The history of the Electric guitar

Adaptation through Social and Technical factors.

What makes a guitar?

Origin of the Guitar

The history of the guitar is moderately hazy as many different sources site differing dates and locations for the origin of the guitar. Some sources cite its origins rooted in the 12th century while some say it was the 15th century. There are also many different civilizations that are said to have invented the guitar; or at least a guitar like instrument. These include the Greeks and the Egyptians. From collaborating the sources it would be understandable to claim that the guitar originated in Spain sometime between the 13 and 14th century. While many other strung instruments were around at the time already but they did not show the traits of being a ‘Guitar’; this being stated as having ‘long, fretted neck, flat wooden soundboard, ribs, and a flat back, most often with in curved sides’ as discussed by a professor researching the history of guitars.

The first guitar was designed in a style not dissimilar to other guitar-like instruments at the time. It was small and had a body made from shell or other similar items. Its neck was strung with strings not dissimilar to bowstrings. Despite these strange items it still produced a sound that was pleasing. Pleasing enough to warrant its use, even today.

The electric counterpart was created around the 1930’s with the intention of being more defining and more notable in a musical ensemble.

The use of a guitar in an ensemble is mostly for accompaniment and is usually the third or forth member of an ensemble, although they are more likely to appear higher in the hierarchy in jazz, pop and rock groups.

The Parts of a Guitar

The electric guitar is comprised of many parts, sharing some with its acoustic and classical cousins. The similarity it has includes the head and tuning pegs.

These are usually used to adjust how tort the stings of a guitar are. The different tort of string produces the different tones of the strings. While this is greatly important for an acoustic guitar it is less important, in terms of tone, for an electric guitar. In this case its more just ensuring the stability of the strings.

The nut is also present on both and acts as the border between the head and neck of the instrument. In this case, the nut is used to affix the strings in their required horizontal position while allowing it to be sorted in the correct locations to allow for proper tuning. Upon the long neck of the electric guitar is the fret board, containing frets. These frets and fret board play a vital role in playing the instrument. By compressing strings on the fret and strumming it is possible to create a different sound and is the primary way of producing chords on the guitar.

Further down is the scratch plate where the pick of the musician and possibly strings may reach. It is wise to have this as it helps to protect the main body of the guitar from sustaining damage. The different knobs and adjustments located near the base of the electric guitar control the sound outputted from the guitar.

The volume adjusts its dynamics, tone adjusts its tone, and Intonation adjusts its overall quality of output. The final main part of the guitar is the bridge. The bridge acts as the end of the strings. This is a more fixed location and counterpart to the nut where the strings are tied and fixed in position.

The Materials of a Guitar

The main material to make a guitar is wood. Many types of wood too. The woods are mostly hard woods, as they tend to keep their strength and durability without affecting the sound. Apart from this, there are less hard woods that guitars can be made of. These woods work as well as the more flexible movement allows it to be easily moulded and is more comfortable for the guitarist. Common woods include Mahogany, Ash, Maple, Basswood, Alder, Poplar, Walnut, and Spruce. However, any wood from around the world can be used to create guitars.

On the String side there are different types of string that can be employed. In the original generations of guitars it would be actual strings, however nowadays strings can be made using of nylon or steel. Nylon is much more flexible and can gain a much longer held note with this. The downside is the sound it produced being quite similar to the sound of chord as well as the fine balance between the strings tightness.

The common electric guitar choice and some acoustic and bass choices are steel or nylon plated steel. These comprise of the metal being coiled into tight loops to allow for it be flexible yet have its loops ridged. These strings are much more earthy in their sound and are much more adaptable to the guitar. It is important to consider the materials used to make the guitar as it affects the sound of the actual guitar.

The different types of strings have different retention rates they work best at as well as how they vibrate, and for how long. The benefits of the wood have already been briefly mentioned however there is also the sound quality to consider. The different woods will affect the vibrations that are sent through the body as well as released through the sound hole.

