Les Paul. Fender. These are just two very famous brands of guitars, and you don’t have to be a musician to have heard of them, they just, by their name imply a quality product.
An electric guitar differs from an acoustic guitar because it uses a pickup to convert the vibration of its strings into electrical signals. With an acoustic guitar, the musician plucks the strings and the air inside the body and outside in the world plus a wooden soundboard makes the notes shine. An electric one takes it one step further and uses a pickup, usually of the magnetic variety which in turn is plugged into an amplifier and then sent to a loudspeaker which makes the sound loud enough to be heard. An electric guitar on its own makes little noise which isn’t helpful when you are trying to make your music heard.
The amplified electric guitar was invented in 1931 and was instantly a big hit with jazz guitarists who could then, for the first time be heard in the large band ensembles of the age. Early pioneers of the sound included Les Paul, T-Bone Walker and Charlie Christian and by the time the 1950’s and 1960’s came, this invention became the most important instrument in all popular music. Quick, name a band that doesn’t use an electric guitar. Hard, isn’t it?
Like with acoustic guitars, the electric variety varies greatly between brands and models; the shape of the body, the neck, the bridge and the pickups can all be different and thus produce different sounds and allow you to do different things with that sound. Not only does the fixed bridge allow the musician to bend notes up or down in pitch, but there are always new playing techniques coming out that allow a whole new sound from that same guitar. Things like hammering on, string bending, tapping or slide guitar playing are all used to change it up and add interest to the music.
Like with most things, the electric guitar comes in various models such as the typical six string, a seven string, a twelve string, hollow body and solid body varieties. Popular bands today will use two or more guitars as they grind out our favourite tunes which allows for more melody, chord sequences, rhythms and the like that set them apart.
The electric guitar, what would we ever do without it?