An electric guitar is a type of guitar that uses pickups to convert the vibration of its steel-cored strings into electrical current, which is then amplified. The signal that comes from the guitar is sometimes electronically altered to achieve various tonal effects prior to being fed into an amplifier, which produces the final sound. The electric guitar was first used in jazz and has also long been used in many other popular styles of modern and classical music, including almost all genres of rock and roll, country music, blues, ambient (or "new-age"), and a most even contemporary rock music
- 1 History
- 2 Construction
- 3 Types
- 4 Uses
The need for an amplified guitar became apparent during the big band era, as jazz orchestras of the 1930s and 1940s increased in size, with larger brass sections. Initially, electric guitars used in jazz consisted primarily of hollow archtop acoustic guitar bodies to which electromagnetic transducers had been attached.
Electric guitars were originally designed by an assortment of luthiers - guitar makers, electronics enthusiasts, and instrument manufacturers, in varying combinations.
Guitar innovator Les Paul experimented with microphones attached to guitars. Some of the earliest electric guitars, then essentially adapted hollow bodied acoustic instruments, used tungsten pickups and were manufactured beginning in 1931 by Electro String Instrument Corporation in Los Santos under the direction of Adolph Rickenbacker and George Beauchamp. Their first design of a hollow body guitar instrument that used tungsten pickups was built by Harry Watson, a craftsman who worked for the Electro String Company. This new guitar which the company called "Rickenbackers" would be the first of its kind.
The earliest documented use of the electric guitar in performance was during October 1932 in Wichita, Kansas by guitarist and bandleader Gage Brewer who had obtained two instruments directly from George Beauchamp of Los Angeles, California. Brewer publicized them in an article appearing in the Wichita Beacon, October 2, 1932 and through a Halloween performance later that month.
The first recording of an electric guitar was by jazz guitarist George Barnes who recorded two songs in Chicago on March 1st, 1938: Sweetheart Land and It's a Low-Down Dirty Shame. Many historians incorrectly attribute the first recording to Eddie Durham, but his recording with the Kansas City Five was not until 15 days later. Durham introduced the instrument to a young Charlie Christian, who made the instrument famous in his brief life and is generally known as the first electric guitarist and a major influence on jazz guitarists for decades thereafter.
The version of the instrument that is best known today is the solid body electric guitar, a guitar made of solid wood, without resonating airspaces within it. Rickenbacher, later spelled Rickenbacker, did, however, offer a cast aluminum electric steel guitar, nicknamed The Frying Pan or The Pancake Guitar, beginning in 1931. This guitar is reported to have sounded quite modern and aggressive when tested by vintage guitar researcher John Teagle. The company Audiovox built and may have offered an electric solid-body as early as the mid-1930s.
Another early solid body electric guitar was designed and built by musician and inventor Les Paul in the early 1940s, working after hours in the Epiphone Guitar factory. His log guitar (so called because it consisted of a simple 4x4 wood post with a neck attached to it and homemade pickups and hardware, with two detachable Swedish hollow body halves attached to the sides for appearance only) was patented and is often considered to be the first of its kind, although it shares nothing in design or hardware with the solid body "Les Paul" model sold by Gibson.
In about 1945, Richard D. Bourgerie, who worked through World War II at Howard Radio Company making electronic equipment for the American military, made an electric guitar pickup and amplifier for professional guitar player George Barnes. Mr. Barnes showed the result to Les Paul, who then arranged for Mr. Bourgerie to have one made for him.
In the year of 1946, radio repairman and instrument amplifier maker Clarence Leonidas Fender—better known as Leo Fender—through his eponymous company, designed the first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar with a single magnetic pickup, which was initially named the "Esquire". This was a departure from the typically hollow-bodied Jazz-oriented instruments of the time and immediately found favor with Country-Western artists in California. The two-pickup version of the Esquire was called the "Broadcaster". However, Gretsch had a drumset marketed with a similar name (Broadkaster), so Fender changed the name to "Telecaster" in homage to the new phenomenon of television.
Features of the Telecaster included: an ash body; a maple 25½" scale, 21-fret or 22-fret neck attached to the body with four-bolts reinforced by a steel neckplate; two single-coil, 6-pole pickups (bridge and neck positions) with tone and volume knobs, pickup selector switch; and an output jack mounted on the side of the body. A black bakelite pickguard concealed body routings for pickups and wiring.
