0151 448 2080
Order by phone - Mon-Fri: 9:00AM-6:00PM

Select CurrencyYour Basket 0 items | £ 0.00 Checkout

FREE NEXT DAY DELIVERY* - INSTANT 0% FINANCE AVAILABLE - BUY NOW PAY LATER

BBC To Screen Three-Part Series "The Story Of The Guitar"

Published: Wed October 01, 2008  News Feed

How did the guitar become the world's favourite instrument? Alan Yentob begins this personal journey, fascinated by both the sound of the Oud, an ancient middle-eastern ancestor of the lute, and the iconic guitar draped round the necks of Bill Hailey and Elvis Presley, which rocked the cosy world of popular music in the 50s. Starts Sunday 5th October.

Jimi Hendrix, one of the most iconic guitarists of all time

Such is its domination of the soundtrack of our lives that it's almost impossible today to imagine a world without the guitar, writes Tony Matthews. But it wasn't always so. Back in the early Fifties popular music was ruled by crooners like Perry Como and the Beverley Sisters, the big bands and jazz; it was cosy and respectable and the guitar simply did not figure.

"Before Bill Haley and Elvis, there was a sort of vacuum in which the guitar didn't have a great deal of value," explains Alan Yentob, who approaches his three-part Story Of The Guitar for BBC One's arts strand Imagine as a kind of intrigued outsider, whose own background is grounded in a Middle Eastern tradition of ouds and tablas, rather than Gibsons, Fenders and Rickenbackers. Yentob's aim is to discover how, in little more than 50 years, the guitar has risen from being the instrument of outsiders to the most popular in the world.

So where did this iconic symbol of sexual and social rebellion come from? "That's the mystery," he says. "In some ways the guitar comes from everywhere. There are different manifestations of instruments with strings in many cultures, but no one clear line of development. You can see its origins in the Arabian oud; in the lyre of Greek mythology; and in medieval instruments like the gittern and the sittern, or the lute."

The Ancient Greeks (left) played many instruments with strings. The medieval gittern (right) is another early precursor of the guitar.


In tracing the guitar's evolution, Yentob finds its forerunners were often street instruments, popular with the common people but considered inferior musically and socially to more classical instruments. In Elizabethan and Stuart times, guitar-like sitterns or gitterns became fashionable props to be seen in competition with the lute, a notoriously tricky instrument to play and keep in tune. Such instruments were often identified with sex and sittern became a slang term for ladies of easy virtue – "any man can play upon them".

"The guitar has always had that potential," says Yentob. "You only have to look at the shape of it to see what a sexual object it is. Being a way to impress girls is a theme that can be traced back to the Spanish traditions of Flamenco through to cowboys like Gene Autry in the Fifties, strumming guitars to the delight of whoever."

It wasn't until the 20th century that classical guitarist Andres Segovia finally gave the instrument a status and repertoire it had previously lacked, developing his own style as a performer away from the clicking heels and flamboyance of Flamenco. "He turned it into something more serious and skilful, something that you could listen to on its own," says Yentob.

The big problem for Segovia and for another guitar genius, jazz player Django Reinhardt, was the relative inaudibility of their instruments when playing in larger venues or in a band. In America, the Martin company developed bigger guitars called "Dreadnoughts" to produce more sound, but big band leader Benny Goodman still regarded guitars with disdain, at least until Charlie Christian attached a pickup and amplifier to his guitar, becoming a force to be reckoned with in the Benny Goodman Sextet – the first band to build its repertoire around guitar riffs.

Charlie Christian, electric guitar pioneer


The second programme continues the story of the evolution of the electric guitar from early experiments such as Rickenbacker's "Frying Pan"; to its eventual transformation into the solid-body instrument that would become the central plank of rock 'n' roll. "I don't know how many people know that the most popular guitar style in America in the Twenties and Thirties was the Hawaiian guitar," says Yentob. "But it's through that and the evolution of the steel guitar that people came to see that there was a sound that would resonate more."

One of the first to explore the possibilities was Les Paul, a young American who conducted his own experiments with the electric guitar. Not everyone was convinced, but when Fender came up with the Telecaster – a solid-body electric design of such brilliance that it remains in production today – the Gibson company responded by putting into production a classic of its own. Based on Les Paul's design and taking his name, it remains one of the most sought-after guitars in the world. "Gibson suddenly realised that they needed Les Paul," says Yentob, "not least because he had his own radio show to which millions listened on NBC and could publicise this new guitar in a way that they couldn't do by themselves."

