Unlike that absolutely stupid Rolling Stone article on the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, I’m not going to be an absolutist with my top 5 list of guitar inventions. I’ve actually been thinking about this subject for well over a year, ever since a journalist contacted me asking for what I thought were the top 4. Five’s a better number.
So what did I base my top 5 on? A lot of my ruminations on the subject centered around utility from the perspective of an active player. So what you won’t see in my list are things like the invention of the pickup. To me, that was way too obvious of a choice. Same thing with the invention of the tube amp. The things I wanted to focus on don’t necessarily have widespread impact, though some certainly do. But they’re things that wouldn’t be the first things that come to mind. Now granted, I’m speaking from my own perspective, and I realize that others may have their own. But as I mentioned above, I’ve been thinking about this list for well over a year now, so I didn’t come up with this quickly by any means.
In any case, here’s my list, not necessarily in order:
- Capo – As humble as it is, the capo has made a HUGE contribution to music, allowing players to play in different keys, using root chord shapes. It has probably saved a lot of hands from carpal tunnel as well. And anyone who calls the capo a “cheater” is full of it. Tell that to the likes of James Taylor, Keith Urban, and Keith Richards (yes, I’ve seen him play with one). Not only does a capo allow you to play in different keys using root chords, they ring much differently because of the open strings.
- Strap Locks – It takes only one time of dropping your axe when it comes off your strap to learn the lesson and get a set of strap locks. ‘Nuff said.
- Electronic Tuner – Electronic tuners are far more accurate than any ear tuning. I used an old Seiko tuner for years, then moved onto different kinds. I still use my Boss TU-2 on stage, though I use a Peterson strobe tuner in the studio for more accuracy.
- Attenuator – These have been around for a long time, and I realize that not everyone uses them, but you’d be surprised at some of the big names that put an attenuator to use, like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Steve Miller. To me, getting an attenuator was a godsend when I got into tube amps; not just in the studio, but also on stage, allowing me to kick up the power on my amp to get the preamp AND power tubes saturated but at the same time keeping my volume down to manageable levels. Big game-changer for me.
- Gig Bag – With the right gig bag, you can transport not just your guitar, but also all your cables, spare strings and accessories. I actually laughed when I thought of this one because out of all the items I chose, this was the one that I completely took for granted. I used to lug a hard shell case to gigs for years. Then about 10 years ago, my wife surprised me with a padded gig bag for my acoustic on my birthday. Now practically all my guitars have both a hard shell case and a gig bag for transport to a gig.
So there’s my top 5 guitar-related inventions. Yeah, they’re pretty pedestrian choices for the most part, except for the attenuator. To tell the truth, I distilled this list down from a lot of things, but in the end, I focused on the most useful things. It wasn’t easy.