The Electric Guitar

The electric guitar may be one of the most important and most popular instruments of the 20th century until now. From its introduction around the 1930’s, it has brought a major impact in shaping the sound and the direction of western popular music. As a relatively young instrument – at least in the guitar family – it has influenced a vast amount of music genres, playing style, and it is still evolving and moving along with the advancements of the modern age.

The electric guitar’s invention was merely due to the desire to be heard in the bandstand. In the 20’s Jazz/Swing Big Bands, the acoustic guitar was almost inaudible when playing alongside with the drummer and a multitude of horn players.

The earliest most notable electric guitar player was Charlie Christian who played along with Benny Goodman Orchestra and Sextet.

The guitar was finally audible through the use of an electronic amplifier. What makes it “electric” are the Magnetic “Pickups" (found on the body of the guitar, under the strings) which acts like a microphone that senses string vibrations through magnetic field and turning it into electric sound signals and then sending it to the amplifier. Each different pickup has its own character. The two most popular and iconic electric guitars are the “Fender® Stratocaster” and the “Gibson® Les Paul”. Both are famous for having distinct sound and design.

The Fender sound is known for its use of the “single coil” pickups that produces a clear bell-like, glassy tone. Famous musicians/artistes who prefer this sound and guitars almost exclusively includes, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Gibson on the other hand uses the “Humbucker” pickup that is famous for its thick, warm, punchy sound that is typically preferred in rock and heavier styles of music. Most notable players of this guitar and sound include, Slash of Guns n Roses, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.

Since the electric guitar’s introduction, many forms of amplifying were explored. Through this, different tonal possibilities and sonic soundscapes were discovered and improved up till present. From the 30’s electric guitar sound of Charlie Christian, it influenced the sound of 50’s guitar sound that characterized Rock and Roll music of artists like, Elvis Presley & Chuck Berry and 60’s the Beatles.

By then, guitar players found the need to be even louder to fill bigger venues. Turning up the volume to maximum, did not just make the guitar louder, it also distorted and added sustain to the guitar. It created a powerful distinct sound that guitars players started to utilize, which is known today as the “overdriven” guitar sound. It created a new wave of playing style and new genres emerged. From 70’s Bands like, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Jimi Hendrix to modern guitar players and bands like, Van Halen, Guns N Roses and Metallica, to present bands and styles of music, the Overdriven/Distorted guitar sound is a staple in rock music and electric guitar playing.

The electric guitar plugged into an amplifier, overdriven or not, is a very expressive instrument. It can mimic the sound of different instruments such as the human voice, wind instruments and horns, to name a few. This is possible through the electric guitar’s ability to bend strings. It is one of its special features, something that you would never hear a piano do. Bending strings can make you play notes that are hiding in between the white and the black keys of the piano. Those bends and microtonal nuances make it sound more “human” and allow players to express themselves more creatively and musically; one can make it like a natural extension of the body and as if it is their own “voice”. It can also make different sounds with the help of effect pedals, which makes it fun and interesting and brings endless possibilities to expression and creativity. Having to be able to play almost any music style and genres like jazz, blues, rock, pop, country, heavy metal and whole lot more, the electric guitar became a popular choice of instrument to pick up by kids and adults alike.

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Edward is currently a guitar teacher at Medley Music School, Singapore. He teaches the both Acoutic and Electric Guitar, as well as Drums and Ukulele. Medley Music School is located at SAFRA Toa Payoh. Call us at 6353 4881 to find out more about lessons with Edward.

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Last updated: 19 November 2020

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