Category Archives: Technology

The Evolution of Rock Music Instruments

The evolution of rock music instruments used in bands from the 1950s to the 1960s was significant in shaping the sound and style of rock and roll. This period marked a significant change in the way music was produced, recorded, and performed. The introduction of new technologies, innovations in musical instruments, and the growing popularity of rock and roll music led to significant changes in the sound of rock and roll.

In the 1950s, most rock and roll bands consisted of a guitarist, a drummer, a bassist, and a pianist. Guitars were typically played with a single pickup, and most musicians favored the Fender Telecaster or Stratocaster models. Drums were typically a simple setup consisting of a bass drum, snare drum, and hi-hat cymbals. The piano was used for rhythm, and the bass was used to anchor the beat.

1960s Brought Big Changes

Vox V-846 Wah Wah Pedal

In the 1960s, the sound of rock and roll music changed dramatically. Bands began to experiment with new sounds and styles, incorporating a wider variety of instruments into their music. The refinement of the electric guitar was a major turning point in the evolution of rock and roll. The Gibson Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster became popular among musicians, and the use of amplifiers allowed for the creation of new and innovative sounds. The use of pedals and effects also became popular, and musicians began to experiment with distortion, reverb, and echo.

Bassists began to experiment with new sounds as well, incorporating the use of fuzz bass and distortion pedals. The use of the Moog synthesizer also became popular among musicians, and this instrument allowed for the creation of new sounds and textures. Keyboards and organs were also used more frequently, and this helped to create a more complex and sophisticated sound. Saxophones and horns all but disappeared.

The drums were also updated and improved, with the introduction of new drumheads, cymbals, and sticks. The use of toms, which were originally used in jazz, became popular in rock and roll music and helped to create a more complex and powerful sound.

So the evolution of rock music instruments from the 1950s to the 1960s was significant in shaping the sound and style of rock and roll. The introduction of new technologies, innovations in musical instruments, and the growing popularity of rock and roll music led to significant changes in the sound of rock and roll. These changes helped to establish rock and roll as a distinct musical genre and set the stage for its continued evolution in the decades to come.

The Jukebox

The jukebox was invented in 1889. It was created by Louis Glass and William S. Arnold, who combined Edison’s phonograph with coin-operated technology to create an automatic music-playing machine that could play individual selections on demand. The jukebox quickly became popular in public places, such as bars and restaurants, and helped introduce people to a wide range of music styles, from classical to popular songs. The jukebox became an iconic symbol of American popular culture in the 20th century and continues to be a nostalgic reminder of the golden age of music.

Jukeboxes got their name from the original purpose of the machine, which was to play musical selections in juke joints. Juke joints were establishments in the rural South that served as social gathering places for African Americans in the early 20th century. These establishments often had a machine that played music, and the word “juke” was a colloquial term used to describe both the machine and the establishment itself.

Jukebox came from Juke Joints

When the coin-operated music machine was developed and commercialized in the 1930s, it was called the “jukebox” as a nod to its origin in juke joints. The term “jukebox” quickly became synonymous with the coin-operated music machine, and the jukebox became a popular form of entertainment in the United States. Their popularity continued to grow throughout the 20th century, and it remains an iconic symbol of American popular culture to this day.

The jukebox played a significant role in the development and popularization of rock and roll music. It allowed people to easily access and listen to the latest songs, helping to spread the genre and bring it to a wider audience. They also helped create new opportunities for musicians and record companies, as people could choose to play the latest rock and roll songs for a small fee. Additionally, the jukebox served as a social gathering place for young people, who would gather to listen to music and dance. This helped create a sense of community and culture around rock and roll, further solidifying its place as a genre of music.

Top Brands

There are a few iconic brands.  Tops on the list is the Wurlitzer 1015.  This classic jukebox was produced from 1954 to 1960 and was one of the most popular models of the early rock and roll era. It became a staple in diners, bowling alleys, and other public places.

