Ideas

The Wire: The story of the electric guitar

Using resonators, horn attachments, new strings and new materials, people had always been trying to make the quiet and humble guitar louder. Electricity finally did the trick. From early jazz to the age of the rockstar, each new innovation expanded the electric guitar's world of sound and cemented its status as one of the iconic symbols of the 20th century. Featuring the voice of Les Paul.
(JOHANNA LEGUERRE/AFP/Getty Images)

Using resonators, horn attachments, new strings and new materials, people had always been trying to make the quiet and humble guitar louder. Electricity finally did the trick. From early jazz to the age of the rockstar, each new innovation expanded the electric guitar's world of sound and cemented its status as one of the iconic symbols of the 20th century. Featuring the voice of Les Paul.

The Wire: The Impact of Electricity on Music first aired on CBC Radio in 2005. Each episode tells the story of how electricity changed music in the 20th century, focusing on a particular new technology. On Episode 3, it's the electric guitar. The series was a 2005 Peabody Award winner.

The Wire is presented by Jowi Taylor.

**Note: this series is not available for download and is available for listening in Canada only due to music copyright restrictions. 


"On May 1st 1893, President Grover Cleveland opened the Chicago World's Fair by turning an electric key that launched lights and flags and fountains and the very first Ferris wheel. It also launched a whole new era in electrical invention. Someone in Britain invented an electric toaster that same year. I think at that point people must have started to realize that life was about to get a lot more wired. I guess it was inevitable that electricity would come to musical instruments too. But using an electric toaster doesn't really change toast. Making music with electricity changed everything – the art, the social structure and the economy of music. Think about what it did to guitars. Here's this genteel kind of instrument and all of a sudden, Chuck Berry is duck-walking across the stage with a Gibson ES 335, Jimi Hendrix is prostrating himself in front of his burning Stratocaster and Pete Townsend is smashing his Les Paul through Keith Moon's drum kit. Maybe that's what makes the electric guitar such an iconic image – this feeling of busting out and destroying conventions." – Jowi Taylor

Guests in this episode:

  • Les Paul (1915-2009) was an American guitarist, singer, and inventor. He was one of the pioneers of the electric guitar. His name also lives on with the iconic electric guitar he helped design, the Gibson Les Paul.
  • Debashish Bhattacharya is an Indian classical musician and virtuoso of the lap steel guitar.
  • Fruteland Jackson is an American electric blues guitarist, singer-songwriter and music educator based in Chicago. 
  • Alpha Blondy is a renowned reggae singer and songwriter from Côte d'Ivoire.
  • Peter Blecha is a music historian known for his work as senior curator at the Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle.
  • John Collins is an English guitarist and music journalist who has lived in Ghana since 1952, working with many leading West African bands. He is a professor of music at the University of Ghana.
  • Chris Young is a musician, guitar pedal & amplifier designer and co-owner of Exile on Main St. musical instrument shop in Vancouver.


The following tracks were used in this episode:

  • Chuck Berry - Johnny B Goode (1958)
  • Julian Bream - Andante Largo, Op 5 no. 5, by Fernando Sor
  • Eddie Durham with the Kansas City Six - Countless Blues (1939)
  • Bing Crosby - Sweet Leilani (1937)
  • Charlie Christian with Benny Goodman and his Sextet - I Found a New Baby (1941)
  • Jimmy Bryant & Speedy West - Pickin' the Chicken
  • Muddy Waters - Honey Bee
  • Big Bill Broonzy - See See Rider
  • Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - Shout, Sister, Shout
  • Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - That's All Right
  • T-Bone Walker - Strollin' with Bone
  • Howlin' Wolf - Highway 49
  • Buddy Holly - Peggy Sue
  • Chuck Berry - Maybellene
  • Elvis Presley - Jailhouse Rock
  • Bill Haley & the Comets - Rock Around the Clock
  • ​Alpha Blondy - Hey Jack
  • King Sunny Ade - Ja Funmi - Juju Music (1982)
  • Debashish Bhattacharya & Bob Brozman - Tagore Street Blues - Mahima (2003)
  • Jimi Hendrix - Machine Gun - Live at the Fillmore 
  • The Beatles - I Feel Fine - single
  • Jimi Hendrix - Voodoo Child
  • U2 - Where the Streets Have No Name - The Joshua Tree (1987)


The Wire Episode 3 Remix was produced by Ozawa of the wabi collective. The series is produced by Chris Brookes, Paolo Pietropaolo and Jowi Taylor. It originally aired February 21, 2005 on CBC Radio 1.

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