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The Stories Behind the Icons

Posted by on 3 July 2013



The Stories Behind the Icons

Pioneers, inventors and innovators whose names are now etched in musical history...

There are certain instruments which have started musical revolutions and defined the way music sounds.  Over the years they have not only become industry standard but have achieved iconic status through the impact they have made on music.  

When the electric guitar and amplification entered the musical landscape, it was a game changer, bringing a paradigm shift in how music sounded. Likewise the synthesizer arrived on the scene and brought the sound of the future and further revolution.  

Guitars like the Telecaster, Stratocaster, Les Paul, for example have become musical instrument icons and are a household name amongst musicians.  

However, each of these musical instrument icons has a story behind them.  Stories of pioneers, inventors and innovators whose names are now etched in musical history and on the instruments they made.  This article and the centrefold section explore some of the stories of these icons and their instruments.



Clarence Leonidas "Leo" Fender
(August 10, 1909 - March 21, 1991)

Leo was an American inventor who founded Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing.  
He left the company in the late 1960s.  He went on to found two other musical instrument companies, Music Man and G&L Musical Instruments.

 The guitars, bass guitars, and amplifiers he designed are some of the most influential instruments made in the last 100 years.  The Fender Telecaster (1950) was the first mass-produced electric guitar.  The Fender Stratocaster (1954) is one of the world’s most iconic electric guitars.  The Fender Precision Bass (1951) was the standard for electric bass guitars.  The Fender Bassman amplifier became the basis for the amplifiers that later dominated rock and roll. Leo Fender was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.

Leo Fender hard at work


Orville H. Gibson
(August 21, 1856 - August 21, 1918)

Lester William Polsfuss "Les Paul"
(June 9, 1915 - August 13, 2009)

Orville Gibson founded the Gibson company in 1902 calling it “The Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co., Ltd.” Based in Kalamazoo Michigan, they made mandolin-styled instruments.  Gibson invented archtop guitars, using similar methods used on arch top violins, by developing a unique carved arch top design in their construction. By the 1930s, the company was making flattop acoustic guitars, they also made the first commercially available hollow-body electric guitars.

 The Gibson Les Paul was the result of the design collaboration between Gibson Guitar Corporation and the jazz guitarist, electronics inventor, Les Paul. In 1950 came the introduction of the radically innovative Fender Telecaster, so solid-body electric guitars were in great demand.  Since hollow-body electric guitars have more acoustic resonance, they are prone to amplifier feedback and have less natural note duration. In reaction, Gibson Guitar president Ted McCarty brought in Les Paul as a consultant. Les Paul was an innovator who had been experimenting with guitar design for years.  The result of this collaboration was an instrument that would help shape how rock music sounded.

Les Paul with Paul McCartney


James Charles "Jim" Marshall OBE
(July 29, 1923 - April 5, 1991)

Jim was an English businessman and pioneer of guitar amplification, known as “The Father of Loud”. The creations from Marshall Amplification are used by some of the biggest names in rock, producing amplifiers with iconic status.

From 1960, Marshall owned a music store in Hanwell, West London.  Jim was a drummer and sold drums, he then branched out into guitars. His guitar playing customers, including Ritchie Blackmore and Pete Townshend, spoke of the need for a new kind of amplifier, with Townshend wanting something “bigger and louder”.  Marshall saw the opportunity, so recruited an 18-year-old electronics apprentice, Dudley Craven, who was previously working for EMI.  With Dudley’s help, he began producing prototype amplifiers, resulting in the foundation of Marshall Amplification, in 1962.  It took Marshall six attempts to create an amp he was
happy with, creating what later became known as “the Marshall sound” that revolutionised music.

 As the company grew, Marshall expanded his products, and unveiled the Master Volume Marshall amps and the classic JCM800 split channel amps.  Soon after he started production, musicians including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page were using his equipment.

Jim Marshall - The Father of Loud


Friedrich Gretsch
(1856 -1895)

The Gretsch Company was founded in 1883 by Friedrich Gretsch, a twenty-seven-year-old German but recent US immigrant. Friedrich Gretsch manufactured banjos, tambourines and drums until his death in 1895. Fred, his son, moved operations to Brooklyn, New York in 1916. Gretsch then became one of the most prominent manufacturers of American musical instruments.

 Guitar production began in the late 1930s and Gretsch guitars became highly sought after, especially in the 1950s and 1960s.  During the 1950s and 1960s, many renowned Jazz drummers, such as Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Max Roach, and Billy Cobham played Gretsch drums. They were all bearing the now classic “round badge” kits.

Friedrich Gretsch


Avedis Ziljian III
(1889 - 1979)

The Avedis Zildjian Company is a cymbal manufacturer founded in Istanbul by Armenian Avedis Zildjian in the 17th century, during the Ottoman Empire. At 390 years old, Zildjian is one of the oldest companies in the world.

