How do you continue to advance the technology of a product, when the vast percentage of its consumers wants it to remain fixed at a standard developed 35 years ago?
That’s the dilemma facing manufacturers of the electric guitar. So many of its players want to purchase the guitars and amplifiers that Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix were playing in 1966.
In the case of Clapton, during his days with John Mayall’s Bluesbreaker, and the early days of Cream, he played a late 1950s Les Paul electric guitar and an amplifier full of vacuum tubes designed in the early 1960s by Jim Marshall. Hendrix also used an amp designed by Jim Marshall, but plugged a Fender Stratocaster into it.
The Stratocaster was designed in the early 1950s by Leo Fender, one of the great inventors of the music industry, having given the world the first mass-produced solid body electric guitar (the Strat’s predecessor, the Fender Telecaster), the electric bass guitar, and several best-selling tube amplifiers, one of which, the Bassman, would become the prototype for the design of the early Marshall amplifiers.
Fender’s chief competitor was the Gibson Guitar Corporation, whose roots as a builder of acoustic guitars and mandolins date back to 1902. In the early 1950s, Gibson’s then president, Maurice Berlin, noticed what Fender was doing with the Telecaster, and contacted Les Paul, a self-made musician and inventor, who at the time was riding high on the charts with his wife and musical partner, Mary Ford. Gibson’s engineers and Paul designed an instrument that matched Fender’s chief innovation (a solid body guitar to reduce feedback) with Gibson’s own off-the-shelf components (including a single-coil pickup design that dated back to 1946) and designed a guitar that could be built on an assembly line, but with greater craftsmanship, and with better quality woods than Fender was using.