If anyone asked you to list some of the great heroes of rock ’n’ roll, you’d probably come back with names like Elvis, Lennon and Cobain.

All completely legitimate responses, yes. But here are some names that are also just as important to the history of rock — but in a different way.

George Beauchamp

Most people credit Les Paul with having something to do with the invention of the electric guitar — and he did. But the original props must go to Beauchamp, who invented an electrically-amplified guitar in 1931 and began selling models with the help of the Ro-Pat-In Corporation the following year.

The first documented performance featuring an electric guitar was in 1932 using one of Beauchamp’s Electric Spanish models.

 

Hugh Le Caine

An atomic physicist by vocation, Le Caine ended up in Ottawa working with circuits that could tame electricity and turn it into sounds.

By the mid-’40s, he had constructed an apparatus that made music using a piano-style keyboard.

Very cool — but calling his invention The Electronic Sackbut wasn’t a great marketing move.

Grady Martin

During a session in Nashville in 1960, Grady’s guitar amplifier suffered a sort of meltdown.

Instead of sounding clean and pure, his guitar sounded fuzzy and distorted — but in a cool way. With the help of some engineers, Grady came up with a foot pedal that could summon this fuzziness on demand.

It became known as a “fuzz pedal” and gave guitarists a way to make their instrument sound powerful and menacing.

Del Casher

Not too long after Grady Martin discovered the power of fuzz, Del — who played guitar for everyone from Lawrence Welk to Frank Zappa — discovered a circuit made by the Thomas Organ Company called a midrange boost.

Fiddling with it produced the same sort of effect as a trumpeter or trombonist using a mute over the horn. Adapting it to a foot pedal, he gave one to Zappa who gave it to Jimi Hendrix. He used it to great effect in Voodoo Chile in much the same way Eric Clapton featured it in Cream’s White Room. Guitarists have been using wah-wah pedals ever since.

Jim Marshall

Marshall ran a music shop in London. When guitarists started demanding more powerful amplifiers, he started building them. Marshall Amplifiers are now standard dream gear for guitarists everywhere. Oh, and did I mention that Marshall was a drummer?

– Alan is the host of the radio show The Secret History of Rock. Reach him at alan@alancross.ca

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