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Facts And Fibbers

Marvel at previously unrevealed secrets of famous musical instruments and their inventors.

The History of music and music making is one of pioneers, adventurers and, to be honest, very strange people. We dedicate the following two pages to some of the unsung nutca... er... individuals who played their roles in the story of rock 'n' roll. Or maybe not...

1 The World's First Solid Electric Guitar

The earliest recognisable example (meaning it looked vaguely like the real thing under an eight watt bulb with your eyes half shut) was not, in fact, a six string, but a seven string.

It was an electric Hawaiian guitar cast from aluminium, and the proud designers were a George Beauchamp and Paul Barth, who laboured in the early thirties to develop what became known as the "frying pan". Blessed with one electro-magnetic pick up and two horse shoe magnets, it never really got off the ground. It wasn't until the following decade that the philosophy of a solid bodied guitar became accepted by the major manufacturers, largely due to the experiments of Lester William Polfus with a few magnets, some old acoustics and a lump of 4 by 4.

2 The World's Hardest Wood

Ukranian Pine grows in abundance, but is unpopular thanks to dire harvesting difficulties.

Vast stands of the mighty timber litter the upper slopes around the Urals, which are hard to reach on foot and are near impossible to attain via heavy duty transport.

Extremes of temperature stunt their growth (no tree is higher than four foot) but ensure an incredibly dense and resistant fibrous grain. This is the second problem. Ukranian Pine is almost impossible to cut down.

3 The World's Fastest Guitarist

John McLaughlin, Alvin Lee and Al DiMeola all lay claim to being wizards of the fretboard, but they are mere valliumed tortoises compared to the startling alacrity of Alvarez "Lemon" Sorbet.

Sorbet lived in a small Spanish grape mining village and became fascinated by the guitar at an early age. His grandfather died, leaving the pubescent Spaniard a locked and dusty trunk inside which was a battered six string, a wind up gramophone player and a stack of heavily contoured 78's.

Arid heat had warped the records (the grandfather) and more disastrously, the gramophone player, producing a catastrophic rearrangement of its workings. Cranked to full pitch the hasta-la-vista hi-fi turned not at 78 rpm but at 156.

For all his formative years Sorbet's only source of musical inspiration came at him around twice its proper speed. The guitarist's desperate efforts to keep up created his phenomenal technique. Challenges with other musicians were reduced to the level of farce, since Sorbet would be slipping his six string into its box and heading for the bar while his opponent was still looking for the right page in "101 Segovian Party Nights".

Fame was his undoing. With his new found wealth, he bought a Sanyo "tower" and — because of the isolation of his home hovel — a generator to run it. Presuming that the sudden slow running of his record collection was down to a dodgy connection, he went to lubricate the generator in its outhouse and fused himself to the side of the cow shed. A tragic loss.

4 The World's Most Named Guitar

This has to be BB King's "Lucille" of which there have now been 17..? 18..? Who knows, we lose count. They've all been Gibsons of the 335 ilk and their christening supposedly dates back to early blues days.

The gig was going well until a fight erupted (over a girl) and in the melee, part of the club caught fire. With the rest of the band, the young King fled the blaze, but realised he'd left his six string behind. He dashed back into the inferno and rescued the instrument. Later, on a whim, he inquired the name of the female who initiated the fisticuffs. It was, of course... Lucille.

Romantic, isn't it? Almost as romantic as the other half dozen stories which BB claims are the REAL reasons for his guitar getting that monicker.

5 The World's Strangest Musical Religion

There is a school of Cosmology which holds that the planets, moons, asteroids and sun of our solar system are the atoms of another plane. Similarly the molecules of this existence are in fact entire galaxies holding their own life forms. The universe is infinite in each direction.

Accepting this hypothesis it then becomes a simple step to explain away a Motorhead gig as two grains of sand colliding in the sixth dimension.

During the late sixties one American religious cult built a considerable following on this theory. Open air festivals were essential, they maintained, otherwise countless universes would grind to a halt; entire species would be wiped out in the finest Hollywood slow motion.

They developed the practice of 'galactic revving' — leaving a 30 watt amp ticking over in the back garden during night time hours so the nebulae in the grass wouldn't set hard.

Their downfall came when the cosmo vicar received a vision, purported to be from the minus third dimension. It explained that the planet Cleethorpes (as close a translation as the minus third dimensioners could come), was in danger of running down, thus hurling its inhabitants off the surface and into the furthermost recesses of an ants' nest by the rockery.