The guitar could now not only be heard at the back but was ready to take centre stage. One of the first to make the most of its potential was bluesman T-Bone Walker, featured in a wonderful piece of archive displaying moves that would later turn the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend into rock gods. "That's my favourite item in a film that's packed with brilliant archive," Yentob agrees. "The way he moves is amazing! If you think of Townshend and Hendrix, you should see how T-Bone Walker held that guitar and played with it."

T-Bone Walker...showmanship way before Hendrix!

Concentrating on the guitars and their players rather than merely re-telling the story of rock, Yentob interviews BB King and Les Paul, both still performing at 83 and 93 respectively, and also talks to an unheralded but influential British pioneer, Bert Weedon, the first man to take a guitar instrumental, Guitar Boogie Shuffle, to the top of the UK charts. Best known for his Play In A Day book which has inspired generations of fledgling guitarists, Weedon also provides a link to Django Reinhardt, with whom he played.

Another important contributor is Elvis Presley's unassuming guitarist, Scotty Moore, who played on songs like That's All Right Mama and Heartbreak Hotel. "I think Scotty, in particular, has been overlooked," Yentob says. "When you listen again to the guitar solos on those Elvis numbers, you realise that he made a big difference. It was great to get him."

It wasn't just America that fell for rock 'n' roll. Scotty Moore, Chuck Berry, BB King and their guitars were just what many young Britons had been waiting for. "Before Elvis there was nothing," John Lennon once observed, which was certainly true in guitar terms. "The phrase that fascinates me most in all these programmes," says Yentob, "comes from Bert Weedon who, having bought his first guitar in London's Pettitcoat Lane as a boy in the Thirties, took it to show his friends who said: 'What's a guitar?' I found that amazing."

By the late Fifties and early Sixties, owning a guitar was a way to differentiate yourself from the masses. "There was something in its shape which, in conjunction with the exotic sound of blues and rock 'n' roll, appealed to youngsters brought up in the suburbs of London or Liverpool," says Yentob.

The guitar allowed countless young men to reinvent themselves and, as Elvis had shown, it wasn't even necessary to be good at it. It wasn't just something on which you played a tune, says another contributor, Pete Townshend, but an accessory with which to create excitement.

"The guitar is an incredible prop for somebody trying to get noticed," says Yentob, and, at that time, nobody attracted quite as much attention as Hank Marvin of The Shadows.

What was it that Marvin had that the other boys didn't? A bright red Fender Stratocaster for a start – one specially imported for him from the USA. For the likes of young Mark Knopfler, later of Dire Straits, and David Gilmour, of Pink Floyd fame, it became the ultimate object of desire. "David told me that seeing Hank Marvin with that red Fender really was an iconic moment for a lot of those guys," says Yentob, "they absolutely had to have one."

As the Sixties progressed the other thing guitarists craved was volume. Advances in amplification and new technology changed the very nature of the guitar. "I hated being shouted at by yobs," says Townshend, "so the amplifier maker Jim Marshall and I got together to develop the weaponry to ensure that no-one would interrupt me ever again."

While Marshall and Leo Fender, whose background was in electronics rather than guitar playing, built amplifiers of ever-increasing power, effects wizards set to work on producing new sounds – Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones is an early example of the use of fuzz. New heroes such as Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton pushed the boundaries, inspired by the genius of unsung heroes such as Roger Mayer, a former Admiralty acoustic engineer from the Surrey suburbs, whose Octavia pedal allowed Hendrix to come up with Purple Haze.

Johnny Marr of The Smiths (left) and Matt Bellamy of Muse...modern guitar heroes


To support the contention that "it isn't just the guitar, but what you do with it that counts," Yentob, in the third and final film, emerges from a garage holding a charred Strat that Hendrix had set alight during one of his incendiary London performances. How could anyone follow that? The last programme covers post-Hendrix guitar, making room for stars such as Townshend, Marvin, Gilmour and Johnny Marr of The Smiths to explain what the guitar means to them and illustrate their style of playing.

