I'd venture a guess that most of you have never heard of Link Wray, but you've heard at least one of his songs, even if he wasn't the one who played it. See the story here (but don't trust all the details). Link Wray is credited with inventing the "power chord" and the "fuzz" sound that came to differentiate hard rock in the '60s from the friendlier forms that had evolved out of blues, jazz and folk sounds. He wrote the classic "Rawhide", but though Link Wray was certainly not a household name it's fair to say that he influenced every rock guitarist who came after him. I only became aware of him from his collaborations with Robert Gordon in the '70s.
All guitar players have heard of power chords, but many have no idea what they are even though they play them all the time. Power chords are played with two or three fingers, rooted either on the lowest (E) or second lowest (A) string of a guitar. You're playing power chords if you are just striking the top strings, even if you use your index finger to barre all six strings. Some players look down on power chords because they are neither major nor minor (you have to have a third in addition to the root and the fifth in order to be a major or minor chord, because a major third makes it a major chord and a minor third makes it a minor chord), but all guitar players use them at least on occasion. The article describes a power chord correctly as an "open fifth", but incorrectly as "two notes five notes apart". An open fifth consists of two notes that are four scale tones apart. (5 minus 1 = 4, not 5!) Or to put it another way, it is two notes that are seven half-steps apart. A third note, the root tone one octave higher, is often added to power chord, but thou shalt not count to four... and five is right out! In any case, Wray didn't invent the open fifth. It was the style of supplying the rhythm for a song using mainly open fifths that was his trademark, and which became the hallmark of the harder varieties of rock music. Wray also began the development of the distorted "fuzz" sound used in hard rock when he intentionally poked holes in the speaker cones of his amplifier. Others soon found that overdriving the preamp tube was a more reliable (and louder!) way to create a sound. Of course, today it's often done with a DSP.
If you get a chance, listen to Rawhide today.
1. Alex Hernandez11/22/2005 09:06:36 AM
Hey Rich, great blog man, read it every day .
Interesting stuff regarding power chords, now that I'm playing a lot it was sweet to read this in your blog today.
But I have a concern about your last phrase. To me, there's nothing like a warm tube instead of DSP. Just my 2 cents.