Wurlitzer 1015 Jukebox
Wurlitzer 1015

A Wurlitzer 1015 featured on the television show “Happy Days”. The show was set in the 1950s and 60s, during the peak of the jukebox era, and the Wurlitzer 1015 was one of the most popular jukeboxes of that time. It became a fixture in many scenes on the show and became an iconic symbol of the rock and roll era and the nostalgia of the 1950s and 60s. The Wurlitzer 1015 remains a popular collectible item to this day and is often sought after by fans of the show and collectors of vintage jukeboxes.

The Seeburg company was a major player in the market and produced several popular models in the 1950s and 1960s. The Seeburg M100A was one of the company’s most successful models and became a fixture in many rock and roll-era establishments.

Rock-Ola Tempo II

Rock-Ola also produced several popular models in the 1950s and 1960s. The Rock-Ola Tempo II was one of the company’s most successful models and was known for its stylish design and high-quality sound.  And the Automatic Musical Instruments (AMI) companyproduced several popular models in the 1950s and 1960s. The AMI Continental was one of the company’s most successful models and became a staple in many rock and roll-era establishments.

These jukeboxes, along with others of the era, helped spread rock and roll music to a wider audience and played an important role in the growth and popularity of the genre.

45s Were The Key

Along with jukeboxes, 45 RPM records, also known as “45s,” were important to the jukebox industry because they made it easier for jukebox operators to change the records in the machine and offer a larger selection of songs to customers. Prior to the introduction of 45s, jukeboxes used 78 RPM records, which were much larger and heavier. This made it difficult for operators to change the records in the machine and limited the number of songs that could be offered. The smaller size and lighter weight of 45s made it easier for operators to change the records and offer a larger selection of songs to customers.

45 rpm record insert
45s required an insert to play on home record players. They had a way of getting lost often!

45s also allowed for the creation of a wider range of music genres, as artists and record companies could produce records specifically for the jukebox market. This led to the creation of more specialized music genres, such as rock and roll, R&B, and country, which helped drive the growth of the jukebox industry. In addition, 45s allowed for the production of inexpensive and disposable records, which were popular with young people and helped to spur the growth of the youth culture and music scene of the 1950s and 60s.

Overall, the introduction of 45s was a key factor in the growth and popularity of the jukebox industry, and helped establish the jukebox as an iconic symbol of American popular culture.

Music Everywhere

Jukeboxes were a common feature in restaurants, diners, and cafes during the 1950s and 60s, when the jukebox was at the height of its popularity. Almost every diner, drive-in, or soda fountain had one.These, along with many others, helped to establish the jukebox as an iconic symbol of American popular culture and contributed to the growth and popularity of the jukebox industry.

It is difficult to determine the most played jukebox song of all time as this information was not recorded or documented. However, some of the most popular songs that were frequently played on jukeboxes in the 1950s and 60s include “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets, “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis, “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry, “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard, and “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley.

Amplified Music and the Birth of Rock and Roll

Amplified music played a crucial role in the birth of rock and roll. The use of amplifiers to amplify the sound of musical instruments was first introduced in the 1920s and 1930s.  It was in the 1950s that amplified music began to be used extensively in rock and roll music.

fender deluxe guitar amp
The Fender Deluxe from 1953-4 was a 10-watt tube type guitar amp and regarded as one of the best.

Amplification allowed for louder and more powerful performances.  This was essential for the high-energy, dance-oriented nature of rock and roll music. The amplified sound of electric guitars, in particular, became an integral part of the rock and roll sound.  Guitarists like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and Bill Haley used amplified guitars to create a driving, rhythm-heavy sound.

The use of amplifiers also allowed for the development of new effects such as distortion and overdrive, which added a new dimension to the sound of rock and roll music. These effects became a staple of rock and roll, with guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton using them to create new and innovative sounds.

Bigger Amplifiers for Bigger Venues

The use of amplification also enabled rock and roll musicians to perform in larger venues, such as stadiums and arenas, and to be heard over the noise of crowds. This allowed rock and roll music to reach a wider audience.  And it helped to establish it as a dominant force in popular music.