Examples of Guitars

Frying Pan

Rickenbacker created the Frying Pan as one of the first electric guitars during the 1930/1931 periods. Its name is derived from the how the design looked physically. The circular body and long neck resembled that of a frying pan and so the instrument was nicknamed ‘The Frying pan’. One of the main reasons it was developed was due to the issue with acoustic guitars and their incompatibility with large audiences. The guitar was made of cast aluminium and featured a pair of horseshoe magnets that acted as a primitive Pickup system.
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The log was born from Les Paul’s idea to create an inbuilt amplifier using a custom made microphone and a records needle. This original test did not prove very successful as it created significant feedback when used. He tried many ways to try and perfect his design, including plaster of Paris, metal and giving the main body ‘Wings’; this was done to try and reduce the feedback, make it accessible to play and to stay within the design that music fans had come to recognise. His design did not have initial success until he met with Ted Macarty who accepted the idea and helped Les to produce the design in the late 1930 to 1940 time. The makeup of the guitar consisted of the amplifier being set on pine wood blocks with aesthetic sections on the sides. When this was completed the guitar style was applied. In actuality only the central section has significant musical use.

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Fender Broadcaster

The Telecaster is renowned for being the first commercially successful solid body electric guitar. The instrument featured 2 pickups as part of its system. It also featured a replaceable neck that would allow for the neck and head areas to be removed; making repairs and cleaning a much simpler task to achieve. It also was successful in reaching much higher levels of sound onstage without creating feedback; a problem that plagued the hollow body versions previously.
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Fender Stratocaster

The Fender Stratocaster was an electric guitar designed around 1954 and has become one of the more iconic electric guitar designs. This was the first electric guitar to feature 3 pickups being used as well as the spring-based Tremelo arm system. It's design was based off of the commercial success of the previous iteration, the Telecaster. Unlike it's previous model, the body of the Stratocaster was a double cut to provide more stability and comfort while playing. The 3 coil pickups originally featured a 3 way switch to provide better switching between the 3 resistors; this however became 5 in 1977. This model is still being commercially made today, due to its popularity.
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Jackson Randy Rhoads

The Jackson Rhoads, also known as The Concord, was a guitar commissioned by Randy Rhoads from the company Jackson Guitars. The main design cossets of a lightweight body in the shape of a V with a Stratocaster-style tremolo system and Seymour Duncan style pickups. The Rhoads went through 4 prototypes before being deemed finished by Jackson Guitars. The focus of these changes were mostly in the shape of the guitar's body. Randy thought that the design was too similar to an original V shape and went fro an elongation on sections of it; to give it a more distinct sound and feel. Before Rhoads could give his verdict on the guitar, he died. The guitar was deemed finished and began selling from around 1981, and is still a design available today.
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Social Factors

The Amplifier

An Amp is a a system that replicates and amplifies an electrical signal, strengthening it. This can be used with many instruments including, but not exclusive to; Electric guitar, Bass guitar and Acoustic guitar. It gets the signal through the pickup which is then transferred to the amp before being amplified. On an electric guitar it would be an electromagnetic pickup or a piezoelectric pickup on an acoustic model. The amp can also be equipped with other features such as distortion and equaliser functionalities if the guitarist would want to utilise them.
The origin of the amp was not in tandem with use of electric guitars. It original was designed as a means power instruments internally as most battery packs at the time were bulky and not economically viable compared to a built in source. When the amp was finally used for a guitar it was originally used for acoustic guitars and became one of the driving forces for Hawaiian music's popularity in the '30s and '40s; due to the genre using amplified Hawaiian guitars extensively. The early systems had large boosts to treble but lacked sufficient controls along with hardware causing poor quality treble and bass output. Later models improved upon the design and began adding other effects such as the Electronic Tremolo Unit. During the 50's, when electric guitars were used with amps, many guitarists began experimenting with distortion by deliberately over-driving the amplifier system. This lead to the production of custom amps including the first 100-watt guitar amplifiers. This helped to improve and push the limits of electrical amplification; leading in to better hardware being developed. As of the 2000s, distortion became an integral part of genres from blues rock to heavy metal.