From the ostentatious soloing of Steve Vai to the punk-inspiring anti-music of the Stooges' Ron Asheton, guitar in the Seventies and Eighties went into overdrive. Today, with the likes of Matt Bellamy of Muse inspiring a new generation of fans, there seems little immediate threat to the guitar's pre-eminence (Bellamy's father George, who played on the Tornados' 1962 hit Telstar, is featured in another astonishing piece from the archive).

Much of the guitar's popularity lies in the fact that it is open to everyone whether they pick up Weedon's Play In A Day or adopt the famous punk maxim "here's a chord, here's another, here's a third... now form a band". Fittingly, the series concludes with an astonishing but touching display of devotion by non-guitar players performing at an "air guitar" club. In a madcap way it makes perfect sense. "In an instant virtual world where everything is possible, why not just play the guitar without the guitar?" Yentob says. "The air guitar sequence is, I think, a very funny one, while the Guitar Hero games franchise, which has shipped 40 million units, is incredibly successful and gives everybody the chance to have a go..."

What do you think is the future of the guitar? Is the age of the guitar heroes over? Post your views on our forum!

 

Are the days of the real Guitar Heroes over...thanks to Guitar Hero?


Quotes from the series

B.B. King


"The guitar is like a friend, it introduces me to people. If someone really wanted to punish me, they'd take my guitar away from me."
BB King, the king of the blues

"Who the hell wants to hear an electric guitar player?"
Benny Goodman, who changed his mind after Charlie Christian plugged in...

"It's like turning your daydreams into sound... playing the guitar feels more natural than talking."
Johnny Marr, The Smiths

"Any instrument that you're allowed to set fire to, and people actually cheer you on, has got to be an instrument worth playing."
Matt Bellamy, Muse

"I don't have any respect for the thing as an artefact, it's a tool."
David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, owner of a 1954 Fender Stratocaster serial number 0001

"It's not about playing well it's about causing disasters – magnificent ones."
Malcolm McLaren, Sex Pistols svengali

"I don't use effects as an addition to the sound – effects for me are the sound... I find songs in sounds."
The Edge, U2

"It's private, it's personal, it's wonderful, it's poetic, it's cathartic, it's moving, it's expressive, it's a real release, it's just a wonderful, wonderful thing to have."
PeteTownshend

"It's a little bit of a social problem."
Iggy Pop, punk godfather

Watch it!

This first programme features the rise and rise of the acoustic guitar and features interviews with Bert Weedon, the man who taught Britain to Play in a Day, Pete Townshend, Bill Bailey, Flamenco player Paco Pena and classical guitarist John Williams.

Sun 5 Oct, 10:20 pm - 11:20 pm 60mins

View Guitars at Dolphin

Related Products

Fender Classic Player Baja Telecaster Guitar (Blonde)

Fender Classic Player Baja Telecaster Guitar (Blonde - Maple)
This customized '50s-style Telecaster guitar has it all! Designed by Master Builder Chris Fleming, with a "dream list" of specs, and built by Fender's Custom Shop craftsmen, with their years of building experience. Features Soft V-shaped neck Custom pickups with four-way switching Knurled chrome knobs "Custom Shop…

Web Price:

665.00

Availability:

in stock
More Info

Squier by Fender Standard Stratocaster Maple Neck - Black Metallic

NB This is Black Metallic version, not the Candy Red version as shown Often imitated but never matched, the Strat is a classic American guitar design. Why buy a no-name knock-off when Squier offers a real Stratocaster, designed and backed by Fender? From the look and feel, to the quality of its components, these are guitars that value-conscious musicians have…

Web Price:

228.00

Availability:

in stock
More Info

Squier by Fender Standard Telecaster - Vintage Blonde

NB this is the Vintage Blonde version, not the Walnut Satin as shown The Standard Tele features a fast-action neck profile modeled on a late ’60s Tele. A hot single-coil pickup in the bridge position provides all the bite you want for stinging leads. In the neck position, choose either the Standard Tele’s chrome-covered single-coil pickup, or the Fat Tele’s…

Web Price:

228.00

Availability:

in stock
More Info

Squier by Fender Tele Custom II P90 - Black

The Custom II is a super-affordable temple of tone with some tasty Tele tweaks that include a pair of blistering Duncan Designed P-90s with indepedendent tone and volume controls. The agathis body snugs up to an all-maple neck/fretboard with dot inlays, medium-jumbo frets, and a 25-1/2" scale. Features Colour: Black Body: Agathis  Neck: Maple, C-Shape Fingerboard: Maple,…

