June 18, 2021

What musician altered the course of rock history by cracking the speaker?

Neither glam rock nor punk or new wave would have been the same without the sound of a dirty guitar that was the forerunner of hard rock. It happened in the middle of the “British invasion”, as the emergence in America of rock & roll from Great Britain was known in the early sixties. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones reigned. But there was a group that with sound experimentation made a gap among the giants. Finding a way to brutalize the sound of the guitar changed the course of history.

“The guitar had a very limited sound: volume and tonal control, that was it. I tried crossing different speakers until it occurred to me, I don’t know why, to cut through the cone. I plugged in the guitar and there it was: the chord was the same but it sounded brutal. A discovery more typical of an inventor than a musician ”.

Who explains it in some interviews is Dave Davis, from The Kinks, creator of the first dirty guitar, with the unforgettable You really got me from 1964. That distortion expressed precisely the sexual desire of which the lyrics spoke. And that it put on the nerves to the parents of a whole generation of young people.

The discovery came just a year after the Davies brothers (Ray and Dave) decided to call themselves The Kinks, having already formed a rhythm & blues group that was first called The Ramrods and later The Ravens. The year 1963 was for them a true crossing of the desert, visiting one record company after another with a recording of their best songs under their arms.

When at the beginning of 1964 they recorded their first songs for Pye Records, among them ‘You really got me’, the discovery of the guitar maker had already taken place.

With the unparalleled success of The Beatles, they even managed to get Brian Epstein to attend one of their rehearsals. The famous British manager was not very impressed. In the end, it is Pye Records that makes them a contract. When at the beginning of 1964 they recorded their first songs, among which is You really got me, the miraculous guitar discovery had already taken place.

Ray Davies, Pete Quaife and Dave Davies in a television performance in Birmingham in 1965


Before coming up with the experiment of the blade to split the cone of the amplifier, Dave Davis, the younger of the two brothers, tried to put together how many amps that he had at his parents’ house. It had a 10-watt Elpico, a 60-watt Linear, a 30-watt Vox AC 30, and a radiogram amplifier. He tried connecting them together and plugging in his guitar, a Harmony Meteor. But while the distorted sound did occur, it was the effect of the electrical discharge that occurred. That shouldn’t have been very nice.

Dave Davis first tried plugging in all the amps he had around the house, which produced an electric shock.

In a new less ambitious attempt it occurred to him to crack the cone of the Elpico, so that the loudspeaker vibrated. And he tried connecting it to the Vox, so that the signal it was relaying had that roaring effect that he was looking for. A dirty sound that would soon be copied by the Who, although in more melodic and less disruptive themes. Dave Davis had found in a very traditional way with the essence that would mark the future of rock. And electronics would take that visionary effect to maximum consequences when, decades later, Radiohead, for example, expressed itself with the fury of rhythm and dirty guitars.