A Short History of the Electric Guitar

7 Agustus 2008

by: Paul Smith

Electric guitars are strongly associated with famous musicians of the twentieth century—and may be the iconic musical instrument of our time. Here’s a brief history of their rise in popular music.

During the Big Band Era in the 20’s and 30’s, performers experimented with attaching microphones to acoustic guitars in order to amplify the sound. Most electric guitars were hollow-bodied acoustics with electric pickups. But the hollow space within the guitar produced vibrations that made harsh feedback when interacting with electric pickups.

Manufacturers experimented with solid-body guitars to get rid of the feedback. One of the earlier solid-body guitars was an aluminium instrument known as the “Frying Pan” or “Pancake Guitar.” In 1940, Les Paul attempted a solid-body instrument called the “log guitar,” so called because it was a simple post equipped with neck, strings, and pickups.

The electric guitar did not hit commercial success until the 1950’s, when Fender released its first solid-body model: the Esquire. The Esquire was followed by the Telecaster and finally, in 1954, the Stratocaster.

The aggressive sound of the electric guitar became characteristic of rock and roll in the 60’s and 70’s. It was a high-profile instrument during this time, appearing on stage with dozens of famous bands and musicians.

This created demand for affordable electric guitars. In the 60’s and 70’s, electric guitars were too expensive for ordinary buyers. But it wasn’t until the 1980’s that Japanese manufacturers stepped forward with affordable electric guitars that sounded good. This put pressure on American companies such as Gibson and Fender to provide their own affordable lines.

Today, the electric guitar is one of the most prolific instruments in popular music. You can find it in a wide variety of genres, from metal to New Age.


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