The Electric Guitar
An electric guitar is a variant version of the guitar that converts vibrations produced in its steel-cored strings into signals of electrical current. The electrical signals so generated can be modified electrically to produce various tonal effects before being inputted to an amplifier, which generates the final sound that can be either an acoustic sound or an electrical sound. The sound emitted by the amplifier can be influenced further by various factors including equalization, tremolo, distortion, phasers and wah.
The Electric Guitar is considered to be one of the most significant 20th-century inventions by the musical fraternity. The instrument has redefined the character of modern music, especially the rock and roll genres.Slow to gain popularity in the music world and among music lovers, this stringed musical instrument has become one of the most prominent American inventions inspiring new genres of music. The Electric guitar is eminent in many popular music genres, including metal, rock and roll, jazz, blues, country music, as well as contemporary classical music. Electric Guitars do not include specialized steel guitars though the latter are electrical instruments originating from the guitar; this distinction is of significance in deciding claims of priority pertaining to the origin of the electric guitar.
Fender Musical Instruments is the world’s major brand that manufactures stringed instruments. Fender is the nation’s number one manufacturer of solid-body electric guitars, including the Telecaster and Stratocaster. Fender electric guitars are highly popular with instrumentalists. Guild is another prominent electric guitar brand, which specializes in electric and acoustic guitars. Other prominent brands include Rodriguez, manufacturing classical guitars; Benedetto, makers of jazz guitars; and Squier producing lower-priced guitars.
Origin of the Electric Guitar
Though experiments with electrically-driven musical instruments such as player pianos and music boxes commenced in 1800s, it was not until the development of electrical amplification in 1920s by the radio industry that attempts were made for an amplified instrument. Lloyd Loar, an engineer employed at Gibson Guitar Company, was one of the pioneers of amplified instruments, who, in 1924, evolved an electric pickup for the string bass and the viola.
The earliest innovators aimed at amplification of the natural sound of the guitar but were, however, faced with the challenge of weak signals. The electric guitar became a reality only after the utilization of a pickup system that was more direct with the electromagnet registering string vibrations from the strings themselves.
It was in 1932 that the first commercially-successful electric guitar model, nicknamed "Frying Pan”, was developed and marketed by Adolph Rickenbacker and George Beauchamp.
The "Frying Pan" model was Hawaiian in style, and was played flat in the lap. The model gained instant attention of Hawaiian-style guitarists. The electric guitar of Spanish style was slow to gain acceptance as they sounded extremely different from an acoustic guitar. Charlie Christian has been credited with being the first artist to introduce a unique playing style for electric guitars. Concurrently, new designs of electric guitars using pickup systems identical to those used in earlier designs, with the pickup mounted on a solid wooden block, were being developed. One such model was developed by Les Paul, a well-known acoustic guitarist, on a four-by-four dimensioned piece of pine. The model was nicknamed "The Log."
In 1950, Leo Fender, formerly a radio repairman, developed a solid-body, mass-produced electric guitar; while Gibson introduced a model that had been endorsed in 1952 by Les Paul himself. These solid-body guitars besides having greater sustain overcame the feedback problems that were predominant in hollow-body electric guitars.
Later in the 1950s and 1960s, Paul’s and Gibson’s as well as Fender's famous Stratocaster gained popularity among rock stars and thus gained a permanent place in the American music culture.
Well-seasoned hardwoods such as walnut, alder, ash, mahogany and maple are used for making electric guitars. Hardwoods are used to ensure the solid body of the guitar. Sustain of the electric guitar – its capability to hold a note – is directly proportional to the density of the wood. Wood density can also influence the instrument’s tone. Plexiglass is also used for constructing the solid body of the guitar. The guitar neck is made of wood, which includes rosewood, maple and ebony. Other raw materials used include chrome for the hardware, glue to stick the pieces together, and a nitrocellulose lacquer for body finish.
Design of an Electric Guitar
An electric guitar produces sound by sensing the vibrations of the strings electronically and directing the electronic signals into an amplifier and speaker. The vibration-sensing takes place in a magnetic pickup mounted beneath the strings on the body of the guitar.
The pickup constitutes a bar magnet wound with fine wire of about 7,000 turns. Magnets and coils can convert electrical energy into motion and vice versa. The vibrating steel strings in the electric guitar induce a corresponding vibration in the magnetic field of the magnet and thereby a vibrating current is produced in the pickup coil.
Electric Guitar Pickups
Pickups are of different types. Some pickups have a single bar of magnet that extends under all six strings, while in others a separate polepiece is installed for each string. In some pickups, screws serve as polepieces to enable height adjustment of each polepiece. The extent of proximity of the polepiece with the string decides the strength of the signal; the higher the proximity, the stronger the signal.
