Music Technology – A Brief History of the Electric Guitar

For the A2 music technology exam you are going to need to know a lot of information about the history and development of various music technologies. Below is enough information to give you all 16 marks if a relevant question comes up on the development of the electric guitar but remember your response will need to be well written.

1920s – The first attempts at an amplified instrument came in the development of electrical amplification by the radio industry.

1924 – One of the earliest innovators was Lloyd Loar, an engineer at Gibson Guitar Company. Loar developed an electric pickup for the viola and the string bass.

1928 – The first commercially advertised electric guitar, made by the Stromberg-Voisinet company which utilized a similar pickup to Loar’s, with vibrations being picked up from the soundboard.

1932 – The first electromagnet pick up which registered string vibration from the strings themselves. The first commercially successful model, the so-called “Frying Pan,” was developed and marketed by George Beauchamp and Adolph Rickenbacker.

1939 – The first artist to develop a playing style unique to this instrument was Charlie Christian

1950 – Les Paul, who was already a well-known acoustic guitarist, built a guitar on a four-by-four piece of pine and nicknamed it “The Log.”

1950 – Leo Fender, a former radio repairman, introduced a mass-produced solid-body guitar

1952 – Gibson introduced a model endorsed by Les Paul himself. The solid-body guitars didn’t have the feedback problems that characterized hollow-body electric guitars, and they had greater sustain.

1950’s and 1960’s – rock stars secured Gibson and Paul’s designs, as well as Fender’s famous Stratocaster, a permanent place in American culture.

1960’s and 1970’s – The introduction of effects and more powerful amplification

Key artists include:

Jimi Hendricks – Was a prominent artist during the late 1960s and early 1970s. His use of the electric guitar included massive use of distortion and delay effects. Purple Haze is one of his most popular songs.

Jimi Paige – Lead guitarist, producer and composer for Led Zeppelin and contributed to their success in the 1970s

The Edge – Lead guitar for the band U2 (1980s) Successful albums include The Joshua Tree and War

Possible Question for the Electric Guitar:

  1. In which ways did Jimmy Hendricks use of the electric guitar affect modern popular music?
  2. Describe the development of the electric guitar from the early 1950s
  3. Describe the components that make up the inner workings of an electric guitar
  4. Describe the history and development of guitar effects and how they have influences modern popular music

The Basics of the Electric Guitar

Electric guitars are the stringed musical instruments which have electric capabilities. They make use of the principle of electromagnetic induction. The string vibrations are converted into electric signals with the help of electromagnets present in the guitar system. The electric signals produced are weaker and hence are amplified using the amplifiers before they are fed to the loudspeaker.

How They Create Sound

Most are six stringed and fretted. They are made of solid bodies except for a few, which may have either hollow or semi-hollow bodies. Magnetic induction and amplification are both essential for the electric guitars to work. The sound produced by the magnetic pickups is being controlled by the knobs. The sound produced by striking the strings is almost inaudible when the guitar is not plugged in.

Electric guitars generally have longer necks which can be of two types i.e. set neck or a bolt-on neck. The top of the neck is called headstock. The headstock contains machine heads or tuners which when rotated change the string tension and hence help in tuning the guitar. Between the headstock and the neck are the nuts over which the strings of the guitar pass.

Selecting Tones

The guitar’s playing area is called fretboard or the fingerboard. They have frets positioned horizontally at intervals on the fingerboard. On striking the string, the frets stop the strings at certain point to produce appropriate tones. The control knobs of the electric guitars help in adjusting the volume of the tones produced. The tension on the neck can be adjusted by the truss rods.

Materials Of Construction

There are different materials and construction techniques used in making the electric guitars. The materials used in construction do have an impact on the sound produced. It is the hollow body electric guitars which are greatly influenced by the materials used, while the solid body guitars aren’t much affected. The most woods used in the construction of the guitar bodies are swamp ash, mahogany, alder, basswood and maple. For some, cardboard and plastic are also used for bodies. The soundboards are usually made of rosewood, koa and ebony and the necks are made of mahogany, basswood and maple.

The Strings

The strings are not meant for producing louder tones. Therefore, the strings of electric guitars and those used for acoustic guitars are different. Stainless steel, pure nickel and nickel plated steel are commonly used in making the strings of electric guitar.

Electric guitars were not being widely used during the early years of production. But now, they have become a necessity of every musical show.

Electric Bikes and the Elderly

Bicycles are becoming more and more popular each year as people realise that there are other alternatives to the gas-guzzling car to getting around, particularly as many of our everyday trips to the shops, or to work for example, are quite short. Even short trips in your car can work out quite expensive when you look back at your annual fuel bills, the wear and tear on your car, the time spent battling the traffic and the cost to the environment. But not everyone relishes the idea of slogging along to work on their bicycle and arriving hot and sweaty. That’s where the electric bike comes in, and not only are they a great idea for the commuter, they can play a very important role in the lives and well-being of the less mobile members of society.

Electric bikes have come a long way in recent years and now come in a number of varieties, from road bikes and mountain bikes to fold-up and three wheeler bikes, there is one for all occasions. Beside being a lot of fun and taking the hard work and drudgery out of cycling to work or around town, electric bicycles can be a huge aid to the elderly, frail or infirm. People who fall into these brackets have often lost the confidence or strength to ride a normal bicycle but would still like to be out in the fresh air and getting around under their own steam. Enter the electric bicycle. The beauty of these machines is that the rider can get as much or as little exercise as they choose.

An elderly person, a frail person, a person recovering from a major illness or operation; these are the people that would more than likely baulk at the prospect of jumping on a bicycle in order to regain strength and mobility, as it does take a degree of balance and strength to ride a normal bike. But an electric three wheeled bicycle, for instance, would be perfect, providing them with the means to get out and about while allowing them to increase their workload slowly and gradually without fear of falling of their bike.

The first trip down to the shops or round to see their friends could be solely powered by the electric motor. On the next trip, the person could perhaps do a little pedalling, which could be very light on the body as the electric motor would be doing ninety five per cent of the work. Next time let the motor take only eighty percent of the load, and so on. I have personally seen a number of elderly people in my local area nipping down to the shops with their baskets on the front, or tootling down to the local club to meet up with friends. That has got to be better than sitting at home and seizing up. You have earned your retirement. Don’t let lack of mobility spoil your hard-earned leisure days.

One last thing on electric bikes that is very important, especially if you are retired; these machine are a whole lot cheaper to run than your car. I own an electric or E-bike and have done my homework on the cost of running them. A full charge will cost you around five cents and you will go a fair distance on that charge, further if you pedal a bit yourself. I know that my car costs a lot more than that before I have even left my driveway. So in a nutshell we have; exercise, economy, little environmental impact, virtually pollution free, not traffic hassles, no parking hassles. It’s got to be worth thinking about, hasn’t it? As you can tell, I’m a convert. Happy cycling!