Electric Guitar - History

Electric Guitar - History

the story of the commercial success of the electric guitar

Commercial Success

As with many inventions, the electric guitar
initially met with skepticism from
traditionalists--performers as well as makers
and audiences. But country and blues players
and jazz instrumentalists soon took to the
variety of new tones and sounds that the
electric guitar could produce, exploring
innovative ways to alter, bend, and sustain
notes.

The instrument's volume and tones proved
particularly appealing to the enthusiasts
of rock and roll, which emerged in the 1950s.
While it was important to other genres, the electric
guitar was at the heart of the cultural revolution
that rock and roll symbolized. The media
capitalized on the image of the rock and roller
with his slicked-back hair, leather jacket,
motorcycle--and electric guitar.

Rock and roll music was particularly
associated with a new electric guitar design, the
Spanish-style solid-body. The earliest known
commercially produced Spanish solid-body is
the 1939 Slingerland. Around 1940, Les Paul
experimented with such a design, and in 1947,
Paul Bigsby teamed up with country singer
Merle Travis to design a solid-body guitar that
more closely resembled the ones we know
today. But it was radio repairman Leo Fender
who would be the first to successfully
mass-produce and market a Spanish-style
solid-body electric guitar.

The immediate success of Fender's new
style of electric quickly influenced other
manufacturers to start producing their own
models. In 1952 Gibson became Fender's first
major competitor, introducing its own
solid-body guitar with the help of celebrity
endorser Les Paul. The mass production of
these and other new models of highly desirable
electrics allowed teenagers across the country
to reinvent themselves in terms of a vision of
musical rebellion and independence.

Although many people thought that rock
and roll would be a passing fad, by the 1960s it
was clear that this music was firmly rooted in
American culture. And electric guitarists had
become the superstars of rock. Live
performances in large halls and open-air
concerts increased the demand for greater
volume and showmanship. Popular groups like
the Beatles and the Rolling Stones generated an
international following that verged on the hysterical.

By then, most rock guitarists were no
longer aiming to achieve clean, cutting sounds
on the electric guitar. They began to
experiment, and new sounds and textures, like
distortion and feedback, became part of the
guitarist's language. Jimi Hendrix was rock's
great master of manipulated sound. By using
techniques such as maneuvering the guitar's
tremolo arm and playing close to the amplifier,
Hendrix achieved spectacular effects.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s guitarists
continued experimenting. Their new musical
vocabulary emphasized loud, raunchy power
chords, flashy solos, and overall volume,
becoming known as heavy metal. Eddie Van
Halen
experimented with sounds like "dive
bombing," using the tremolo arm to drive the
guitar's lowest note even lower. Hendrix had
done this and frequently forced the instrument
out of tune as a result. But by the mid-1980s,
inventor Floyd Rose had improved solid-body
guitar tremolo systems, making it possible to
"dive bomb" repeatedly.

The last several decades have also
witnessed the rise of professional female
electric guitarists. Thanks to pioneers like
Bonnie Raitt, women have earned an equal
place in what had traditionally been a
male-dominated field. Today, more than six
decades after bursting on the American musical
scene, the electric guitar still features in all types
of music and is played and admired by men and
women, young and old, throughout the world.



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Scales

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