About Electric Guitars
An instrument unlike any other, the electric guitar gives musicians a feeling and hands-on experience that's nearly indescribable. Even with the same electric guitar, no two players sound exactly alike. Every nuance of the player's hands comes out in the electric guitar's tone, both in fretting and plucking the strings. The best players master not only command of the electric guitar, but also its interaction with their effects and amplifier. If you're looking for the perfect instrument for a young musician, check out these guitars for kids.
It's difficult to imagine a world without the combination of the electric guitar and amplifier, yet it's still relatively new in music. By the turn of the twentieth century, it only made sense that the popularity of the guitar would soon be combined with the onset of electronics. Over the past 75 years, the electric guitar has established itself as one of the most iconic, unforgettable instruments in the world. From jazz and big band to rock 'n' roll and funk, popular music would be drastically different today had it not been for the electric guitar.
The electric guitar has had an outsized influence on music around the world. Its versatility and responsiveness to touch mean that every player develops a distinctive voice. This is true even when different musicians play identical instruments. Simple enough for young musicians, but challenging enough to keep you learning for a lifetime, electric guitars are used in virtually every style of music world wide. Add in the combination of different amplifier and effect combinations, and an electric guitar is a chameleon that always speaks with your individual voice.
With the wide variety of choices available, deciding on your first electric guitar can be challenging. Or, the second or third, for that matter. Once the guitar bug bites, players tend to want more than just one. Every electric guitar model has a specific voice, and many are firmly tied to styles of music. The inherent versatility of the instrument means that much of that is tradition. Many well-known players have made reputations playing guitars that aren’t typically used in their genre. The most common approach to choosing your first guitar is to look at the players you admire most and start from that point. If your favorite player prefers a Les Paul, start with an Epiphone or a Gibson. If they’re Strat players, look at Squiers and Fenders to start. Once you’re at home with your first electric, you’ll almost inevitably find that you want to round out your collection.
A Brief History of the Electric Guitar
The first electric guitars, dating to the early 1930s, were lap steels from companies like Rickenbacker, National and Gibson, Once they designed a lap steel pickup, it didn’t take long for Gibson to stick one on their ES-150 in 1936. Guitarists for big bands, who’d been relegated almost exclusively to rhythm playing because they just weren’t loud enough to cut through the large horn sections, finally could have their solo voice be heard. The electric guitar was just what they’d been waiting for, and guitarists like Charlie Christian and Tiny Grimes plugged in and began to discover an new style of playing. Blues guitarists like George Barnes were also grabbing electric guitars and starting to record with the new sound. All of these were hollow-body, “archtop” guitars with added pickups, and could only be so amplified before uncontrollable feedback would become an issue.
The development of solid-body electric guitars roughly coincided with the birth of rock and roll. This helped make the electric guitar the default instrument in popular music. Les Paul’s early solid-body prototype design, known as “The Log,” never went into production, but Leo Fender’s 1948 Broadcaster kicked off the new type of guitar in style. It was first adopted by local musicians in Southern California and quickly began spreading to players across the country. Gibson finally released a Les Paul signature in 1952 and Fender released the Stratocaster in 1954. Both were quickly adopted by rock and roll players because they could get louder than traditional hollow-body electrics. Fender and Gibson became the big names in electric guitars during the 1950s and 1960s, with American companies like Gretsch, Guild and Rickenbacker, along with European companies like Hofner, Vox and Burns building their own crews of avid users as well.
By the 1970s, guitar manufacturing had become a truly international affair. Quality guitars were being built around the globe with companies like Ibanez, Yamaha, Hoshino and others in Japan beginning to produce instruments that were equal in quality to any made in the U.S.A., and plants in South Korea beginning to turn out quality instruments as well. The advent of computer-controlled manufacture in the 1980s and ‘90s raised the quality floor so that inexpensive, “starter” guitars became better than ever. The modern selection of instruments is astounding, both in range and quality.
Types of Electric Guitar
Electric guitars are generally divided into three main categories. These are: hollowbody, semi-hollowbody, and solid body. Hollowbody electrics are directly descended from the first electrics, produced by adding pickups to archtop guitars. Some have pickups directly mounted in the top, like Gibson’s ES-175, Gretsch Electromatic and Ibanez Georg Benson model. Others, like Godin’s Fifth Avenue Jazz, have “floating” pickups that are attached to the pickguard, leaving the top untouched. These are all generally referred to as “jazz boxes,” but they are often used in other genres.
Solid-body electrics debuted in the late 1940s and can be as simple as a slab of wood with pickups, —like the Telecaster, or contoured and/or carved, like a Stratocaster or a Les Paul. The electronics are housed in the body.
The third category is the most recent, created in the late 1950s. Semi-hollowbody guitars were a revolutionary concept at the time, combining the feedback resistance of a solid-body instrument with the warm resonance of a hollowbody. The prime example remains the Gibson ES-335 and its relatives, the ES-345, ES-355 and, more recently, ES-339, a smaller-bodies variant.
Finding Your Tone
No matter what electric guitar you choose, whether it’s your first or your twelfth, it will open a world of musical options that are enhanced by the wide variety of amplifiers and effects that are available. A new electric guitar is just the first step towards developing a musical voice that is yours alone.