The 31 Most Significant Guitar Events of the Past 35 Years
Guitar World recently celebrated its first 30 years of publication with a look back at the most significant events to rock the guitar community since the magazine was founded in 1980.
Some of these events are landmark record releases, some are wild technological advances and others are tragic moments of loss. But they all reshaped, revitalized and renewed interest in our favorite instrument.
The photo gallery below highlights 31 watershed moments, but it also shows the ephemeral nature of music; how quickly things can change. One day something is state-of-the-art, and the next day it's bargain-bin junk.
One moment your guitar hero is dazzling you with skills beyond your comprehension, and in another moment all that remains is his legacy. One thing that never changes, though, is evolution. The only thing more interesting than what's happened in the last 35 years is what will happen in the next.
The events below are listed chronologically. Enjoy!
July 1995: After a lengthy battle, the rights to Jimi Hendrix's estate, including all his recordings, were returned to Al Hendrix, Jimi's father. With the help of Janie Hendrix, Jimi's step-sister, Al set up Experience Hendrix, L.L.C., with the goal of restoring Jimi's tarnished status after a succession of poorly compiled posthumous live albums and studio outtakes. As a result, the majority of Jimi's catalog was restored to its original integrity, strengthening his legend for future fans.
Early Nineties: A vicious cycle arose in the Eighties; guitarists took classic amps and hot-rodded them for modern metal tones. Players who preferred vintage tones found the supply of original vintage amps was drying up. In response, many amp techs who performed hot-rod mods began making their own amps. Visionaries like Mike Soldano and Reinhold Bogner ushered in the first wave, and today dozens of boutique amp companies make it easier to find the tone of their dreams.
September 3, 1995: With the introduction of eBay in 1995, the internet was transformed into the world's biggest pawnshop. Although there have been drawbacks — namely that many sellers are now aware of how much their items are actually worth, so finding bargains and deal is not as easy — eBay has proven invaluable for those players who just have to have an original TS-808 Tube Screamer and have to have it now.
October 25 and 26, 1996: In the Nineties, large-scale music festivals had one name: Lollapalooza. But that changed in 1996 when Ozzy Osbourne launched his own music festival, Ozzfest, as an alternative to the grunge-laden 'palooza. Over Ozzfest's decade-plus run, the tour has booked every heavy-hitter in metal, including Slayer, Sabbath, Metallica and Judas Priest. And as a bonus, fans are assured a little bit of the Ozzman himself each summer.
1996: By the mid-Nineties, it seemed all the thinking had been done when it came to guitar gear. Then Line 6 introduced digital amp modeling with the AxSys 212 combo amp and further spread the concept with its POD desktop modeler. Amp modeling fast became the best, most cost-effective way to approximate a massive array of tones with whatever gear you had. And the best part was now players had the ability to create brand-new tones by combing their favorites features into digital hybrids.
June 16, 1997: No one — possibly not even Radiohead — were expecting the British alternative band to deliver the monumental modern masterpiece that was their third album, OK Computer. The album's atmospheric production, exquisite melodies and recurring themes of alienation resulted in an album that was in another league altogether. Released to gushing and almost unanimous critical praise, it remains one of the instances in recent years when such accolades are deserved.
The Nineties: When Fender started contracting work to manufacturing facilities in Japan, Korea and Indonesia, the practice soon became widespread throughout the industry. And thanks to CNC production techniques, cheap overseas labor and drastically decreased shipping rates, quality, affordable guitars stopped being inferior knock-off imports and started being practical, respectable instruments. In fact, many of the so-called budget model guitars now appear regularly on big concert stages.
October 1998: Go see a rock band at any bar or club and check the cluster of pedal's onstage. Chances are the first stomp box in the chain is the Boss TU-2 chromatic tuner. Since its debut, the TU-2 has become Boss' best-selling pedal and the industry standard for onstage tuning devices. Its ease of use and bright LED display make it perfect for quick, on-the-spot tuning. In fact, so many TU-2s riddle stages every night, you've probably taken the wrong one home a number of times.
2000s: Even as the quality and affordability of new guitars improved in the Eighties, vintage instruments still maintained an allure. Interest in old, beat-up classics got a big kick, thanks to players like Joe Perry, Keith Richards and Eric Johnson. But as prices for vintage axes skyrocketed, guitar companies began a new trend called "relic"-ing. Now you can buy a new guitar with all the wear and abuse you'd find on an actual '57 Strat without the insane price tag. The vintage market grew up.