Web Price:

246.00

Availability:

in stock
More Info

Fender 50s Stratocaster - Daphne Blue - Maple

This guitar epitomizes the vibe of the '50s! The color selection alone of the Fender 50's StratSurf Green, Daphne Blue and Fiesta Red-takes you back to the era of diners, Ike and cars with fins, the '50s Stratocaster guitar is awesomely retro. Features Maple fingerboard Tinted neck Single-ply pickguard Aged plastic parts Three single-coil pickups…

Web Price:

528.00

Availability:

in stock
More Info

Fender 72 Telecaster Thinline, Maple Neck, Natural Ash

1972 was a magical year for the Telecaster® guitar, which was then available in several new designs and with more options than ever before.

The ’72 Telecaster Thinline features a warmer and rounder semi-hollow ash body, a C-shaped maple neck, bullet truss rod, ’70s vintage hardtail strings-through Strat® bridge, three-bolt neckplate and two Wide Range humbucking pickups.…

Web Price:

948.00

Availability:

Normally 7-10 Days
More Info

Squier by Fender Affinity Strat - Black

Squier Affinity Strat - Black Delivering the classic Strat look, feel and tone for beginners or indeed anyone who wants a quality, affordable guitar. Three pickups and five position switch provide the Strat's signature sweet, single coil twang and bite. Bruno Mars started out on a Squier Strat and has remained a Fender fan throughout his career. Features…

Web Price:

145.00

Availability:

Call 0844 815 0888
More Info

Squier by Fender Affinity Strat Maple Neck - 2 Tone Sunburst

Squier Affinity Strat: Exemplary design in a super affordable guitar! The Squier line puts Fender’s legacy of decades of guitar innovation and design at an all-time low price. Ideal as your first guitar or a backup for weekend warriors, this is a fantastic value. Features include an alder body (even at this price!), maple neck, late 60’s style ’big’ headstock,…

Web Price:

145.00

Availability:

Call 0844 815 0888
More Info

Squier by Fender Affinity Tele - Black

The Affinity series electric guitars are straight-ahead, affordable instruments ideal for beginners of all ages. The Affinity Tele has a slightly slimmer body crafted from solid Alder. All Affinity guitars feature comfortable, 21-fret Maple necks with fast-action fingerboards and die-cast tuners. The Tele features two single-coil pickups and 3-way switching. Squier instruments are all backed by Fender, so why…

Web Price:

145.00

Availability:

in stock
More Info

Fender American Deluxe Telecaster, Rosewood, 3-Colour Sunburst

The new American Deluxe Telecaster guitar is a top-of-the-line American-made instrument for the player seeking an alder body with more modern appointments. Features Modern C-shaped maple neck with a satin polyurethane finish Rosewood fingerboard featuring abalone inlays and 22 medium jumbo frets Pair of Samarium Cobalt Noiseless™ Tele pickups Modern chrome stainless steel Tele bridge with chrome-plated…

Web Price:

1349.00

Availability:

Normally 7-10 Days
More Info

Fender American Standard Stratocaster - Black - Rosewood

Icon. Not a word to be used lightly. But the Stratocaster is just that. The new American Standard Stratocaster guitars are beauties to behold in sound, look and feel. We kept the hand-rolled fingerboard edges, alnico V pickups and staggered tuning machines for playability, tone and stability. Features A new bridge with improved bent-steel saddles and a copper-infused high-mass…

Web Price:

975.00

Availability:

Normally 7-10 Days
More Info

Fender American Vintage 52 Telecaster - Butterscotch Blonde - Maple

Check out Music Radar's Review here. Features Premium ash body One-piece U-shaped maple neck with 7.25”-radius fingerboard Single-ply black pickguard Original Tele circuit with three-position switch exude vintage authenticity Brass bridge saddles Ashtray bridge cover Vintage six-saddle bridge Modern wiring update kit Specifications Body Premium Ash Body …

Web Price:

1399.00

Availability:

Normally 7-10 Days
More Info

Fender Classic Player Jaguar Special (Candy Apple Red)

