November 26, 2010 10:45 pm

The List: Five instruments that define pop music

A vintage Epiphone FT79 guitar, formerly owned (but neither set on fire nor smashed to pieces) by Jimi Hendrix, will go up for sale by auction at Bonhams on December 15. It is expected to fetch £80,000-£120,000. Here are five other instruments that changed pop.

1. Louis Armstrong’s trumpet

By the time Louis Armstrong switched from the cornet to the longer trumpet during a 1925 engagement at the Vendome Theatre in Chicago, his name as jazz’s finest soloist was pretty much made. But the measure of oneness he would achieve with the new instrument was such that it effectively became part of his body. From his nickname, “Satchel-Mouth” (or “Satchmo” for short) to the scat-singing he developed to echo its sounds, pop’s first virtuoso’s relationship with his trumpet was so intense that his ancillary careers as actor and comedian can now be seen as a necessary buffer-zone.

2. Jerry Lee Lewis’s piano

On the first night of “The Big Beat” package tour at The Brooklyn Paramount in March 1958, Alan Freed chose Chuck Berry over Jerry Lee Lewis to close the show. The latter compressed his considerable capacity for lethal rage into a short but dramatic opening set. First he kicked the stool back, as he always did, then he set light to his piano – dousing it with a Coke bottle full of gasoline and putting a match to it with one hand, while keeping the rhythm of “Great Balls of Fire” with the other. By the time the smoke had cleared, a new paradigm was established. This echoed down the ages, from Keith Emerson of ELP sticking knife blades into his organ, to legendary guitar-abusers from Pete Townshend and Hendrix to Kurt Cobain.

3. Bob Dylan’s harmonica

“A cat being strangled”, “an asthmatic’s last gasp” – the unflattering things said about Bob Dylan’s singing have been nothing compared to the feelings inspired by his harmonica-playing. But while the sight of a Tube busker reaching for his mouth organ still prompts a protective waxing-over of the ears, the harmonica has been Sancho Panza to Dylan’s voice’s Don Quixote – a faithful companion, from the lilting melody of “Blowin’ In The Wind” to the suck-and-blow of “Like A Rolling Stone”.

4. Bernard Edwards’ bass-guitar

A former Black Panther who dropped acid with Timothy Leary aged 13 and played in a rock group called Allah and the Knife-Wielding Punks, Chic’s Bernard Edwards was eminently qualified to lay rap’s foundation stone. And while the bass-line to Chic’s 1979 disco classic “Good Times” seemed like the last word in sensual opulence, the real story was just beginning. Edwards’ subterranean rumble became the heartbeat of hip-hop’s first two defining moments, “Rapper’s Delight” and “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel”.

5. Lady Gaga’s Monster Claw

From Bootsy Collins’ star-shaped bass to Prince’s male and female symbol guitar (aka “the androgyne”), the customised musical instrument body has historically been a male preserve, but Lady Gaga has picked up the baton of psycho-sexual symbolism and run with it. The Monster Claw piano, designed by Terence Koh for the 52nd Grammy awards, was a dual-control instrument, fashioned from the shell of one used in the film The Poseidon Adventure. It boasted 32 decorative arms, designed to represent the pieces on a chessboard. Gaga’s co-pilot on this keyboard of Daliesque dreams? Appropriately enough, Elton John.

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