Turn It Up! is a love letter to the electric guitar, and like all love letters, it starts off with a bang, meanders aimlessly along the way before bringing it home by professing its love in an unequivocal way. It’s an attempt to demystify these pieces of wood that will transform mere mortals into demigods in the eyes of hordes of fans, make noises we find pleasant, and in some cases music that will move our souls.
Hosted by actor/musician Kevin Bacon, the documentary strings interviews with guitar greats like Slash, Ann Wilson, Les Paul, BB King, Steve Lukather or Jerry Cantrell, as well as lesser known six-stringers and regular joes who share a passion for fine guitars. These interviews are grouped around loose themes, a structure that allows the film to weave a minimal storyline and maintain the viewer’s interest. The best segment deals with the history of the electric guitar, from Les Paul’s early models to the rise of Gibson and Fender, and does a great job of explaining why some vintage instruments are worth tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The most ambitious segment tries to define “tone”, that elusive quality that all great guitar players have, that unique signature that makes great players instantly recognizable. Pickup maker extraordinaire Seymour Duncan takes a scientific approach, listing every element in a guitar that affect its tone, but his list is interspersed with musicians defining it on far more subjective terms like “what you feel in your soul” or “colour”. This segment exemplifies best the mystique of the electric guitar, and how a piece of wood can become an extension of the player, and a symbol of cool for the masses.
I’ve been a guitar player for more years than I care to admit, so I’m straight up this movie’s audience. But as an experiment, I watched it with my wife who has never played. She enjoyed it very much, and said she now understands what the hell I’m talking about when I talk about my guitars, so any music fan will enjoy this.
But guitar players: be careful. I found myself browsing guitars the next day, longing after a nice Telecaster. Because you can always use one more guitar. And don’t forget to turn it up.
He's also a regular contributor at the very rad site Montreal Rampage