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For over 60 years, electric guitars have been the mainstay of rock music. Here is a look at their history, the types of electric guitars available, and popular manufacturers and models.
A Brief History of Electric Guitars
While a critical component of rock music, it was the popularity of Big Band music that gave the electric guitar its start. As big bands grew in popularity and size in the late 20’s and early 30’s, the brass instruments dominated over the sound of the acoustic guitars that were being used at the time. While there are many people who have claimed to invent the electric guitar, it was National Guitar’s General Manager George Beauchamp and the company’s VP Paul Barth who designed the first guitar amplified by electricity in 1931. In 1932 electric guitars first became commercially available. First used mainly by jazz groups, they quickly spread in popularity.
Types of Electric Guitars
While guitars have many commonalities, they are available in distinct styles.
- Solid Body – Since there is no hollow-body to provide amplification, solid body guitars rely on the pickups, amp, and speakers to produce sound. Even production run electric guitars will generally use hardwood dried in a kiln for up to six months. The wood is cut to shape before being coated with a lacquer or polyester finish.
- Chambered Body – These are basically solid body electric guitars with a hollowed-out or chambered body. These types of guitars are presumably lighter than solid body guitars and are said to produce a slightly more acoustic sound. Like solid body guitars, chambered body electric guitars are made from a single, solid piece of wood.
- Semi-acoustic – Created from thin sheets of wood, the electric pickups on semi-acoustic electric guitars use both the body’s and string vibrations to produce the sound. Played unplugged, these types of guitars produce enough sound for practicing without power.
- Full Hollowbody – These guitars are produced like an acoustic guitar using sheets of wood. Their hollow body produces a rich sound that can sometimes be as loud as a standard acoustic guitar when unplugged. These were very popular early in the history of electric guitars. There are also Electric Acoustic guitars, however these are generally just acoustic guitars outfitted with electric amplification. Electric guitars are also available in multiple variants including the number of strings and neck and bridge variants.
Popular Manufacturers and Models of Electric Guitars
There have been legendary guitars created through the years. Gibson Les Paul guitars are highly thought of, and Fender Stratocasters found favor with many rock bands in the 60’s and 70’s. Popular brands today include:
Iconic electric guitars throughout history have included Bo Diddley’s Gretsch “Twang Machine”, Prince’s “Cloud” guitar, Paul McCartney’s violin shaped left-handed Hofner Bass Guitar, Jimmy Page’s Gibson Les Paul, and Jimi Hendrix’s Stratocaster. Electric guitars have been an important part of our lives, and continue to play a critical role in modern music.