The unique guitars, amplifiers, effect units, keyboards and studio equipment of Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa was an unremitting innovator and experimenter, and was forever looking at ways to exploit the latest advances in musical instruments, amplification, effects units and sound recording. His working life coincided with the explosion in the development of music technology that started in the 1960s, and continued throughout the following three decades. Consequently he ended up using a unique and fascinating range of guitars and other music equipment during his career. Furthermore many of his guitars and musical appliances were specially modified and customised (or ‘tweezed’ as he put it), and often used in ways for which they hadn’t been designed.
Although numerous excellent books have been produced on the history of electric guitars and amplifiers, much of the gear that Frank Zappa used has received scant coverage. As a musician, self-confessed equipment geek, and life-long Zappa fan, these were things I wanted to know more about. In the end the only solution was to write the book myself. Of course I wildly underestimated the amount of work involved, but even more wildly underestimated the amount of fun I’d have writing it. Whenever I needed motivation I could always imagine Frank looking over my shoulder, frowning, drinking coffee and smoking a lot of cigarettes (to paraphrase his end-note in the Frank Zappa Guitar Book))
Although this book may particularly appeal to electric guitarists; other musicians, and general fans and students of Frank Zappa’s work, should also find some interest here. Without such inventions as the Marshall amplifier, the Gibson SG, the wah-wah pedal and the Synclavier, Frank Zappa’s ‘air sculptures’, as his music has been described, would have had a significantly different shape and texture. As well as looking at the equipment itself, this book also introduces some of the pioneering inventors, engineers and entrepreneurs without whom the products wouldn’t exist. I’ve included a glossary of technical terms for those readers who might need it.
I’ve steered clear of topics such as ‘how to play guitar like Frank Zappa’, ‘which Zappa band was the best’ or ‘the real meaning behind the lyrics of Billy the Mountain’. If you have not already formed your own opinions on these and similar subjects, there are more than enough books and other sources that cover such matters. I have not attempted to dissect or analyse the music itself, but wherever possible I have indicated particular recordings that feature the specific instrument or item under discussion.
‘Zappa’s Gear’ is about music hardware, how it was made, and how it was used, by one of the most innovative and creative musicians and composers that the 20th century ever produced. It is a book for those of you who, like me, find this kind of stuff interesting.
Mick Ekers – Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England - 2011