The cure involved shouting as loudly as possible at the threatened planetoid, revitalizing its rotation. As luck would have it, Cleethorpes shared a moment in space and time otherwise occupied in this dimension by the left ear of a traffic policeman.

6 The World's First Electronic Instrument!

If William Duddell had never gone for long night-time walks in that final year of the nineteenth century, electronic music as we know it might never have existed.

Duddell, a brilliant young physicist, had been commissioned to solve a side effect exhibited by London's first electric street lamps. These high powered arcs emitted a keening and irritating whistle which bolted horses and caused ladies mild disposition to faint in coils.

As a by-product of his research, Duddell developed the "Singing Arc", a machine which used a keyboard to control the notes generated by a carbon arc when a coil and capacitator were placed in parallel with it. Not surprisingly the results were hideous and Duddell found no commercial takers for his project.

It was left up to Thaddeus Cahill to scoop this first in the history books when in 1902 he exhibited his 200-ton Telharmonium, an "electric music plant" designed to broadcast its music over a telephone.

7 The World's Most Self Indulgent Guitarist

Surely a title that belongs to Bertram Segovia Reinhard Christian Hendrix Clapton Fripp O'toole who changed his name by deed poll. He felt Bertram had more punch to it.

It was O'toole's ambition to play the ultimate guitar solo thereby freeing music from the crippling restrictions of melody, sense or worth. His first album "Memories of a Cheese Dip" was described in the sleeve notes as "a forty minute battle between strings and plectrum". The second album did without the plectrum.

O'toole's fifth album "Rested My Head On A Cabbage" was the first example of grocery rock which involved leaning his guitar against an amp and pelting it with vegetables. Sticks of celery apparently had the best tone but lacked the attack of potatoes. Tomatoes were "nowhere, emotionally".

By the mid 1970's, O'toole's dabblings with root crops had run their course and for his 11th record he laid his guitar on the floor and shouted at it. The 12th album did without the guitar.

Live, O'toole varied between being "bitterly disappointing" (Sounds), "realllyyy bitterly disappointing" (Record Mirror) and "A bag of shit" (MM). NME did without the bag. All critics agreed it wasn't so much the 15 encores or 10 minute tune up sessions that aggravated but the fact that he turned up for the gig in the first place.

Many held the opinion the world would have been a better place if Mrs O'toole had been left alone with her newborn, a bottle of brandy, a large stick and a cardboard box.

One journalist began systematically phoning every O'toole in the book obscurely hinting that he 'knew what they were doing...'. He'd reasoned that any family which could produce such a monster could only be an infestation from another planet and if he contacted enough they'd guess the game was up and flee Earth taking Bertram with them.

Something along those lines may well have happened since to this day O'toole's disappearance has never been adequately explained. Perhaps that's because it's never been even momentarily investigated for the fear someone might find him.

O'toole was last seen wading into the Solent collecting specimens for his latest plan of Crustacean Rock which revolved around recording the sounds made by small hermit crabs scuttling over the strings. One theory is that while under water he may finally have found the fully appreciative (not to say captive) audience for which he always searched. Another is that it killed him.

8 The World's Most Complicated Guitar Chord

Commonly held to be the F sharp thirteenth flattened ninth diminished with chrome trim and overend bellshaft, this collosal digit buster is behind the tragic and untimely death of Arbuthnot C. Cardigan.

Cardigan (1884-1923) was a guitarist of extraordinary dimensions. The son of a Yorkshire ferret sexer and "Rubber Rita", a female contortionist with the Deptford Travelling Circus, he inherited his father's resistance to cuts and grazes and his mother's elastic limbs.

This made his hands capable of reaching quite remarkable chords beyond the stretch of normal musicians. Sadly for much of his life he was dominated by his double jointed matriarch who was capable of twisting Arbuthnot round her little finger... wrist, upper forearm and most of one elbow.

Two contortionists in one family created awesome problems. At birth, Arbuthnot eluded the surgeon's forceps by hiding inside a rubber glove and once when the Cardigans linked hands to sing "Auld Lang Syne" and celebrate the New Year, it wasn't until February 23 that any of them could drink from a pint glass without putting one foot on the sideboard.

The end came when, in a bizarre gesture that typified his entire life, Arbuthnot held a guitar concert for the local deaf school. One of their somewhat unbalanced students interpreted the musician's climactic achievement of the above chord as sign language, comparing his sister to a Hovis loaf with a camel in its mouth.

He struck out and one of the world's wobbliest artists ceased to be. Arbuthnot was buried in Camden Cemetery, Peckham Crematorium, Forest Evetides and the Church of the Hopping Martyr, Dulwich.

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