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Electric Guitars (2010)

Page history last edited by McKenzie 14 years ago

Everything You’ll Ever Need To Know About Electric Guitars

By McKenzie H.

 

          The solid-bodied electric guitar has been an icon of rock music for as long as it has been in existence. It’s got an awesome story behind it, some pretty cool people that made it famous, and some wicked mechanics. The solid-bodied electric guitar has revolutionized the history of music.

          First, it’s important to know how the guitar works. The acoustic guitar (which has been in existence for around 5,000 years, by the way) has a curved, hollow body. When the strings are strummed or plucked, the vibrations echo into the opening in the middle of the body and amplify the sound. There are 22 frets on most guitars and six strings- EADGBe. The bridge is where one end of the strings are attached- this part is on the body, to the left of the opening. The other ends of the strings are attached to the headstock, where the tuning pegs are. The nut of the guitar is where the strings touch the neck at all times, and where the neck is connected to the headstock.

          Next, you may be curious about how the electric guitar works. Remember how the sound of the acoustic guitar is amplified by the echoing of vibrations inside its hollow body? Well, as you can guess the solid-bodied electric guitar doesn’t have that kind of assistance. When you strum a chord on it while it’s not hooked to an amp, you can barely hear it. How does this instrument get its sound from the guitar to the amp? Well, there are these handy little gadgets called pickups. These are tiny magnets that are parallel to the strings, and when they sense the strings vibration, they send the signal to the amplifier. It is wrapped in a wire coil, which gets a vibrating current from the magnet, and a simple little circuit that is connected to the two tone knobs and the one volume knob sends it to the jack where the cord is connected. The pickup switch controls the 3 sets of pickups on the standard electric guitar. Want to know a fun fact? This whole circuit works passively, which means the entire operation works without any electricity. The amp needs a bit of power to get the sound loud enough for big crowds in concert halls to hear it, but the electric guitar itself works all alone.

The tremolo (also known as the whammy bar) helps bring out the bass tone even more than the tone knobs, and helps the guitars lowest note go even lower. It tends to give off a bit of a vibrato sound (a small, rapid variation in the pitch of a note) when hit repeatedly. A man named Floyd Rose, so that repeated ‘dive-bombing’ (making the pitch go lower than the note) was possible, improved the tremolo bar.

The amplifier is also a mystery to some people. This is a machine which allows the electric guitar to be made as loud as the performer desires. Many benefits come with the amp besides just amplification, though. For example, feedback; when the amp’s volume is so loud that it causes the guitar’s strings to vibrate. In turn to this vibration coming from the amp to the strings, the signal is sent back to the amp and played out of it. The amp’s speaker is different from a stereo’s speaker too, because stereos are made to have as little distortion as possible- or as little difference in the original sound as possible. One of an amplifiers desired qualities, however, is distortion. What is distortion, you ask? When the sound of the original music is changed. Most modern amps come with the “distorted” option, and the “clean” option for musicians preferring a more natural sound. There are a few processes the sound signal has to go through before you finally get the finished product through the amps speaker. First is the pre-amp; this process gives the signal from the jack an electricity boost to get to the power amp. The power amp turns the signal into an actual sound that can be heard, and finally the speaker plays it out. (See amplifier, electric guitar)

So now you know how the electric guitar works. But how did the hollow-bodied acoustic guitar evolve into becoming the solid-bodied electric? It all began with violas and string bass. In the symphonic orchestra, these two instruments were rather difficult to hear (it’s unknown which orchestra), so a man named Lloyd Loar invented the first magnetic pickup. In the 1930s, when jazz bands were all the rage, guitars were on the musical scene. Drums, string bass, and guitars were popular to include in these jazz bands, although there was one problem with this: nobody could hear the guitar. So along came the first electric guitar EVER: the “frying pan”. This revolutionary instrument looked like a mini banjo hooked to a small box by a thick cord, and sounded relatively like the guitar. Later designs came with partially hollow bodies, and 3 sets of pickups (like they have today). The hollow bodies had a few flaws though; the feedback was tremendous. And too much feedback meant that it made a rather annoying buzzing sound. This is where Les Paul becomes known, with his invention of the first solid-bodied electric guitar in 1941. Leo Fender caught wind of this idea, and began mass-producing this marvelous new product. Les Paul didn’t get much credit for his invention because by the time his guitar was ready for production, Fender was already making his way with the still-famed Telecaster. At first people were standoffish of the idea of the natural sound of the acoustic guitar being manipulated, but then rock began to emerge in the 1950s.

 Along with its inventors, the electric guitar had many people who made it famous. Elvis Presley made rock famous in the 50s, along with Chuck Berry and a few others. Rock was hot, in style, and all the rage from then on. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, and many other bands played an important role in the history of rock. One especially famous for his talent on the electric guitar was Jimi Hendrix. None of these icon’s fame or fortune would’ve been possible were it not for the electric guitar. Rock became harder and heavier over the years, and heavy metal emerged from many different techniques and styles of hard rock (which included the dive-bomb, and heavy distortion, feedback, and bass tone).

One more interesting thing about the solid-bodied electric guitar is that its sound isn’t dependant of its shape. You may be wondering why this is important. Around the 1970s, artists began experimenting with different shapes and materials for the electric guitar. Some famous ideas include the transparent electric guitar, and the “flying V” electric guitar. Prince was especially known for having unique shapes for his guitars.

So now you know about the electric guitar, including how it works, who invented it, and who made it famous. The electric guitar is truly an amazing instrument, and without it the world of music today could look extremely different.

 

Bibliography:

Websites:

Amplifier, Electric Guitar-

http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/electricguitar.htm

History-

http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/feature

          Commercialism-

http://invention.smithsonian.org

Les Paul, Leo Fender, Jimi Hendrix- Keyword “electric guitar”-

http://school.eb.com/all/comptons

Guitar anatomy-

http://www.maximummusician.com/anatomy.htm

Books:

Lloyd, Norman, Golden Press, NY, The Golden Encyclopedia of Music, 

 

 

 

 

*Also, if you're into playing guitar, a great website to check out is www.ultimate-guitar.com TONS OF TABS!! 

 

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