The first Zildjian cymbals were created in 1618 by Avedis Zildjian, an alchemist who was looking for a way to turn base metal into gold.  He created an alloy combining tin, copper, and silver into a sheet of metal that could make musical sounds without shattering. Avedis was given the name of Zildjian (Zilciyân) by the Sultan Osman II (from the Turkish word zil – cymbal, dji – maker-seller, ian – commonly used in Armenian last names which means ‘son of’).  He began production in 1623 and the details of the process remained secret for generations. It became family tradition that only the company’s heirs would know the manufacturing process.

Avedis III along with his brothers Puzant and Aram Zildjian began manufacturing cymbals in Quincy, Massachusetts, USA around 1928.  The Avedis Zildjian Co. was formed in 1929.  Avedis made many innovations in cymbals that are still around today; he was the first to develop drum-set cymbals and gave cymbals names such as Ride, Crash, Splash, and Hi-Hat. Jazz drummers such as Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, Shelly Manne, Cozy Cole and Papa Jo Jones all used Avedis Zildjian cymbals.

Avedis Zildjian


William F. Ludwig
(July 15, 1879 - July 8, 1973)

The first product made by brothers William and Theobaldne Ludwig was a bass drum pedal which could play faster beats than the typical of products of the time. It was produced in a rented barn on the south side of Chicago. The Ludwig brothers next developed the hydraulic action timpani.  In 1916 they invented a spring mechanism, which is the basis for the current Balanced Action Pedal Timpani. Production then expanded into other types of drums and banjo-type instruments, especially brass snare drums and wood shell drums.

 During the depression of the 1930s, the company was forced to merge with the C.G. Conn Company. William F. Ludwig, disliked his lack of involvement in the design and manufacture of the instruments after the merger, left the company in 1936. He opened his own company, the W.F.L. Drum Company, in 1937. The first product of W.F.L. was the Speed King pedal, which is still currently being manufactured by Ludwig. In 1955, the Ludwig division was purchased back from Conn and renamed the Ludwig Drum Company. 

 Ludwig has introduced a stream of innovations in drum construction, particularly in the use of materials and finishes. The Black Beauty snare drum, a hand-engraved black nickel-plated brass shell drum was manufactured by Ludwig during the 1920s, is highly prized by collectors and players alike.  The Ludwig Supraphonic snare drum is considered to be an industry standard for professional snares. Originally made of chrome-plated brass, it was later made of a chrome-plated aluminum alloy.  Then Ringo Starr played Ludwig in The Beatles and what ensued firmly entrenched Ludwig’s iconic status in music even further.

William Ludwig


Everette Hull
(January 17, 1904 - December 12, 1981)

Everette Hull, a pianist and bass player, formed a partnership with Stanley Michaels under the name “Michaels-Hull Electronic Labs.” in 1946. They aimed to produce a new microphone pickup which Hull had designed. The pickup was fitted on the end of an upright bass and was dubbed the Amplified Peg or “Ampeg” for short.

Hull assumed control of the company in 1949 and changed its name to the Ampeg Bassamp Company. Since then Ampeg has produced some of the music industry’s most innovative and memorable products. Many of these products have very unique features and performance capabilities resulting in six U.S. patents under the Ampeg brand name.

 Jess Oliver, a design engineer at Ampeg, created a combo amplifier nicknamed the “Portaflex,” in 1960.  This amplifier became the standard in bass combos throughout the 60s and 70s.  Also in the early 60s, Ampeg was the first company to incorporate reverb in an amplifier.  



Robert Arthur "Bob" Moog
(May 23, 1934 - August 21, 2005)

Bob Moog was an American pioneer of electronic music and founder of Moog Music, best known as the inventor of the Moog synthesizer.  Moog’s innovative electronic design is employed in numerous synthesizers including the Minimoog Model D, Minimoog Voyager, Little Phatty, Moog Taurus Bass Pedals, Moog Minitaur, and the Moogerfooger line of effects pedals.

Moog attended the Bronx High School of Science in New York, graduating in 1952. Moog earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Queens College, New York in 1957, another in electrical engineering from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. in engineering physics from Cornell University.

The Moog synthesizer was one of the first widely used electronic musical instruments. Early development on the components of the synthesizer occurred at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, now the Computer Music Center. While there, Moog developed the voltage controlled oscillators, ADSR envelope generators and other synthesizer modules with composer Herbert Deutsch.

Moog created the first voltage-controlled subtractive synthesizer to utilise a keyboard as a controller. In 1966, Moog filed a patent application for his unique low-pass filter. He is listed as inventor on ten US patents.

Moog had his theremin company (R. A. Moog Co., which later became Moog Music) manufacture and market his synthesizers. Unlike the few other 1960s synthesizer manufacturers, Moog shipped a piano-style keyboard as the standard user interface.

The first Moog instruments were modular synthesizers. In 1970 Moog Music began production of the Minimoog Model D, which was among the first synthesizers that was widely available, portable, and relatively affordable.

Bob Moog