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Electric guitar

An electric guitar is a type of guitar with a solid or semi-solid body that utilizes electromagnetic "pickups" to convert the vibration of the steel-cored strings into electrical current. The current may be electrically altered to achieve various tonal effects prior to being fed into an amplifier, which produces the resultant sound. In contrast to most stringed instruments, the electric guitar does not rely as extensively on the acoustic properties of its construction to amplify the sound produced by the vibrating strings; as such, the electric guitar does not need to be naturally loud, and its body can be virtually any shape.

Two very different guitars
Left: Rosa Hurricane
Right: Maton Freshman

The electric guitar is used extensively in many popular styles of music, including blues, rock and roll, country music, pop music and jazz.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Types of electric guitar
3 Electric guitar sound and effects


Electric guitars were originally designed by luthiers (those who tune and repair stringed instruments) and acoustic guitar manufacturers. Some of the earliest electric guitars used tungsten pickups and were manufactured in the 1930s by Rickenbacker. The popularity of the electric guitar began with the Big band era, the amplified instruments being necessary to compete with the loud volumes of the large brass sections common to jazz orchestras of the thirties and forties. Initially, electric guitars consisted primarily of hollow "archtop" acoustic guitar bodies to which electromagnetic transducers had been attached.

The version of the instrument that is most well known today is the "solid body" electric guitar: a guitar made of solid wood, without resonating airspaces within it. The first solid body electric guitar was designed by musician and inventor Les Paul, working after hours in the Epiphone Guitar factory. His "log" guitar, so called because it consisted of a simple rectangular block of wood with a neck attached to it, is generally considered to be the first solid body electric guitar. Les Paul claims to have developed his first solid body electric guitar as early as 1941).

Gibson, like many luthiers, had experimented with pickups on acoustic guitars already, but it was in the 1950s that the Gibson Les Paul, the instrument that would become their trademark, was introduced to the market and established their dominance of the industry. Les Paul has claimed that credit for the invention belongs to him; however, in the late 1940s, electrician and amplifier maker Leo Fender, through his eponymous company, introduced the Fender Broadcaster, soon thereafter renamed the Fender Telecaster for trademark reasons. Some people suggest that Paul Bigsby was pursuing similar development paths at the same time. In 1954 Fender introduced the Stratocaster, or Strat, which had become by the late sixties the most widely played guitar on the market. Fender also invented the electric bass. Unlike the more traditionally styled and crafted Gibson instruments, Fender's guitars and basses pioneered the modular, and hence much less expensive, method of guitar making in which the body and neck of the guitar were crafted separately, using commonly available woodworking tools, and then bolted together to form a complete guitar. Today, the design of electric guitars by most companies echoes one of the two classic designs: the Les Paul or the Stratocaster.

Types of electric guitar

Most electric guitars are fitted with six strings and are usually tuned from low to high E - A - D - G - B - E, the same as an acoustic guitar, although some modern guitarists tune their guitars lower to produce a "heavier" sound. Seven-string models exist, most of which add a low B string below the E, and were made popular by Steve Vai and modern day nu metal bands. Jimmy Page, an innovator of hard rock, used and made famous custom Gibson electric guitars with two necks - essentially two instruments in one. These are commonly known as double neck (or, less commonly, twin neck) guitars. The purpose is to obtain different ranges of sound from each instrument; typical combinations are six-string and four-string (guitar and bass guitar) or, more commonly, a six-string and twelve-string. English progressive rock bands such as Genesis took this trend to its zenith using custom made instruments produced by the Shergold company.

Some electric guitars have a tremolo arm or whammy bar, which is a lever attached to the bridge that can slacken or elongate the strings temporarily, changing the pitch or creating a vibrato. (Tremolo properly refers to a quick variation of volume, not pitch; however, the misnaming is too established to change.) Eddie Van Halen often uses this feature to embellish his playing, as heard in Van Halen's "Eruption". Early tremolo arms tended to cause the guitar to go out of tune with extended use; an important innovator in this field was Floyd Rose, who introduced one of the first tremolos which allowed the guitar to stay in tune, even after heavy use.

A "MIDI guitar" is an electric guitar fitted with sensors for sound and note articulation. It is used to transform string vibrations into MIDI messages to control a synthesizer or other electronic musical instrument.

Electric guitar sound and effects

An acoustic guitar's sound is largely dependent on the vibration of the guitar's body and the air within it; the sound of an electric guitar is largely dependent on an electrical signal, generated by the vibration of the strings and shaped on its path to the amplifier. By the late 1960s, it became common practice to exploit this dependence to alter the sound of the instrument. The most dramatic innovation was the generation of distortion by increasing the gain, or volume, of the preamplifier in order to clip the electronic signal. This form of distortion generates harmonics, particularly in odd multiples of the input frequency, which are considered pleasing to the ear.

Beginning in the 1960s, the tonal palette of the electric guitar was further modified by introducing an effects box in its signal path. Traditionally built in a small metal chassis with an on/off foot switch, such "stomp boxes" have become as much a part of the instrument for many electric guitarists as the electric guitar itself. Typical effects include vibrato, fuzz, wah-wah and flanging, compression/sustain, delay/echo, and phase shift. Some important innovators of this aspect of the electric guitar include guitarists Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Jerry Garcia, David Gilmour, Thurston Moore and Daniel Ash, and technicians such as Roger Mayer.

By the 1980s and 1990s, digital effects became capable of replicating the analog effects used in the past. These new digital effects attempted to model the sound produced by analog effects, to varying degrees of quality. Although there are some obvious advantages to digital effects, many guitarists still use analog effects for their real or perceived quality over their digital counterparts.