Guitar Player
February 2021

The Boston musician locked himself in his basement and came up with one of the most stunning albums -- and guitar tones -- of the past 45 years.

BOSTON ARE OFTEN maligned as "corporate rock," an ironic categorization for a band whose debut album was conceived largely by one guy working alone in his wood-paneled basement after getting off work as a product design engineer for Polaroid. That guy, guitarist and songwriter Tom Scholz, not only managed to come up with Boston's self-titled, multi-Platinum-selling 1976 debut album -- he also revolutionized rock-guitar tone using little more than a goldtop 1968 Les Paul with a "neck like a log" that he recorded at extremely low volume due to his less-than-adequate studio environs.

Scholz has identified that tone -- characterized by a sweetly distorted and heavily sustaining guitar sound -- as the combination of his Les Paul running into an old 100-watt Marshall head and a prototype power soak that he built "because of the need to bring down the gain, but without losing the saturation of the sound."

It wasn't just the sound of Scholz's guitar that was unique, however -- it was also the notes he played on it. The solos he constructed for Boston (and co-guitarist Barry Goudreau must be recognized here as well) are towering marvels that dip, soar and mount to explosive climaxes. Spiked with unusual harmony lines, bends and note choices, and just the right amount of flash, they can be listened to as mini compositions in and of themselves.

Despite the corporate rock tag, Scholz's influence on critic-approved artists is now widely recognized. (Consider Kurt Cobain, who put more than a little of "More Than a Feeling" into Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit.") Scholz also changed guitar tone with his development of the Rockman, the pocket-sized headphone amp simulator used by, among others, Def Leppard on their bajillion-selling 1987 album, Hysteria.

After more than 40 years, Scholz' tone and touch remain as unique and awe-inspiring as ever. "That sound grew out of what I did naturally," he has explained. "It's that simple. Left to my own devices, with no outside interference, the sound of Boston is what I come up with."