The Electric Guitar: From Big Band To Rock And Roll
Compared to its acoustic cousin, the electric guitar has a very short history. In modern times, electric guitars are most often associated with genres such as rock and roll, blues rock, and jazz. However, this instrument has its origins in the big band music of the 1930s and 1940s. As the jazz orchestras of those days grew and their brass sections increased proportionally, the need for an amplified guitar became more and more pronounced. Adolph Rickenbacher, George Beauchamp, and Paul Barth, all of who eventually founded the Electro String Company, are usually credited with the production of the first electric guitars around 1931. Whoever did it first, the eventual result was a guitar that used pickups to convert the vibrations of its steel strings into an electrical current, which was made louder with an instrument amplifier and speaker.
As mentioned, an electric guitar's strings are always steel. This is, however, one of the few features shared by all the various types. Electric guitars come in a variety of models, including solid body, hollow body, wood, metal, one- six-, seven-, eight-, nine-, and twelve-string, and even double neck models.
The first of these, the solid body type, is the most common. They are generally made of some kind of lacquered wood, which can be anything from maple, to koa, to ebony. The average solid body electric guitar has six strings, and the vibrations of this type of guitar are produced by the strings alone. This is notable in comparison to the hollow body electric guitar. Although the two types work similarly, the body of the hollow body guitar vibrates along with the strings, which means that the pickups convert both string and body vibrations into an electrical signal. A semi-hollow body guitar is a combination of the solid and the hollow types, and it is generally held to strike a balance between the attributes of the two. Then there are the metal body electric guitars. The bodies of these models are chambered (due to weight considerations), but they are designed to be played as though made of solid wood. Finally, the electric guitar can sport anywhere from one to twelve strings, which makes for, as one might imagine, a plethora of sounds and potential musical applications.
While there are any number of electric guitar manufacturers in the world, some are certainly more famous than others. Fender and Gibson, for example, established their reputations in the 1950s as makers of high-quality mass-produced guitars, and they remain some of the most well-known products available. Other reputable companies include BC Rich, ESP, and Peavey.
The electric guitar has gained a certain notoriety over the years, thanks to its association with a number of high-profile artists, among them Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, and the irrepressible Keith Richards. Interestingly, there has been a movement over the past few decades towards the use of the electrical guitar in contemporary classical music. However, such compositions are by no means common, and the genres of rock and jazz remain the primary territory of the electric guitar.