The Fender Classic Player Jaguar Special is an electric guitar that updates Fender's iconic Jaguar guitar with some thoroughly modern improvements: Hotter pickups, a redesigned Adjusto-Matic bridge with floating tremolo tailpiece, a 9.5 fingerboard radius and an improved neck pocket with increased back-angle for improved stability and sustain. The Jaguar guitar's tremolo plate has been moved closer to the…

Web Price:

793.00

Availability:

Normally 7-10 Days
More Info

Fender Classic Player Jaguar Special (Sunburst)

The Fender Classic Player Jaguar Special is a vintage style electric guitar that updates Fender's iconic Jaguar guitar with some thoroughly modern improvements: The Jaguar guitar's tremolo plate has been moved closer to the bridge to increase break angle and sustain. The Fender Classic Player Jaguar Special guitar has a screw-in tremolo arm that increases stability and control when…

Web Price:

820.00

Availability:

Normally 7-10 Days
More Info

Fender Classic Player Jaguar Special HH - 3-Colour Sunburst - Rosewood

The new Classic Player Jaguar Special HH guitar turbocharges Fender's famous Jaguar model with several thoroughly modern improvements, and looks reminiscent of Kurt Cobain's iconic modded Jaguar. Features Dual humbucking pickups that add a whole different sonic dimension Revolutionary electronics that include a blend-able coil tap for more tones than ever 9.5” fingerboard radius and a neck…

Web Price:

820.00

Availability:

Normally 7-10 Days
More Info

Fender Classic Player Jaguar Special HH - Olympic White - Rosewood

The new Classic Player Jaguar Special HH guitar turbocharges Fender's famous Jaguar model with several thoroughly modern improvements, and looks reminiscent of Kurt Cobain's iconic modded Jaguar. Features Dual humbucking pickups that add a whole different sonic dimension Revolutionary electronics that include a blend-able coil tap for more tones than ever 9.5” fingerboard radius and a neck…

Web Price:

793.00

Availability:

Normally 7-10 Days
More Info

Fender Classic Player Jazzmaster Special - 3-Colour Sunburst - Rosewood

The Classic Player Jazzmaster Special guitar updates our famous Jazzmaster model with several thoroughly modern improvements. Features Hotter pickups New Adjusto-Matic™ bridge 9.5” fingerboard radius and a neck pocket with increased back-angle for improved stability and sustain Specifications Body Alder Neck Maple, “C” Shape, (Gloss Urethane Finish) Fingerboard Rosewood, 9.5” Radius (241…

Web Price:

820.00

Availability:

Normally 7-10 Days
More Info

Fender Classic Player Jazzmaster Special - Black - Rosewood

The Classic Player Jazzmaster Special guitar updates Fender's famous Jazzmaster model with several thoroughly modern improvements. Features Hotter pickups. New Adjusto-Matic™ bridge. 9.5” fingerboard radius. Neck pocket with increased back-angle for improved stability and sustain. Specifications  Body Alder Neck Maple, “C” Shape, (Gloss Urethane Finish) Fingerboard Rosewood, 9.5” Radius (241 mm) …

Web Price:

793.00

Availability:

Normally 7-10 Days
More Info

Fender Classic Player 50s Stratocaster Electric Guitar - 2Colour SB, M

Designed by Fender Custom Shop Master Builder Dennis Galuszka Features Alder body Maple neck with a 9.5" radius 21 medium jumbo frets Gotoh® vintage-style locking tuning machines '57/'62 vintage-style single-coil pickups (reverse wound/reverse polarity middle pickup) Custom two-point vintage-style tremolo Five-way switch Custom pickup switching Specifications Body Alder …

Web Price:

665.00

Availability:

Normally 7-10 Days
More Info

Fender Classic Player 60s Stratocaster - Sonic Blue - Rosewood

With their years of building experience, our Custom Shop craftsmen created a "dream list" of specs, and this customized '60s-style Stratocaster guitar—designed by Master Builder Greg Fessler—has it all! Features '69 pickups "Custom Shop Designed" neckplate Custom two-point vintage bridge (never before offered outside the Custom Shop!) 12" fingerboard radius Specifications Body Alder…

Web Price:

638.00

Availability:

Normally 7-10 Days
More Info
 
 
Please select your country/region

Choose the region you are shopping from to view products in your currency.

We have temporarily suspended processing of EUR payments, all orders will be charged in GBP.

Please select your country/region

Choose the region you are shopping from to view products in your currency.