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Play the history of the Blues with these essential blues guitars and amplifiers!

Explore Music History: The Story of the Blues

"The blues tells a story. Every line of the blues has a meaning." - John Lee Hooker

A roaring freight train, a long hot Texas night, a rowdy dance at a juke joint -- the sound of the blues is inspired by evocative experiences and emotions. With its long and storied history encompassing many different styles and performers, the story of the Blues is the story of America, and its distinct vocabulary couldn't have come from anywhere else. The Blues' distinctive sound and feel has been shaped by the instruments themselves. These authentic instruments, amps, and effects will give you the tone and the sound you need to play the blues like a professional.

Explore more music styles with zZounds' gear guides »
Folk-Blues: Steel-String Acoustics, Picks and Slides
Rising from the brutal post-Civil-War American South, the classic folk blues style was born of hard-working, hard-fighting laborers who wanted nothing more than to express themselves after a blistering day working the earth. Thanks to the innovations of guitar makers like C.F. Martin and Orville Gibson, the steel-string guitar became widely available. This louder, more expressive acoustic guitar made it possible to entertain large groups of people -- and it was the perfect instrument to spread the blues, already being shaped by a combination of sung hymns and heavy rhythms.

Steel-string acoustics and arch-top guitars would go on to be played by the foremost developers of the country blues style: Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Son House, Blind Willie Johnson, and Big Bill Broonzy. The invention of the 12-string guitar took the sound of the blues to another level, inspiring players like Lead Belly and Lonnie Johnson to create their signature dense, chiming textures. Innovative approaches to playing, like using a thumbpick or a metal or glass "slide," would help create sounds and styles that would elevate the blues from party music to a true art form.

Electric Blues: Early Electric Guitars, Amps, and Harps
It's hard to imagine now, but when the first electric guitars arrived on the scene in the 1930s, their sound and volume was truly shocking. This bold new instrument's electrifying tone and modern looks ensured that every note made a lasting impression.

Musicians never forgot their first experiences with the electric guitar, and some of these musicians -- like Willie Johnson, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Chuck Berry, Hubert Sumlin, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, and Buddy Guy -- would become immortal legends. The guitars and amps that they played through would also become legendary, with names like Fender, Gretsch, and Gibson becoming household names.

Equally influential was the connection between the harmonica and the electric amplifier by way of a microphone. Cranking up a little amp and adding some tremolo allowed players to turn their harmonicas into a roaring freight train, tapping into the natural grit and soul of the harmonica -- a technique that would go on to inspire electric guitarists of future generations!

Heavy Blues: Power and Distortion
The small size and low power ratings of early amplifiers limited players' tone -- and their potential to get loud in front of a live audience. As blues bands became more stripped down, and started to prominently feature electric guitarists and harmonica players alongside vocalists, it was obvious that amplifiers needed more power. Electric guitars also became more modern, featuring risk-taking designs and stronger materials to give players more performance potential for their dollar.

When powerful guitars and amplifiers combined, heavy blues was born. With melodic, vocal-like leads, heavy distortion, extended jamming, and an emphasis on power, heavy blues grew alongside rock 'n' roll as older and younger players traded licks on their hot-rodded, high-powered Marshall amplifiers and dialed in fuzz and overdrive tones on compact stompbox effect pedals. The world would never be the same.