“My setup is pushing about 500 watts – it’s all distortion”: Emergence, development, aesthetics and intentions of the rock guitar sound

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Rock aesthetics was a central area of research in early popular music studies. Over time, the focus shifted to other genres and more specific topics, leaving behind outdated arguments regarding new musical and technological developments in rock music. Théberge (1997) has argued that musical instruments are open to change in the process of music making. In the history of rock, guitar players found ways to pursue their expressive visions by using technology originally to explore new sounds, thereby contributing to the genre’s diversification. Taking a historical approach, this article aims at unfolding events and trends that shaped rock music, potential intentions behind guitar playing practices and the guitar sound’s contribution to genre aesthetics. By drawing upon observations of trends, advertisements, listening analyses, empirical surveys and journalistic material, it outlines the guitar’s role in the evolution of rock and discusses reasons for the dwindling rock aesthetics discourse. The results suggest that although the guitar sound had been crucial for the emergence and development of rock and for distinguishing this genre from other popular music, the differentiation has become more difficult. Defining characteristics of rock music genres that were acknowledged in the 1990s seem not to be sufficient anymore.
Original languageEnglish
JournalVox Popular
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 5 Jun 2018


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