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Picks and Pans Review: Rock Hardware: the Instruments, Equipment and Technology of Rock

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edited by Tony Bacon

In our era of 80,000-watt PA systems, drum synthesizers and gizmos like flangers and humbuckers, you don’t want to languish in the technopop retrowash. So phase into this hefty, lavish and absorbing guide to the warp and woof of pop music gadgetry. It explains, for instance, that flangers filter and delay sound (from a guitar, usually) to produce a swooping, cascading effect, and that Jimi Hendrix used one on House Burning Down and Bold As Love. There are valuable chapters on amplifiers, synthesizers, PA systems, recording technology and instruments. Humbuckers, for example, were devised in 1956; two Gibson engineers discovered that if guitar pickup coils were paired, “wound in opposite directions and wired in parallel with opposing magnetic poles, [they] will cancel each other’s hum.” 30-and 50-watt Anecdotes and trivia abound too. Did you know when the Beatles played Shea Stadium in 1965 they used Vox guitar amps? That Les Paul was born Lester William Polfuss? That the bass speakers used by the art rock group Van Der Graaf Generator were designed for testing aircraft for metal fatigue and vibrated so intensely they had to be nailed to the stage? Tony Bacon, a British journalist, has got it all down. And then there are the pictures: the 1951 schematic drawing Leo Fender submitted to the patent office for his electric guitar pickup; Van Halen’s road crew setting up equipment by the ton for a concert; Paul McCartney and Denny Laine tooting on tiny flutes. Rock Hardware is to music freaks what Jane’s Fighting Ships is to naval warfare buffs. (Harmony Books, $24.95 cloth, $ 12.95 paper)