The bolt-on neck was consistent with Leo Fender's belief that the instrument design should be modular to allow cost-effective and consistent manufacture and assembly, as well as simple repair or replacement. Due to the earlier mentioned trademark issue, some of the first production Telecasters were delivered with headstock decals with the Fender logo but no model identification. These are today very much sought after, and commonly referred to by collectors as "Nocasters".
In 1953, Fender introduced the Fender Stratocaster, or "Strat." The Strat was seen as a deluxe model and offered various product improvements and innovations over the Telecaster. These innovations included an well dried ash or alder double-cutaway body design for badge assembly with an integrated spring vibrato mechanism (called a synchronized tremolo by Fender, thus beginning a confusion of the terms that still continues), three single-coil pickups, and body comfort contours. Leo Fender is also credited with developing the first commercially-successful electric bass guitar called the Fender Precision Bass, introduced in 1951.
In 1962 Vox introduced the pentagonal Phantom guitar, originally made in England but soon after made by EKO of Italy. It was followed a year later by the teardrop-shaped Mark VI, the prototype of which was used by Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, and later Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls. Vox guitars also experimented with onboard effects and electronics. In the mid 1960s, as the sound of electric 12 string guitars became popular, Vox introduced the Phantom XII and Mark XII electric 12 string guitars as well as the Tempest XII which employed a more conventional Fender style body and thus is often overlooked as a Vox classic from the Sixties. The few that were manufactured also came from Italy. Vox also produced other traditional styles of 6 and 12 string electric guitars in both England and Italy.
Compared with an acoustic guitar, which has a hollow body, electric guitars make comparatively little audible sound simply by having their strings plucked. Rather, the movement of the string generates (i.e., "induces") a very small electrical current in the magnetic pickups, which are magnets wrapped with coils of very fine wire. That current is then sent via a wire to an amplifier. The current induced is proportional to such factors as the density of the string or the amount of movement over these pickups. That vibration is, in turn, affected by several factors, such as the composition and shape of the body.
Some hybrid electric-acoustic guitars are equipped with additional microphones or piezoelectric pickups (transducers) that sense mechanical vibration from the body. Because in some cases it is desirable to isolate the pickups from the vibrations of the strings, a guitar's magnetic pickups will sometimes be embedded or "potted" in epoxy or wax to prevent the pickup from having a microphonic effect.
Because of their natural inductive qualities, all magnetic pickups tend to pick up ambient and usually unwanted electromagnetic noises. The resulting noise, the so-called "hum", is particularly strong with single-coil pickups, and aggravated by the fact that very few guitars are correctly shielded against electromagnetic interference. The most frequent cause is the strong 50 or 60 Hz component that is inherent in the frequency generation of current within the local power transmission system. As nearly all amplifiers and audio equipment associated with electrical guitars relies on this power, there is in theory little chance of completely eliminating the introduction of unwanted hum.
Double-coil or "humbucker" pickups were invented as a way to reduce or counter the unwanted ambient hum sounds. Humbuckers have two coils of opposite magnetic and electric polarity. This means that electromagnetic noise hitting both coils should cancel itself out. The two coils are wired in phase, so the signal picked up by each coil is added together. This creates the richer, "fatter" tone associated with humbucking pickups.
The optical pickup  senses string and body vibrations using LED light.
Some electric guitars have a tremolo arm (sometimes called a whammy bar or a vibrato bar and occasionally abbreviated as trem), a lever attached to the bridge which can slacken or tighten the strings temporarily, changing the pitch, thereby creating a vibrato effect.
Early tremolo systems, such as the Bigsby vibrato tailpiece, tended to be unreliable and cause the guitar to go out of tune quite easily, and also had a limited range. Later Fender designs were better, but Fender held the patent on these, so other companies used Bigsby-style tremolo for many years. With the expiration of the Fender patent on the Stratocaster-style tremolo, various improvements on this type of internal, multi-spring tremolo system are now available.
