Promising to be a definitive documentary about the history and the rise of the electric guitar, “Turn it Up!” gives guitar lovers and fans alike a reminder why guitar players love the instrument so much. Starting with the history of the instrument with Charlie Christian and the Rickenbacker Frying Pan, it then interweaves interviews with famous artists such as Slash, Jerry Cantrell, B.B. King, Robby Krieger, Steve Lukather and more, exploring why the electric guitar was invented but also why it grips guitar players and has defined multiple generations of musicians.
Interviewed in 2007 playing at the Iridium club, Les Paul recounts how as a young musician he was told he wasn’t loud enough, so he set out to figure out a way to make his guitar louder. He first tried a phonograph pickup but he was put off by the feedback. He then decided to put a string on a piece of railroad track, and he was impressed with the sound. Les realized that for people to want to play it, it would have to be a piece of wood so he came up with the first solidbody prototype, aptly named ‘The Log.’
Leo Fender is shown with his famous Telecaster to tell the story of the first successful solidbody guitar and how a couple of artists adopting it quickly changed the fortune of Leo (who had previously been dismissed for his design.) There are other poignant scenes as well, especially with the discussion of digital vs. analog and the measures taken to strengthen quality at Gibson after decades of decline.
Five years ago filmmakers (and guitarists) Robert Radler and Doug Forbes made a mutual commitment that they would stop at nothing to create a documentary that fully explored the history and obsession with the electric guitar, from the people who designed the instruments to the people who use them. The documentary is completed but is currently raising funds to license music. Several donated sets of Seymour Duncan Pickups are still available as well as other perks for contributors.
We talked with director Robert Radler and producer Doug Forbes about an aspect that is shown over and over in the movie, the need of guitarists to have MORE and what their takeaway was from their long filmmaking journey.
“What I’ve learned is that no matter how many of these delicious instruments you collect, there’s always someone with more! I thought John 5’s collection at 105 Teles was massive – until I met Brian Fischer at Firebird Farm in New Hampshire. He has about 2,500 great guitars in a barn! He will donate them to a museum when he’s gone. Of course there are excesses, and that’s what we tried to explore. What makes a person who can barely pay his mortgage go out and buy a vintage Les Paul or Strat for the price of a car? Exploring this passion is what “Turn It Up” is all about. That, and the quest for a perfect, personal tone. It’s kind like the surfer’s quest for the perfect wave. As it turns out, electric guitars are one of the best investments out there, over the years.”
Producer Doug Forbes added “As we discovered in the interviews, it doesn’t take long at all for someone to go pretty deep. When talking about the guitar and the unique connection they feel for it. The guitar can be an artists’ tool, a collectors’ fetish, or sometimes a weapon of choice!”
You can learn more about the documentary here or help fund the film here.