Playing with fire: a history of the guitar

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Discovery Channel Magazine, November 2012IMG_3388

Stop what you’re doing and put on Voodoo Child by Jimi Hendrix. Just listen to the noise that man made with a guitar. It’s not just a tune. It’s a howl, it’s a sob, it’s a seduction.  It talks. It wokkas. It twacks. It threatens and assaults you just as it entrances you. This is what a guitar can do. And when Jimi finally sings: “I’m standing next to a mountain, chop it down with the edge of my hand,” it’s that extraordinary sound that makes you believe he probably could. The mountain would have stood no chance.

More than 40 years after Hendrix worked his magic, Discovery Channel Magazine is in the Fender guitar factory in Corona, Los Angeles, watching a woman called Abbie hand-winding the wire around a pickup for a Fender Stratocaster – as she has done since 1954, very probably including some of Hendrix’s own guitars. She signs and dates every pickup, the devices which convert the vibration of the strings into an electrical signal that goes to the amplifier. Almost 60 years of hand-winding pickups in this dim little room in a windowless factory; she’s the perfect embodiment of the devotion and craftsmanship that binds not only the people who play guitars, but who make them.

So what’s so special about the guitar? There are hundreds of instruments in the world, but none have quite the same resonance as the revered six-string. Guitars represent not just art and talent but rebellion. When Bryan Adams – back when he was a young and cocksure rebel – opened Summer of 69 with the famous line: “I bought my first real six-string/Bought it at the five and dime/Played it til my fingers bled/It was the summer of 69”, you couldn’t imagine it working with any other instrument. I bought my first real violin? Cello? Bassoon? Forget it.

To see an excerpt on the DCM web page click here:

To see more of this article contact me or Discovery Channel Magazine

Chris Wright
Chris Wright
Chris is a journalist specialising in business and financial journalism across Asia, Australia and the Middle East. He is Asia editor for Euromoney magazine and has written for publications including the Financial Times, Institutional Investor, Forbes, Asiamoney, the Australian Financial Review, Discovery Channel Magazine, Qantas: The Australian Way and BRW. He is the author of No More Worlds to Conquer, published by HarperCollins.

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