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December 19, 2022
A History of Prog Rock and the Gear Behind the Sound

Explore Music History: The Gear of Prog Rock

Blending musical virtuosity, technical knowledge, and extreme musical intellect, progressive rock is a touchstone for musicians who value big dreams and extreme musical achievement. To play prog rock requires much experience as a listener and as a player, but an open mind, quality gear, and knowledge of the style will go a long way. Check out this history of prog rock -- and some of the most essential gear for creating it -- and you'll be on your way to playing in this revered rock style.

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Tube Amps, Effects Pedals, and Classic Guitars
By the late 1960s, music from West Coast psychedelic rockers like Jimi Hendrix, the Jefferson Airplane, and Frank Zappa (who promoted the idea of stretching out songs) -- along with genre-busting groups like the Velvet Underground, the Fugs, and the Holy Modal Rounders -- made it obvious that newer groups were more interested in the works of Terry Riley and John Coltrane rather than flower power and Muddy Waters.

In the UK, groups like The Beatles, the Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, and Genesis began to popularize longer songs, larger ambitions, and larger palettes of musical instruments -- with an emphasis on synthesizer technology. These grandiose visions of rock and roll, combined with an embrace of technology, would kickstart the first wave of prog rock bands like Yes; Emerson, Lake and Palmer; and King Crimson.
Outboard Effects, Effects Pedals, and Advanced Electric Guitars
The sound of classic prog was greatly influenced by late-'60s recording technology. The complicated arrangements and heavily treated instruments used by all those bands were made practical thanks to multi-track recorders and multi-channel mixing consoles. This wider selection of studio and stage effects allowed musicians to conceptualize beyond their usual sonic scope, and to create previously unheard tones.

The widespread success of this longer-format music in the FM radio market resulted in massive record sales and hugely successful tours and concerts. The prog rockers of the late '60s became cultural behemoths that would forever embody the extremes and intricacies of this bold new style of rock.
Outside Influences and Synthesizers
As prog rock matured, new combinations and genres like glam, krautrock, art rock, and new-age music emerged. They borrowed elements of prog and married them to different musical conventions.

Pop star David Bowie and glam rock bands like T-Rex and Slade combined futuristic style with 3-minute pop song craft and androgynous theatricality, becoming cultural icons. Krautrockers from Germany like Can, Faust, and Neu! went a more minimalist route, embracing abstract looping and droning to create long, rhythmically intense songs. New-age artists like Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, and Jean Michel Jarre used synthesizers and mixing boards to fashion a completely electronic sound world -- mostly performing with gear they modified or built themselves.
New Wave, Interfaces, and Beats
In the 1980s, a new breed of rock musicians began to embrace some of the more specific sounds of many prog rock groups that had fallen out of fashion. Post-punk, new wave, new age, IDM and post-rock feature many musical elements and sonic signatures of what was the essential prog rock sound.

Post-punks like the Stranglers, Sonic Youth, the Screamers, or Throbbing Gristle incorporated krautrock and art-rock into punk, while post-rockers like Slint and Television created multi-part compositions which owed a lot to the classic side-long album tracks released by prog giants. Techno music is indebted to new age pioneers and prog rock in general. Neo-prog rockers like Rush, The Mars Volta, Tool, and Dream Theater keep the soul of prog rock alive, embracing musicality and technology to create their modern take on this legendary musical style.