In most guitars, the signal transmission by the pickup coil is carried out through very simple circuits. The number of pickups used in many electric guitars can extend to two or three with the pickups situated at different points on the body of the electric guitar. Each of these electric guitar pickups have their own characteristic sound, and additional variations can be produced by pairing multiple pickups, either in-phase or out mode.
Types of Electric Guitars
- Solid Body
- Hollow Body
- 1 string electric guitars
- 4 string electric guitars
- 7 string electric guitars
- 8 string electric guitars
- 12 string electric guitars
- 3rd Bridge electric guitars
Solid Body Guitars
A Solid body electric guitar does not have holes for sound or an internal cavity to accommodate vibrations similar to those present in acoustic guitars for amplifying string vibrations. These guitars consist of 6 strings, are made of hardwood, and are layered with a lacquer coating. The sound that reaches the audience during music concerts is produced by pickups on the body of the guitar, which convert the vibrations of the strings into electrical signals, which subsequently are routed into an amplifier and speaker.
Hollow Body Guitars
Named after their hollow body structure, these Guitars have their electronic pickups mounted on their body. Though they are similar in operation to their solid body counterparts, since the hollow body also undergoes vibration, the pickups on these guitars convert a combination of body and string vibrations into an electrical signal.
In some steel-string acoustic guitars, pickups are used merely to avoid the usage of a separate microphone. The guitars may use either piezo-electric pickups, fitted under the bridge, attached to the mounting plate of the bridge, or a low mass microphone fitted within their body, to convert the body vibrations into electrical signals; combinations of such pickups with an integral preamp/mixer/graphic equalizers can also be used. Guitars of this type are called electric-acoustic guitars, and are more generally categorized under acoustic guitars rather than electric guitars, since the pickups in these guitars do not generate a signal directly from string vibrations, but from vibrations of the guitar body or top. However these guitars differ from hollow body electric guitars in terms of the pickups used; the pickups on the latter are of the type found in solid body electric guitars.
1-String Electric Guitars
1-string guitars are rare instruments that are heard in Delta Blues music styles. Eddie Jones was a popular musician who used the 1-string electric guitars. Jones was able to popularize the instrument through his partnership with Lonnie Pitchford, a Mississippi blues musician.
4-String Electric Guitars
Tiny Grimes is a well-known 4-string electric guitar player who played with the beboppers on 52nd street. Grimes played his guitar omitting the bottom two strings. Deron Miller of the rock band CKY plays with all the four strings, but tunes to a 6-string guitar sound by removing the two highest strings.
7 String Electric Guitars
Most 7 string guitars have an additional low B string below the low E. Steve Vai holds the credit for popularizing such guitar models. Famous Jazz guitarists who play the 7 string electric guitar include veteran Bucky Pizzarelli and his son John Pizzarelli.
8-String Electric Guitars
Charlie Hunter is a popular player of this rare instrument. Warr Guitars is the largest manufacturer of 8-strings and 14-strings electric guitars. Warr guitar models are used by Trey Gunn of the King Crimson fame.
12 String Electric Guitars
12 string electric guitars are common in folk rock genre of music. These guitars are used exclusively for playing rhythm and harmony. Folk artist Lead Belly is the most-noted 12 string electric guitar player. Roger McGuinn of the band ‘The Byrds’ and George Harrison of ‘The Beatles’ are credited for the popularity of electric 12 string guitars in rock and roll.
3rd Bridge Electric Guitars
Guitars of this type are electric prepared guitars with an extra 3rd bridge. A 3rd bridge guitar can be a normal guitar fitted with a screwdriver, for instance, under its strings; the guitar can also be custom made.
One-string guitars, as the name implies, are guitars with a single string. Rarely played now-a-days, these were popular in the 1930s and 40s. Deron Miller plays a six-string guitar using only a four-string guitar by removing two highest strings. Seven-string guitars have been popular in rock music and are used by several eminent jazz guitarists. Eight-string guitars, though rare, are not unused; Warr Guitars is the major manufacturer of 8-string guitars. Twelve-string guitars consist of six pairs of strings with each pair, usually tuned to the same note.
Though the music world considers the invention of electric guitar a historic contribution, experiments are still being carried out to develop newer and innovative models. Guitar makers are planning modifications in material, design, pick ups and finishes. While some guitar manufacturers plan to use graphite and plastic for guitar bodies, others plan to use piezo - a material exhibiting piezoelectric properties - for guitar pickups.
Experiments are also being carried out in the design area. A 3D solid and surface modeling software, which would allow manufacturers overcome 2D planning constrictions, and enable them develop 3D designs prior the manufacturing process. This software will help guitar designers to create designs without the need for base models. These designs could then be fed to a computerized woodworking station for a definite production count.