Capsule Reviews
The Birth of Loud

The Birth of Loud

Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock ’n’ Roll

A thread runs through popular music from 1940s ballads to 1950s blues and jazz and early rock ’n’ roll to 1960s folk-rock and the Beatles to all the punk and grunge and rap and you-name-it that has followed—a thread (or a wire, really, made of nickel or steel) that I had never thought much about until I read Ian S. Port’s wonderful book, The Birth of Loud. That thread is the electric guitar.

I had always assumed the instrument was more or less just a matter of taking the acoustic guitar and plugging it in, but I was wrong. The electric guitar was its own thing, imagined and created by pioneer tinkerers Leo Fender and Les Paul beginning in the 1940s, then morphing into a thousand different variations that shaped and were shaped by popular music as it sang and twisted and growled its way through the century and beyond.

Port, using a novelistic approach of switching back and forth from story to story, has created a work amounting to a biography of the instrument and a group biography of its creators. I’m not a fan of all the music that’s been made with the electric guitar, but I now understand its history and inner workings in a way I never did before.


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