Floyd Rose introduced one of the first improvements on the vibrato system in many years when in the late 1970s he began to experiment with "locking" nuts and bridges which work to prevent the guitar from tuning even under the most heavy whammy bar acrobatics. Shred guitar performers such as Eddie Van Halen use the tremolo to create dramatic effects, as can be heard in the Van Halen guitar solo "Eruption."
Electric guitars can have necks that vary according to composition as well as shape. The primary metric used to describe a guitar neck is the scale, which is the overall length of the strings from the nut to the bridge. A typical Fender guitar uses a 25.5 inch scale, while Gibson uses a 24.75 inch scale in their Les Paul. The frets are placed proportionally according to the scale length, so the smaller the scale, the tighter the spacing of the frets.
Necks are described as bolt-on, set, or neck-through depending on how they are attached to the body. Set necks are glued to the body in the factory, and are said to have greater sustain. Bolt-on necks were pioneered by Leo Fender to facilitate easy adjustment and replacement of the guitar neck. Neck through instruments extend the neck itself to form the center of the guitar body and are also known for long sustain. While a set neck can be carefully unglued by a skilled Luthier, and a bolt-on neck can simply be unscrewed, a neck-through design is difficult or even impossible to repair, depending on the damage. Historically, the bolt-on style has been more popular for ease of installation and adjustment. Some instruments, such as semi-hollow Jazz/Rockabilly instruments and the Gibson Les Paul series have continued to use set/glued necks. Since bolt-on necks can be easily removed, there is an after-market in replacement bolt-on necks from companies such as Warmoth and Mighty Mite.
The materials used in the manufacture of the neck have great influence over the tone of the instrument. Hardwoods are very much preferred, with maple, ash, and mahogany topping the list. The neck and fingerboard can be made from different materials, such as a maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard. In the 1980s, exotic man-made materials such as graphite began to be used, but are pricey and never really replaced wood in production instruments. Such necks can be retrofitted to existing bolt-on instruments.
There are several different neck shapes used on guitars, including what are known as C necks, and V necks. These refer to the cross-sectional shape of the neck (especially near the nut). There are also several sizes of fret wire available, with traditional players often preferring thin frets, and metal shredders liking thick frets. Thin frets are considered better for playing chords, while thick frets allow lead guitarists to bend notes with less effort.
An electric guitar with a neck which folds back called the Foldaxe was designed and built for Chet Atkins by Roger Field (featured in Atkins' book "Me and My Guitars."). Steinberger guitars developed a line of exotic instruments lacking headstocks, with tuning done on the bridge instead.
Sound and effects
An acoustic guitar's sound is largely dependent on the vibration of the guitar's body and the air within it; the sound of an electric guitar is largely dependent on a magnetically induced electrical signal, generated by the vibration of metal strings near sensitive pickups. The signal is then "shaped" on its path to the amplifier by using a range of effect devices or circuits that modify the tone and characteristics of the signal.
In the 1960s, some guitarists began distorting the sound of the instrument by increasing the gain, or volume, of the preamplifier. This produces a "fuzzy" sound, and when viewed with an oscilloscope the wave forms appear to have had their peaks "clipped" off. This was not actually a new development in the instrument, but rather a shift of aesthetics. This sound was not generally recognized previously as desirable. In the 1960s, the tonal palette of the electric guitar was further modified by introducing an effects box in its signal path. Traditionally built in a small metal chassis with an on/off foot switch, such "stomp boxes" have become as much a part of the instrument for many electric guitarists as the electric guitar itself.
Typical effects include stereo chorus, fuzz, wah-wah and flanging, compression/sustain, delay, reverb, and phase shift.
In 1967, with the release of Little Games, Jimmy Page of The Yardbirds introduced a way of playing the guitar with a violin bow, in the song "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor". He would produce the sound by running the bow downwards on the strings, while fingering chords. In addition, he would also smack the strings with the bow, making an unusual, brief noise.
In the 1970s, as effects pedals proliferated, their sounds were combined with power-tube distortion at lower, more controlled volumes by using power attenuators such as Tom Scholz' Power Soak as well as re-amplified dummy loads such as Eddie Van Halen's use of a variac, power resistor, post-power-tube effects, and a final solid-state amp driving the guitar speakers. A variac is one approach to power-supply based power attenuation, to make the sound of power-tube distortion more practically available.
