“More circuitry was necessary.”
How is it that in a book as rich in description, as full of imagist sound-summonings, spot-on human characterizations, and erotic paeans to the bodies of guitars as Ian S. Port’s The Birth of Loud, this rather bald little line should be my favorite? Two reasons, I think.
First, it comes at a mythic moment in the story. It’s 1966, and Jimi Hendrix, newly arrived in London, is looking for a heavier sound. The universe, in other words, is tensing up for another leap in self-awareness; dimensions of noise are about to disclose themselves. Hendrix already has some of the required equipment. He’s got his Fender Stratocaster (quite atypical—most of his fellow guitar heroes like the Gibson Les Paul); he’s got his 100-watt Marshall amplifier; and he’s got his own supple and godlike relationship with electricity. He’s got power. But he wants more; he wants, as Port puts it, “nuclear distortion.” To achieve that, somebody—some wizard/boffin/mad professor—is going to have to invent something. More circuitry is necessary.
Second, in these four words is contained, philosophically, the whole book. Les Paul, born in 1915, was an auteur, a pop star, a musical innovator, and an unstoppable tinkerer who could hear sounds just beyond the rim of the technically possible. Leo Fender, born in 1909, was a low-key workshop sorcerer who ate a can of spaghetti for lunch every day and would scramble onstage with a screwdriver, while the musicians were playing, to fiddle with the gear he had built for them. Opposites in style and temperament, both men had the Promethean itch; both men sought, in the name of music, to master the strange and volatile element of loudness. And it led them both in the same direction—toward the creation of the solid-bodied electric guitar. More circuitry was always necessary.