Arcade Fire Frontman’s Grandfather Helped Invent the Electric Guitar

What’s the diminutive of ‘mind-blowing’?  How does one indicate a spot on the continuum of emotions between ‘oh, that’s interesting’ and ‘holy sweet goddamn!’?

Among my many areas of interest is that of instrument inventors.  I dabble myself, mostly in making electrical contacts that warp the frequency of a triggered sample, but still, there’s an aspirational admiration for those who have pushed through with their tinkering and made a mode of music that became a standard, that provided the very vocal cord of a whole means of expression.  And of that pantheon, there’s a special place for the tweakers of that universal weapon of the Western music canon, the electric guitar.  Credit due to Les Paul, with his electric log, and credit to George Beauchamp, for guiding this innovation.  Credit to the swamp-pop stylings of Willie Joe Duncan and his unitar.

So I found it notable to discover that the grandfather of Win and William Butler of Arcade Fire is Alvino Rey, electric guitar pioneer.  Starting off with teenage experiments and progressing on to electrifying banjos, Rey (originally Alvin McBurney) was hired to produce the pickup that was used by Gibson in their first electric guitar, the popular ES-150.  Rey is also credited with creating the first talkbox, prominently featured in the clip above.

Interested in making your own Stringy?  Speak, Wikipedia:

In 1939, Rey used a carbon throat microphone to modulate his electric guitar sound. The mike, developed for military pilots, was worn by Rey’s wife Luise, who stood behind a curtain and sang along with the guitar lines. The novel combination was called “Singing Guitar”, but was not developed further.

Rey’s death in 2004 was one of the inspirations for the title and grief of Arcade Fire’s breakout album Funeral.

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Finding these connections between people who have made significant contributions to mass culture puts an image in my mind of a web of associations, bloodlines, shared paths.  For those on the outside, for those not related, connected or bonded to anyone who ever did something that changed the world, this can feel alienating, like the ability to shape events is something reserved for a certain elect or chosen.

This is obviously loser talk.  If that destiny flows through certain currents, well, sure, you can mope in your own insignificance but that’s just one of two roads.  Either locate those currents and drink from its waters or you can wander around and rent DVDs about those who’ve hit on it from Netflix or whatever.

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