It is easy to take the electric guitar for granted. The instrument, which powered decades of postwar popular music, has never been more affordable or so well-made.
But what if history had unfolded a little differently? In The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock 'n' Roll, Ian S. Port tells an origin story of America's two major guitar companies that almost didn't happen.
Fender, a one-eyed radio repairman who couldn't actually play the instruments he wanted to make, nearly went bankrupt before creating the prototype of what we now know as the Telecaster, played by everyone from Jimmy Page to Keith Richards. Jazz guitarist Les Paul, meanwhile, nearly lost his picking arm in a car accident before he was able to convince a major producer to make what is now America's most iconic guitar, the Gibson Les Paul model.
Port perfectly captures the feeling of a "space race" between these two, each aware of the other's efforts and the benefits of being first to market. That competition, neither helped nor hindered by the complex web of regulations that now make domestic guitar manufacturing atrociously expensive, paved the way for a century of compelling popular music.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "The Birth of Loud".