All in all, amplified music was a key factor in the birth and development of rock and roll music. It allowed for louder, more powerful performances, enabled the creation of new sounds and effects, and helped to establish rock and roll as a dominant force in popular music.

If It’s Too Loud…

Of course, when rock was new, the kids loved the volume and the adults hated it.  Rock Guitarist Ted Nugent coined the phrase “if it’s too loud, you’re too old” as an ad for his first solo album.

Looking back, early rock-era amplifiers were mild compared to what we have today.  A typical mid-50s amplifier put out 15-20 watts with limited bass and treble sound ranges.  That was just enough to be heard over the drummer.  By the mid 60s, Fender, working with Surf Guitarist Dick Dale,  had the output up to 100 watts with a rich full tone.

Dick Davies from The Kinks is known as being the first big name to experiment with distortion by hooking two of these big units together.  Soon, fuzz and reverb features were common.  Keep in mind that this was all in the 60s.  Transistors were in their infancy.  Sound amps were all tubes … big, heavy, and hot.

Along with being the first mega-concert, the Woodstock Festival also introduced the first quality outdoor sound system.  Previous smaller-scale festivals had groups of listeners gathered up close to the stage to listen.  At Woodstock, the sound powered by 300-watt McIntosh amps filled the air.

The Electric Guitar

Fender Stratocaster
Fender Stratocaster

There is nothing more closely associated with Rock and Roll than the electric guitar. It grew up with Rock, and has been onstage throughout The Golden Age of Rock.

Like Rock music, the history of the electric guitar starts early. In the 1930s, jazz musician Charlie Christian was using an amplified guitar for solos, and in the early 1940s, Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker recorded with one, but it wasn’t until Leo Fender introduced the first mass produced model in 1950 with the introduction of the Broadcaster (soon renamed the Telecaster), that the electric guitar became popular.

The Telecaster is still in production today, and is favored by many artist for it’s bright, cutting tone. Fender followed it up in 1954 with the Stratocaster, a 3 pickup model (the Telecaster had 2) that included a cutaway for easier reach to the upper registers, and a revolutionary vibrato or “tremolo” unit that would allow players to bend strings as they played by wiggling the tremolo arm, or “whammy bar”. Along with the Telecaster and Stratocaster, Fender introduced the Precion Bass, or P-Bass, remains one of the most popular basses in music today.

Fender wasn’t the only electric guitar innovator. The Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Company had been making electric instruments for many years, and their their “Electric Spanish” model, the ES-150, was generally recognized as the first commercially successful electric guitar as early as 1936. It wasn’t until 1952 though, when Gibson launched a solid-bodied guitar designed in collaboration with Les Paul that they gained fame.

Les Paul popularized the electric guitar in the early 1950s with a series of recordings with his wife Mary Ford using several new types of technologic innovations. His invention of multitrack recording, mixing seperate recordings together was made possible by the of introduction of reel-to-reel audio tape recording. Paul would record a track, then record himself playing another part with the first. This multitrack method has become the standard for how modern recordings are made.

Another hero in the history of the electric guitar is Chuck Berry, who established a style of playing in the late 1950s that remains a great influence on rock music. His style today is the basis for stage performances of many groups, and was featured in a famous segment by Michael J Fox in the movie “Back To The Future”.

The importance of the electric guitar to Rock music is demonstrated by the sculptures outside of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The importance of the electric guitar to Rock music is demonstrated by the sculptures outside of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The importance of the electric guitar to Rock music is demonstrated by the sculptures outside of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The late 1960s a new generation of rock guitarists arose, including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Carlos Santana. Perhaps influenced by the psychedelic style of the time, they experimented with twisting the sound through amplification, feedback (electronic sound distortion), and add-on electronic devices, extending the musical potential of the instrument.
All of this led to a major change in the composition of a band. Where before the introduction of the electric guitar, a pop band was almost a “mini-big-band”, with horns (usually a sax), double standup bass, and a piano or organ, with the strong sounds of the electric guitar, the 4 man band became popular, with an electric bass, rhythm guitar, drums and a lead. Each of the instruments were strong enough to carry their own part, and versatile enough for each band to create their own style.


