The evolution of distortion: how advances in gear paved the way for heavy music

Marshall JTM45
(Image credit: Future)

No-one can dispute the fact that without the right gear, the heavy, distorted guitar tones that we all know and love would never exist. Some might argue that a key element - distortion - was always there since the very beginnings of the electric guitar, but the evolution of the heavy guitar sound from a gear perspective is much more complex than that, involving a combination of a holy trinity of elements - distortion, excessive volume and bass. 

Fortunately, technological progress made these three attributes available at about the same time that creative and cultural attitudes changed to support the new sounds that guitar and amplification equipment offered to players who were willing to expand the boundaries of previous eras.

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Chris Gill

Chris is the co-author of Eruption - Conversations with Eddie Van Halen. He is a 40-year music industry veteran who started at Boardwalk Entertainment (Joan Jett, Night Ranger) and Roland US before becoming a guitar journalist in 1991. He has interviewed more than 600 artists, written more than 1,400 product reviews and contributed to Jeff Beck’s Beck 01: Hot Rods and Rock & Roll and Eric Clapton’s Six String Stories.