The extraordinary story of the making of the electric guitar, its dueling innovators, and the musical revolution the instrument ignited.

A riveting saga in the history of rock 'n' roll:
the decades-long rivalry between the two men who innovated the electric guitar’s amplified sound—Leo Fender and Les Paul—and their intense competition to convince rock stars like The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton to play the instruments they built.


“A rip-roaring journey through the early days of rock 'n' roll, told through the lives of the men whose innovative guitars helped usher it into existence…A lively, difficult-to-put-down portrait of an important era of American art that enhances readers’ appreciation for the music it depicts.”

Kirkus Reviews, starred review


“A page-turning look at two central players [Leo Fender and Les Paul] in the sonic evolution of popular music. Port explores their trials and tribulations with an expert hand. This is a long-overdue cultural biography of music innovation. VERDICT: Thoroughly entertaining and deeply informative, this love letter to American creativity and rock ‘n’ roll belongs in every library and should be read by all rock fans.”

Library Journal, starred review


“Lushly descriptive and detailed…[the book] is richly illustrative in bringing these rock giants and the tools of their trade to life in a squall of beautiful feedback.”

Publishers Weekly


“More than an essential, colorful, and gripping history of the electric guitar, The Birth of Loud introduces Ian Port, the best new nonfiction writer of the past twenty years.”

—Daniel J. Levitin,
author of This Is Your Brain on Music


“Ian Port’s found a way to tell the story of the birth of rock 'n' roll—for some of us, among the postwar American stories, those that help define who we feel ourselves to be—in beautifully-evoked dual portraits of the men who made the instruments. In doing so, he re-situates this story in its context so neatly it is as if it had never been told before at all.”

—Jonathan Lethem,
author of Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude


“Ian Port has created a perfect blend of popular history, social commentary, and enough guitar details to satisfy the most rabid six-string geek. This is a fascinating book.”

—Jonathan Kellerman,
bestselling novelist and author of With Strings
Attached: The Art and Beauty of Vintage Guitars

“Guitar players are partly born, partly made, and every one has a story. So, too, are guitars, including the electric guitars that changed the world more than half a century ago. This is their story, and the story of their makers, well-told.”

—Gary Marcus,
author of Guitar Zero


“Long before Les Paul and Leo Fender were brand names who revolutionized music and changed culture, they were two guys—obsessively tinkering to recreate sounds in their heads. In The Birth of Loud Ian S. Port vividly captures the compulsion and competition that drove these fascinating oddballs to rock the world.”

—Alan Light,
former editor-in-chief of Vibe and Spin and author of
The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley
and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”


“It’s hard for me to think of an invention more crucial to my interior life than the electric guitar, so in a way The Birth of Loud, Ian Port’s moving, riveting account of the instrument’s development and rise to ubiquity, feels like a sacred text—the story of how I came to be. It’s also a rich and fascinating tale of obsession, ingenuity, and American abandon. Thank heavens for Les Paul, thank heavens for Leo Fender, and thank heavens for Ian Port.”

—Amanda Petrusich,
author of Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive
Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records


“The Birth of Loud is more than history, journalism, or criticism—it’s a killer rock 'n' roll story, complete with money, egos, star power and, yes, electric guitars.”

—Steve Knopper,
author of MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson and
Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash
of the Record Industry in the Digital Age


The Birth of Loud channels trickles of intriguing new information into a confluence of big ideas about the history of the electric guitar. This book is essential reading for guitar history maniacs!”

—Deke Dickerson,
guitar historian, bandleader, and
author of The Strat in the Attic