Phonograph – HiFi – Stereo

Philharmonic 45 phonograph
Philharmonic 45 phonograph

The late 50s were a turning point in the phonograph industry. Technology had grown to the point where home stereos were possible, although at first it was in the form of large console units. Amplifiers were still tube driven, and speakers were still primitive.

45 records needed an insert or adaptor to fit on most phono players
45 records needed an insert or adaptor to fit on most phono players

The 12 inch 78’s (78 rpm) records ruled for almost 60 years, but by the 60s there were very few being made. The new vinyl 33s and 45s had taken over and were a big improvement in sound quality and durability.

A big part of the improvement came from the quality of the vinyl. Older 78’s were brittle, highly breakable and scratch prone (they were made from a substance similar to furniture shellac). Vinyl was flexible and held a thinner “groove”, the part that held the recording. Where the older 10 inch 78s were good for about 3 minutes, the newer 45’s were only 7 inches and could hold up to 5 minutes. The 12 inch LPs (Long Play) could hold up to 30 minutes per side.
The thinner groove was called a “micro groove” and drove sales of equipment that was capable of playing the new format. The higher quality sound was marketed as “high fidelity”, or “hi-fi”. By the late 50s, technology advanced to stereo recording, with two channels (left and right) recorded on a single track. For a short while, records were released in both stereo and monaural versions, but the new stereo format soon became the standard.

A 78 rpm record
A 78 rpm record

In the early 50s, records were played on a phonograph or record player. By the mid 50’s, it was a Hi-Fi, and starting in the late 50s, records were played on the stereo.
Historians note an interesting theory about the contribution of 45s to the growth of Rock. As radio stations replaced their libraries of 78s with the better sounding 45s, they had an opportunity to “clean house”, and many stations chose to “go with the new”.

8 Track Tapes

Case with 8 track tapes
8 track case

One of the coolest features on the ’66 Mustang was a player for 8 track tapes. It was also available on the Thunderbird and Lincoln models, but the Mustang was still the height of cool and the 8 track was as cool as it got.  from the Auto Parts store. By ’67, 8 tracks were available on all Fords, home units and 8 track boom boxes were available, and you could buy 8 track tapes from most of the record companies at your local record store.

8 Track Tapes Design

8 track tapes are an unusual design. Also known as Stereo 8, eight-track cartridge, eight-track tape, or simply eight-track, instead of being reel to reel like most other tapes, 8 tracks had only 1 reel. Tape was pulled out of the center of the reel to play and wrapped back on the outside afterward. A piece of foil was spliced onto the end of the tape and, as the tape was playing, when the foil passed by, the play heads shifter to the next tracks. There was a “clunk” or “carunk” sound and the music kept on playing. Since it was 8 tracks, and 2 at a time were needed for stereo, the tape heads could move 4 times before they were back at the beginning. At 11 minutes a run through, that gave you 44 minutes total play time. Sometimes the track switch fell between songs, but often songs had to be broken in two or padded with extra filler to help the track switch gap fall in the right place.

Inside of an 8 track cartridge
Inside of an 8 track cartridge

The splice was the weak point on 8 track tapes. It held up for a while, but the heat of storing the cartridges in a car would dry up the lubricant and make the splice slip. They were repairable, but it took a lot of work if too much tape was unspooled. It wasn’t unusual to see broken 8 track cartridges with tangles of tape on the side of the road.
Add another factor of cool, the 8 track players were initially sold as the Lear Jet Stereo 8 and were invented and designed by the company that made Lear Jets. Rights to the technology was eventually sold to other manufacturers. An enhanced version, Quadraphonic 8 track was released in 1970. It sounded great with 4 separate audio tracks, but it was very expensive and used by very few car companies.

8 track usage faded out slowly through the 70s giving way to the cassette. Cassettes were smaller, easier to store than 8 track tapes and took advantage of newer tape technology to produce a higher quality sound. Cassettes were in turn replaced by CDs in the mid 80s. Ughhh, writing this article makes me realize how many times I’ve spent $ on the same music.