By the 1980s and 1990s, digital and software effects became capable of replicating the analog effects used in the past. These new digital effects attempted to model the sound produced by analog effects and tube amps, to varying degrees of quality. There are many free guitar effects computer programs for PCs that can be downloaded from the Internet. By the 2000s, PCs with specially-designed sound cards could be used as digital guitar effects processors. Although digital and software effects offer many advantages, many guitarists still use analog effects.
Some innovations have been made recently in the design of the electric guitar. In 2002, Gibson announced the first digital guitar, which performs analog-to-digital conversion internally. The resulting digital signal is delivered over a standard Ethernet cable, eliminating cable-induced line noise. The guitar also provides independent signal processing for each individual string.
Also, in 2003 amp maker Line 6 released the Variax guitar. It differs in some fundamental ways from conventional solid-body electrics. For example it uses piezoelectric pickups instead of the conventional electromagnetic ones, and has an onboard computer capable of modifying the sound of the guitar to model the sound of many instruments.
Solid body electric guitars are guitars that have no holes for sound or an internal cavity to accommodate vibration, such as those used to amplify string vibrations in acoustic guitars. They are generally made of hardwood with a lacquer coating and have six steel strings. The wood is dried for 3 to 6 months in heated storage before precision cutting the wood to shape. The sound that is audible in music featuring electric guitars is produced by pickups on the guitar which convert the string vibrations into an electrical signal. The signal is then fed to an amplifier (or amp) and speaker.
One of the first solid body guitars was invented by Les Paul. Gibson did not make their famous 'Les Paul' guitar when they were presented it as they did not believe it would catch on. The first mass produced solid body guitar was Fender's Broadcaster (later to become the 'Telecaster') first made in 1948, five years after Les Paul made his prototype. The Gibson Les Paul appeared soon after to compete with the Broadcaster.
These guitars have a hollow body and electronic pickups mounted on its body. They work in a similar way to solid body electric guitars except that because the hollow body also vibrates, the pickups convert a combination of string and body vibration into an electrical signal.
Semi-hollow body guitars strike a balance between the characteristics of solid-body and hollow-body guitars, with allegedly greater resonance and sustain than true solid-body guitars, as well as lighter overall weight. Typically, a semi-hollow body guitar will have a form factor more similar to a solid-body electric guitar, and may include two sound holes, one, or none.
There are have been a number of metal bodied guitars that have worked with the unique acoustic/sustaining qualities of metal. These are not hollow bodied guitars, like a blues steel bodied, although most are chambered for weight, these metal bodied guitars are built to act and play as solid wood body.
Several metal body were made in the 50's by violin and cello makers, John Veleno took up the torch and in the early 70's He made a polished aluminum guitar, with a distincitve headstock to match. They appeared to be owned by almost every touring act and great list of owners, Clapton, Bolan, Rundgren, Winter, Frenley, Allman Reed and on and on.
Currently now, Liquid Metal Guitars makes a metal body guitar. The process is different now, the body is cnc'd out of a solid block of alumimum and then chrome or gold plated. Liquid Metal Guitars use boutique pick-up manufacturers, such as TV Jones and Lindly Fralin to manufacture pickup sets match the unique sustaining qualities of metal bodies.
Many guitars otherwise sold as solid-bodied instruments, such as the Gibson Les Paul or the PRS Singlecut, are built with "weight relief" holes bored into the body which nonetheless affect the sound of the instrument. The Les Paul Supreme edition is currently described by the manufacturer as a "chambered" instrument, with a weight relief system designed to positively affect the sound.
Some steel-string acoustic guitars are fitted with pickups purely as an alternative to using a separate microphone. They may also be fitted with a piezo-electric pickup under the bridge, attached to the bridge mounting plate, or with a low mass microphone (usually a condenser mic) inside the body of the guitar that will convert the vibrations in the body into electronic signals, or even combinations of these types of pickups, with an integral mixer/preamp/graphic equalizer. These are called electric acoustic guitars, and are regarded as acoustic guitars rather than electric guitars because the pickups do not produce a signal directly from the vibration of the strings, but rather from the vibration of the guitar top or body. These should not be confused with hollow body electric guitars, which have pickups of the type found on solid body electric guitars. Acoustic-Electric guitars are also known to guitar players as "Semi-Acoustic" guitars.