October 23, 2001: The iPod wasn't the first portable digital audio player to hit the market, but it was the one everyone wanted to own. It became a symbol of status, and pretty soon everyone was asking, "What's on your iPod?" Although the device makes us more tuned out to our surroundings, we are more in touch with music and have greater access to enjoy, explore and discover it — in the car, on the street, or at band rehearsal after you forgot to learn the parts the night before.
December 8, 2004: The guitar community has experienced numerous tragedies over the past 30 years, but none has affected us as profoundly as the murder of Dimebag Darrell, who was killed in front of fans while performing onstage. His death remains one of music's most shocking, senseless and brutal events. It's been years since his death, but it's still hard to accept Dime's gone forever, especially when one considers how much he had left to give.
2005: Love it or hate it, the Guitar Hero franchise, with more than 25 million units sold, has indelibly altered the pop-culture landscape. Scores of children have been indoctrinated in the sound of classic rock, and although it's "just a game," it may be only a matter of time before the next generation's Jimmy Page admits to having gotten his start hitting the colored keys in time to songs by Dragonforce and Kansas.
2015: Keith Richards is still alive. The man's lived through incarcerations, near-fatal drug overdoses, tumbles from trees, enough booze to disease two-dozen livers and peril at the hands of Hells Angels. He seems to know no fear. The man's durability inspires faith in the adolescent dream that if you stay true to the spirit of rock 'n' roll, you can swagger through life with a cigarette dangling from your lip, a drink in one hand and a guitar in the other.
January 9, 1984: 1984 is one of the best albums by the Eighties' most influential band, but at the time of its release, guitar-heads were up in arms that Eddie Van Halen had not just gone soft — he'd gone synth!. But while "Jump" may be light and jaunty, "Panama" is possibly the most quintessential Van Halen song the band ever cut, and "Hot for Teacher" — Ed's show all the way — makes it clear we were fools to ever doubt him. If only David Lee Roth had listened as well.
Early 80s: From the dawn of electric guitar in the Thirties until the end of the Seventies, there was no such thing as over-the-counter replacement parts. Then Seymour Duncan and Larry DiMarzio started to experiment by making custom pickups. They put these pickups on the market and opened a Pandora's box. If you could buy a new pickup, why not a bridge or neck? By the early Eighties, the replacement parts market was burgeoning and the guitar of your dreams was just a pickup or trem arm away.
February 1, 1985: Paul Reed Smith became arguably the first "little guy" to give guitar-making giants Gibson and Fender a run for their money when he introduced the PRS Custom at the winter NAMM show in 1985. By introducing instruments with premier wood, impeccable tone and responsive playability, Smith revitalized the flailing American guitar market. Today, PRS is the guitar of choice for heavy rockers like Dave Navarro and country pickers like Johnny Hiland.
March 3, 1986: Slayer were faster, Megadeth were crazier and Anthrax were rappier, but in 1986 nobody was heavier than Metallica. Master of Puppets isn't Metallica's most ground-breaking, ambitious or successful work, but it is simply thrash metal's finest moment and a perfect display of the music's capabilities. And years later, after the haircuts, Napster battles and Load, it's why there's still no one heavier than Metallica.
October 6, 1987: The course of rock guitar history was dramatically altered in 1987 by Joe Satriani. Surfing with the Alien became the first rock guitar instrumental album to reach Billboard's Top 200 Albums Chart, achieving Platinum sales. The disc became the central manifesto of the then-nascent shred revolution, and has yet to be surpassed in melodic integrity and inventiveness.
Late Eighties: Although Asian acoustic guitar companies like Takamine and Yamaha gained a significant share of the acoustic market in the Eighties, Taylor helped bring the American acoustic guitar back to prominence by offering an unparalleled combination of craftsmanship, ingenuity, value and tone. As a result, Taylor has become one of the most revered acoustic guitar manufacturers in the world, joining the legendary ranks of Guild and Martin.
July 24, 1988: Metallica was only the second band scheduled to play at L.A.'s Memorial Coliseum during the July 24 Monsters of Rock concert. It was clear, however, from the opening riff of "Creeping Death," who most of the 90,000-plus attendees were there to see. The crowd erupted into a stage-rushing frenzy for Metallica. No longer an underground phenomenon, Metallica made thrash metal a universal sensation that could not be ignored.