Television – the Boob Tube

1960 Philco TV Ad
1960 Philco TV Ad

The Golden Age of Rock, coincidentally, approximates the Golden Age of Television. Both grew out of the postwar boom, Rock grew with the baby boomers and TV grew from wartime electronics technology.

By the 1960s, most homes had a TV set that operated from a rooftop antenna or rabbit ears. Electronics were tube operated, and even though the sets were big, the picture tubes were small. My kids don’t believe any of this, but in the early 60s, color sets (and color programming) were rare, the remote control hadn’t been invented yet, cable and VCRs were still many years away. To top it off, there were only 13 channels on the dial and TV owners considered themselves lucky if they received at least 3 networks with no more than a bit of snow (visual static).

Even so, we fell in love with our TVs and affectionately called them “Boob Tubes”. For the first time, a viewer could take in some of the top music acts without leaving their living rooms. Ed Sullivan brought us the blockbusters, including our first looks at Elvis and the Beatles. American Bandstand brought us a different act with every show, and variety shows such as The Smothers Brothers, Andy Williams, Hootenany, and Hullabaloo mixed music in with comedy.

Surprisingly, one of the earliest musical variety shows was Nat King Cole. His show, broadcast in the late 50s was the first time that a black man hosted a nationally televised show in the US. This was at the same time that Alan Freed was playing Rhythm and Blues music and calling it Rock and Roll to make it more acceptable to whites. Nat King Cole was a trail blazer for the mainstream acceptance of Rock music.

Transistor Radios

One model of the early Regency TR4 transistor radios
The Regency TR4 transistor radio

Transistor radios had been around for a while but it was Sony, a small startup company, and other far-east imports that brought the price down and made “the transistor” a standard part of the baby boomer’s accessories. It weighed a half of a pound, could fit in a pocket, and ran all day on one or two small batteries (the 9 volt was invented to be the same shape as the case). Best of all, they were portable and had tiny earphones, so Rock music could be played without parents listening in.

At the height of their popularity, Sony’s transistor radios went for around $25. That’s the inflation adjusted equivalent of about $200 today, so they weren’t really cheap. By the mid 60s, Hong Kong manufacturers had the price down to about $15. That was still the equivalent of $120 today, so transistor radios became prized posessions.

Along with the portable transistor, car radios took a big step when they moved from vacuum tubes to transistors. Once the tubes were gone, radios came on quickly, and the drain on the battery was a lot less (if you went “parking” with a vacuum tube radio, your battery went dead quickly!).

As compact as they were, early transistor radios were AM only and stereo was a long way in the future. The tuning was a bit fussy, twisting or moving the radio changed the volume and tone, and the analog tuners had trouble holding a station. FM radio broadcasting with its higher frequency response was still a few years off.

New Ways to Listen

Yet, the advent of transistor radios in the 1950s marked a significant shift in the way music was consumed and played a major role in the growth of rock and roll and the development of teen culture. Prior to the introduction of transistor radios, people would typically listen to music on larger, bulky vacuum-tube radios or at home on phonographs. The development of the compact, portable transistor radio allowed teens to carry music with them wherever they went, greatly increasing the accessibility of their rock and roll music.

This fueled the rise of rock and roll and the emergence of teen culture.  The transistor radio became an essential tool for teens to stay connected to their favorite music and to each other. The portability of the radio allowed them to listen to music in a variety of settings, including in their bedrooms, at the beach, and on the go. This gave rise to a new kind of musical culture that was centered around the radio and its ability to bring music to people wherever they were.

The transistor radio also had a profound impact on the way music was marketed and distributed. With the growth of rock and roll, record companies and music industry executives saw the transistor radio as a powerful tool for promoting new music and reaching a wider audience. They started producing smaller, more affordable radios that were specifically designed for teenagers, and they worked to create a more sophisticated marketing and advertising industry around them.  And all of this helped fuel the growth of rock and roll.