Although rare, the one-string guitar is sometimes heard, particularly in Delta blues, where improvised folk instruments were popular in the 1930s and 1940s. Eddie "One String" Jones had some regional success with a Mississippi blues musician Lonnie Pitchford played a similar, homemade instrument. In a more contemporary style, Little Willie Joe, the inventor of the Unitar had a considerable rhythm and blues instrumental hit in the 1950s with "Twitchy", recorded with the Hall Orchestra.
The best known four-string guitar player is Tiny Grimes, who played on 52nd Street with the beboppers and played a major role in the Prestige Blues Swingers. Grimes' guitar omitted the bottom two strings. Deron Miller of CKY only uses four strings, but plays a six string guitar with the two highest strings removed. Many banjo players use this tuning: DGBE, mostly in Dixieland. Guitar players find this an easier transition than learning plectrum or tenor tuning.
Most Seven-string guitars add a low B string below the low E. Both electric and classical guitars exist designed for this tuning. Another less common seven-string arrangement is a second G string situated beside the standard G string and tuned an octave higher, in the same manner as a twelve-stringed guitar (see below).
Seven string electric guitars were popularized by Steve Vai. Steve Vai and Japanese guitar company Ibanez created the well known Universe series seven string guitars in the 1980s, with a double locking tremolo system for a seven string guitar. These models were based on Vai's six string signature series, the Ibanez Jem. More recently, seven strings experienced a resurgence in popularity, championed by Korn, Fear Factory, Strapping Young Lad, Nevermore, and other Hard rock/Metal bands. Metal Musicians often prefer the Seven-string guitar for its extended lower range and it is often electricly amplified with a high amount of gain or distortion.
Jazz guitarists using a seven-string include veteran jazz guitarists George Van Eps, Bucky Pizzarelli and his son John Pizzarelli. The seven-string guitar has also played an essential role in progressive rock, and is commonly used in bands such as Dream Theater and by experimental guitarists such as Ben Levin.
Eight-string electric guitars are rare, but not unused. One is played by Charlie Hunter (manufactured by Novax Guitars). The largest manufacturer of 8- to 14-strings is Warr Guitars. Their models are used by Trey Gunn (ex King Crimson) who has his own signature line from the company. Also, Mårten Hagström and Fredrik Thordendahl of Meshuggah used 8 string guitars made by Nevborn Guitars and now guitars by Ibanez. Munky of Nu Metal band Korn is also known to use eight-string Ibanez guitars and it is rumoured that he is planning to release a K8 eight-string guitar similar to his K7 seven-string guitar. In 2008 Ibanez released the Ibanez RG2228-GK which is the first mass produced eight-string guitar.
Jethro Tull's first album featured a nine string guitar on one track.
Josh Smith of the band The Fucking Champs plays a 9-string guitar, with two G, B, and high E strings each, tuned in unison. Matt Pike of the band High On Fire also uses a Custom 9 string guitar made by First Act Guitars.
Twelve string electric guitars feature six pairs of strings, usually with each pair tuned to the same note. The extra E, A, D, and G strings add a note one octave above, and the extra B and E strings are in unison. The pairs of strings are played together as one, so the technique and tuning are the same as a conventional guitar, although creating a much fuller tone. They are used almost solely to play harmony and rhythm. They are relatively common in folk rock music. Lead Belly is the folk artist most identified with the twelve-string, usually acoustic with pickup.
George Harrison of The Beatles and Roger McGuinn of The Byrds brought the electric twelve-string to notability in rock and roll. During the Beatles' first trip to the U.S., in February 1964, Harrison received a new "360/12" model guitar from the Rickenbacker company; this was a 12-string electric made to look onstage like a 6-string. He began using the 360 in the studio on Lennon's "You Can't Do That" and other songs. Roger McGuinn, looking for the sound of a twelve string but on an electric had an epiphany when viewing The Beatles "Hard Days Night" movie, when he realised that George was playing a twelve string electric. He liked the sound so much that it became his signature guitar sound with The Byrds.
