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BBC TV tells The Story Of The Guitar Print E-mail
Written by Matt   
Friday, 03 October 2008

"I don't have any respect for the thing as an artefact, it's a tool." So says David Gilmour in the three-part BBC One TV series Imagine: The Story Of The Guitar, which starts this coming Sunday, October 5th, at 10.20pm.

The series explores the history and culture surrounding the world's favourite instrument and the personal stories of those who have dedicated their lives to it. Presented by Alan Yentob, it features interviews with some of the greatest living guitar players, including David, John Williams, Paco Peña, Les Paul, Pete Townshend and BB King.

In the first programme, 'In The Beginning', Alan embarks on a personal journey. He is fascinated by both the sound of the oud, an ancient Middle Eastern ancestor of the lute, and the iconic guitar. Through his travels he follows the evolution of the guitar, from Hittite carvings from 3400BC to the fuzz boxes, effect pedals and signal processors of the 21st century.

Alan's research takes in strange and wonderful dramatic reconstructions and the odd detour to meet eccentric but passionate fans of the instrument. As he delves into the guitar's complicated origins, a theme begins to emerge of the guitar as an instrument of desire, with a bit of a bad reputation, often looked down upon by the musical establishment and blown up by the winds of fashion. It is America that has taken the instrument to its heart and where it dominates popular music today.

Featuring key interviews with John Williams, Paco Peña, Pete Townshend, Bert Weedon, Jack Black, Bill Bailey, Michael Tyack and Xue Fei Yang, the first programme ends with the genius of the jazz guitar and the instrument on the brink of transformation... it is about to turn electric.

The second programme continues the story of the evolution of the electric guitar from early experiments such as Rickenbacker's "Frying Pan"; to its eventual transformation into the solid-body instrument that would become the central plank of rock 'n' roll. "I don't know how many people know that the most popular guitar style in America in the Twenties and Thirties was the Hawaiian guitar," says Yentob. "But it's through that and the evolution of the steel guitar that people came to see that there was a sound that would resonate more."

By the late Fifties and early Sixties, owning a guitar was a way to differentiate yourself from the masses. "The guitar is an incredible prop for somebody trying to get noticed," says Yentob, and, at that time, nobody attracted quite as much attention as Hank Marvin of The Shadows, who had a bright red Fender Stratocaster. "David [Gilmour] told me that seeing Hank Marvin with that red Fender really was an iconic moment for a lot of those guys," says Yentob, "they absolutely had to have one."

To support the contention that "it isn't just the guitar, but what you do with it that counts," Yentob, in the third and final film, emerges from a garage holding a charred Strat that Hendrix had set alight during one of his incendiary London performances. How could anyone follow that? The third and last programme in the series covers post-Hendrix guitar, making room for stars such as Townshend, Marvin, Gilmour and Johnny Marr of The Smiths to explain what the guitar means to them and illustrate their style of playing.

 
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