1989: B. Andrew Barta invents the original Tech 21 SansAmp Classic pedal. The pedal, the first device to replicate the sounds of classic tube amps, created a whole new category of signal processing. Today, there's a full line of SansAmp formats for multiple applications, all of which have 100 percent analog signal paths and are still manufactured in the U.S.
August 27, 1990: After a stunning performance at the Alpine Valley Music Center in East Troy, Wisconsin, Stevie Ray Vaughan boarded a helicopter with members of Eric Clapton's road crew to fly back to Chicago. He never made it. Shortly after take-off, the helicopter struck the side of a ski slope and killed all on board. In his short career, SRV established himself as the premier bluesman of his generation, and in a time of technology and synthesis, re-popularized an almost lost art form.
December 25, 1990: The birth of the internet had an immense effect of guitarists and the music industry. It provided an endless encyclopedia of information at a player's fingertips. It also made music more accessible thanks to iTunes and YouTube, not to mention making it easier for your average musicians to distribute their own music, although standing out among the throngs of competition is still a challenge.
1991: With its ultra-high levels of gain and massive but exceptionally tight bass, the Dual Rectifier produced tones that previously were only available via highly modified amps or with advanced studio processing and equalization techniques. It played a crucial role in the sound of numerous groups that emerged in the Nineties, like Korn, Tool, Creed, Limp Bizkit and Blink-182. Mesa/Boogie Rectifier Series amps remain the cornerstone of many guitarists' rigs to this day.
January 20, 1991: When Digidesign introduced Pro Tools, it started a revolution that leveled the playing field between home studio and commercial recording. Today, affordable Pro Tools options like M-Audio's M-Powered Pro Tools software and Digidesign's MBox allow musicians to create commercial-quality recordings in their home studios for a modest investment. Countless big-name artists have produced top-selling albums using the same Pro Tools setups that many aspiring musicians use.
March 1991: Although tablature has been around for ages [It was used by lute players as far back as the Renaissance], it wasn't until the late Eighties that it was adopted, in this magazine and elsewhere, as the primary method for transcribing guitar music. GW may not have invented tablature, but we'll take credit for helping shape its development with our monthly song transcriptions, a staple of the magazine since 1991.
September 24, 1991: In the years since its release, Nirvana's Nevermind has taken its place in the pantheon of era-defining rock albums. Nevermind set the pace for the grunge Nineties and the creation of a "New Flannel Army." It brought a heavy rock sensibility to alternative music and an alternative vibe to mainstream rock and metal. Sadly, the album's success proved too much a burden for its creative force, Kurt Cobain. Three years later, he was dead by his own hand.
December 4, 1993: Rumors started to circulate in the music business before there was any official announcement: Frank Zappa had terminal cancer. Alas, the rumors proved true. Approaching his 50th year at the time, Zappa had amassed a dense catalog of brilliant albums — blending razor-sharp satire, adventurous composition, deft instrumental improvisation and sick humor. Frank Zappa died shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday, December 4, at his home in L.A., surrounded by his family.
March 19, 1982: Randy Rhoads attained notoriety for his guitar work on Ozzy Osbourne's Blizzard of Ozz, and Diary of a Madman. But his life came to a tragic end in an airplane accident while on tour. Rhoads had joined tour bus driver Andrew Aycock, a licensed pilot, on a joyride during a stop in Leesberg, Florida. During flight, the plane clipped the tour bus and crashed. Although his career was brief, Rhoads remains an inspiration to legions of fans and aspiring guitarists.
December 8, 1980: It's hard to convey the full impact of the shock and grief that seized the world upon learning that John Lennon had been killed in front of his Manhattan home on December 8, 1980. As a Beatle, John had turned the world on to love, both romantic and universal. As a solo artist, he'd raised the political and spiritual awareness of many. His life, though cut short, was extraordinary not only for the music he made but also for the hearts and minds he touched.
August 18, 1980: On February 14, AC/DC's singer Bon Scott was found dead in his car, having choked on his own vomit. Other bands might not have continued after such a tragedy, but by March, Angus and Malcolm forged ahead, continuing to work on songs they'd begun before Scott's passing. Six months and four days after Scott's death, AC/DC emerged with their career-defining album. The title and all-black cover pay homage to Scott, but the music pointed the way to the group's future.