Another notable guitarist to utilise 12 strings is Richie Sambora, the guitarist with rock group Bon Jovi. He has played a double neck guitar with a 12 string neck for years, most notably live for the hit song Wanted Dead or Alive.
The 3rd bridge guitar is an electric prepared guitar with an additional 3rd bridge. This can be a normal guitar with for instance a screwdriver placed under the strings, but can also be a custom made instrument. Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth plays with a 3rd bridge.
Double neck guitars
Double-neck (or, less commonly, "twin-neck") guitars enable guitarists to play guitar and bass guitar or, more commonly, a six-string and twelve-string. Jimmy Page's use of a custom-made Gibson EDS-1275, to enable him to replicate his use of two different guitars when performing Led Zeppelin's song "Stairway to Heaven" in a concert setting, brought double-necked guitars into the public eye. Don Felder also used the Gibson EDS-1275 during the Hotel California tour.
There were also some double necks that had two 6 string necks. These would have two different pickup configurations for two entirely different sounds and tones. The most popular 6 and 6 were made by Ibanez in the early 1980s. These were copies of the Gibson SG style 6 and 12, and were also referred to as the "pre-lawsuit" guitars. Ibanez stopped production when they lost a law suit to Gibson. In some cases the "lawsuit" guitars played just as well as the Gibsons, and sometimes better, at a fraction of the cost. The Gibson 6 and 12 was also popularized by the Eagles hit "Hotel California". The guitar can be heard noticeably in the intro and solo.
English progressive rock bands such as Genesis used custom made instruments produced by the Shergold company. Rick Nielsen, guitarist for Cheap Trick, uses a variety of custom guitars mostly made by Hamer Guitars, many of which have five necks, with the strap attached to the body by a swivel so that the guitar can be rotated to put any neck into playing position.
Guitarist Steve Vai occasionally uses a triple-neck guitar; one neck is twelve string, one is six string and the third is a fretless six string. Today, you can buy up to six necks on a guitar, consisting of various combinations and variations of the six string guitar and four string electric bass guitar.
Largest electric guitar
The largest playable electric guitar was completed by 11 students in the Academy of Science and hoper with their physics teacher Scott Rippetoe in 2000. The Gibson '67 Flying V replica guitar measures 13 meters (43 feet, 7 1/2 inches) long, 4.88 meters (16 feet, 5 1/2 inches) wide, and weighs 1018 kilograms (2,244 pounds).
The electric guitar can be played either solo or with other instruments. It has been used in numerous genres of popular music, as well as (less frequently) classical music.
Contemporary classical music
While the classical guitar had historically been the only variety of guitar favored by classical composers, in the 1950s a few contemporary classical composers began to use the electric guitar in their compositions. Examples of such works include Karlheinz Stockhausen's Gruppen (1955-57); Morton Feldman's The Possibility of a New Work for Electric Guitar (1966); George Crumb's Songs, Drones, and Refrains of Death (1968); Hans Werner Henze's Versuch über Schweine (1968); Francis Thorne's Sonar Plexus (1968) and Liebesrock (1968–69), Michael Tippett's The Knot Garden (1965-70); Leonard Bernstein's MASS (1971) and Slava! (1977); Louis Andriessen's De Staat (1972-76); Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint (1987), Arvo Pärt's Miserere (1989/92), and countless works composed for the quintet of Ástor Piazzolla.
In the 1980s and 1990s, a growing number of composers (many of them composer-performers who had grown up playing the instrument in rock bands) began writing for the electric guitar. These include Steven Mackey, Nick Didkovsky, Scott Johnson, Lois V Vierk, Tim Brady, Tristan Murail, John Fitz Rogers, and Randall Woolf. Yngwie Malmsteen released his Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra in 1998, and Steve Vai released a double-live CD entitled Sound Theories, of his work with the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra in June 2007. The American composers Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham have written "symphonic" works for large ensembles of electric guitars, in some cases numbering up to 100 players, and the instrument is a core member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars (played by Mark Stewart). Still, like many electric and electronic instruments, the electric guitar remains primarily associated with rock and jazz music, rather than with classical compositions and performances.
R. Prasanna plays Indian Carnatic music on the electric guitar.
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