Easel, microphones, mechanics, strings, winding … Electric guitars are composed of dozens of elements – sometimes unknown by the general public and even by amateur musicians. And this concerns all guitars: the Telecaster, the Stratocaster, the Cort, the Gibson, Jumbo, Yamaha …
However, these elements have a major role in the sound produced by the electric guitar!
It’s therefore necessary to choose your instrument and amp properly – according to the effects and sounds one desires (tremolo, vibrato, floyd, reverberation, …).
You can also create your own sound by adding pedals or by tuning the buttons on your amplifier, making it possible for you to play your favorite style (jazz, blues, rock, gypsy jazz, funk, acoustic guitar, classical guitar, heavy metal, pop, …).
To learn more about your favorite instrument, let’s dive into the fascinating universe of the electric guitar…
Whence comes this fine instrument you’re handling?
Before you could enjoy the sound of electric guitars, you had to invent dry guitars. That was 3500 years ago, and it was the Egyptian singer Har-Mose’s guitar.
Since then guitars have greatly developed. In 1920, engineer Lloyd Loard added reel microphones to dry guitars so to better perceive their sound during jazz orchestra concerts.
It was then in 1931 that the first guitar was marketed in the United States. The “Frying Pan” no longer had a sound box and was played sitting.
In France, people had to wait the 1950s before being able to enjoy this fine invention. Since then, many brands made a name for themselves on the market. These include Fender, Gibson Les Paul, Ibanez, Epiphone and Viguier.
And now there are as many types of guitar as styles of music. Since over time, many musicians appropriated electric guitar with their personal style. From blues to hard rock to jazz, pop and rock, the electric guitar conquered the world of music.
The electric guitar is a central part of musical history.
It is impossible to look over musicians such as Jimi Hendrix when talking about the history of electric guitar. He is a god to guitar lovers, an inventor of his own style, which he created by constantly innovating through new sounds and technologies.
The same goes for Bob Dylan, who recorded his first song accompanied by an electric guitar in 1965, and bands such as the Beatles.
Others established themselves in this world. Such as BB King, Keith Richards, Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton and Chuck Berry.
|Head||The top part of the guitar, where the strings are attached. Also known as the 'headstock'.||Contains the tuning bolts|
|Neck||The platform along which the strings sit. This is where most of your technical effort will be.||Contains the fingerboard - which hosts the frets.|
|Body||The main weight of the guitar, where you will strum.||Contains the pickups, the tremolo bar, the volume and tone buttons.|
The art of making a guitar – lute-crafting – is a discipline that requires precision and patience. Several stages are necessary in the development of this stringed instrument.
First you build each part of the guitar: the body, neck and head. Once they’re built they must be assembled correctly and varnished – the so-called finishes.
There are many elements required for the manufacture of an electric guitar!
On the body one finds the microphones – or the pickups. A bass microphone and a sharp microphone are placed close to the easel, which enables you to fix the strings. The microphone selector lets you choose which of the two you want to use. It’s also possible to use both at once. You can adjust the volume on this guitar body. The pickup, also known as a transducer, gives electric guitars their distinctive sound.
A belt button is installed in order to hang a strap so to play standing – and get that true rocker’s attitude. You’ll also notice a main difference between the electric guitar and acoustic guitars: the electric has the cutaway, which helps guitarists reach the highest frets on the fingerboard – thus improving the playability.
The electric guitar is made up of three main parts: the head, body, and neck.
The neck is composed, as you know, of strings, but also frets, each fret separating each of the boxes. We call this the fretboard – the space underneath the guitar strings. The larger the box the more difficult it is to place your fingers correctly. To help players to locate themselves some guitars have landmarks – small dots that most often indicate boxes 3, 5 and 7. The maple neck is one of the most common styles of guitar neck.
On the headstock you’ll find the necessary elements to tune your guitar. The small wheels are called “tuners” (composed of machine heads, tuning keys, tuning machines and pegheads). They make it possible to turn the anchors in which the strings are wedged.
A nylon nut separates the neck from the head of the guitar to stop string vibrations.
Something that distinguishes the electric guitar from classical guitars is that it has steel strings. These are much more resonant than nylon strings, as they are louder and respond better to distortion.
