before vintage amps-everybody was modifying these amps to get an overdrive sound at a reasonable volume. It was still pretty loud, and I then moved on to a '66 Twin which was modded as well. It's too bad that overdrive pedals like the KOT or Zendrive weren't around at that time--probably would have saved a few amps from being modded.
     
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