What’s the difference between a single coil pick up and a humbucker? What’s the difference between a fixed and a floating bridge? Why would you choose a maple bodied electric rather than an alder one or a mahogany?
These are all questions the answers to which will become much clearer as you become more familiar with your instrument. When you find the particular stylistic niche in which you want to play. And when you discover the techniques and sounds that you want to perform and make.
We have another article on precisely these questions in this series on the electric guitar, but suffice it to say, for now, that each of these changes gives your guitar a radically different sound. So, if you’re looking for a mellow and warm tone, pick a mahogany body with a pair of humbuckers. If, on the other hand, you fancy a sharper, punchier sound, try an alder body with some single coils.
Are you tired of always hearing the same sound coming out of your guitar?
Many tools can allow you to create new sounds or effects.
Using your guitar amp or pedals, you can reproduce the sound effects and tones of your greatest idols. Korg, mesa boogie, reverb, modulation … up to you!
It should first be understood that your tonal quality will vary depending on the guitar you have decided to buy. The length of the neck and the type of wood play on the sound (mahogany, spruce, oak, maple, rosewood, abene …).
Don’t hesitate to invest in a slightly more expensive guitar but that will have a sound you prefer.
Once acquired, take care of it and change the strings regularly. Strings relax and oxidize over time. The sound may then change from what you were getting at the beginning.
As the guitar is designed to be amplified, you will also have to choose the right amp. Without amplification, your electric guitar will be fairly underwhelming.
It will help you obtain the sound effects desired on the guitar by moving around the buttons between the tremolos and the reverberation. It is up to you to judge which effects you want to add to your guitar. You can also use overdrive and distortion or saturation.
Remember to tune your strings regularly
In any case, do not choose the first amp that passes!
Consider brands such as Marshall, Fender or Vox. This last brand was used in particular by groups like the Beatles, The Queens or The Shadow. They ensure a better output sound quality.
Sound can also be transform with small boxes: pedals are installed between your guitar and your amp using jack cables. They’re called this way because the guitarist can control them directly with his foot and they do not prevent him from playing.
Two kinds of pedals are available. If you play very rarely outside your home or apartment, there’s no need to get more than a couple of pedals.
On the other hand if you are a follower of the scene, prefer the multi-effects pedal. It is a bigger case than a simple pedal, but it will make your life easier.
You can then find effects like:
These will be enough to play like Jimi Hendrix, who regularly used the wah-wah and octavia effects. Or you can try to imitate Pink Floyd or U2 thanks to the Delay effect.
Before you can enjoy all the effects that exist it is necessary to take the time to answer a couple of technical questions on how to play the electric guitar correctly.
Several methods exist and you will not be able to acquire them all at once. It is therefore necessary to start with the most common: the return trip.
This technique involves attacking all the strings of your guitar once down, then once up – as when you are strumming chords. It is a basic technique but one that is absolutely necessary for beginners, as it has plenty of variations. This is why it is essential to know it when starting guitar lessons.
You can then learn to play the legato technique or sweeping. These are techniques that you will pick up in the future.
But how do I imitate the techniques of the greatest?
At first, watch internet videos of their concerts. Once you have soaked up their style it will be easier to reproduce it. Follow the requirements step by step to succeed and enjoy the many online tutorials.
However, nothing’s worth developing more than your own personal technical skills. Each musician has his own way of playing. Learn to know yourself as a musician and you will be able to find your own rhythm.
To understand what you are looking at when thinking about different types of electric guitars, know that these are generally classified by manufacturing elements.
You can then classify the guitars according to their number of strings…
The most common is the 6 string – but you can also find 7-string or 12-string guitar. There are even guitars with 4 strings – with a much deeper tone – that are called “bass guitars”. Although it is not quite the same instrument, the electric bass often goes with the guitars.
Try out a couple of cheap electric guitars before you one.
Electric guitars can also be classified by neck types. Some necks are longer than others.
And some guitars have two necks!
These guitars are mainly used in concerts to avoid having to change guitars during the show.
Also pay attention to the type of body you choose. Although most electric guitars have a solid soundbox, some have a hollow body. This adds resonance to the electric guitar’s sound.
Up to you to judge which you prefer.
Learn more about the guitar in this breakdown.