Lots of things are considered symbols of America. Apple Pie, Baseball, Muscle Cars, and Rock and Roll. And if you’ll allow me to add one more to the list, I’d have to say the Electric Guitar. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that few things symbolize the freedom that we have here in the US more than what the Electric Guitar represents -the spirit of Rock and Roll. In the 1950’s Rock and Roll was born and it was no coincidence that the first mass produced Electric Guitar came into this world in 1950. And much like many a budding Guitar Player since then, it was the Electric Guitar that first truly sparked my interest in Music. But like many of us interested in this wonderful symbol of our Rock and Roll heritage, first learning about Electric Guitars was a bit confusing to me. What are the difference between the various styles of these Guitars? What does each kind sound like? What’s the best choice for the style of music I want to play? Here is the low down on the three most common and popular Electric Guitar body styles.
- The Fender Telecaster: In 1950 Leo Fender revolutionized the world with the first mass produced, solid body Electric Guitar. Originally called the Broadcaster, it was renamed the Telecaster ( inspired by another new invention the “Tele” – vision ) due to patent issues. While it’s known as one of the more spartan Electric Guitars due to it’s simple, straight forward operation, it’s nonetheless a tried and true design (a lipstick pickup,a single coil pickup, tone, and volume controls). What’s really unique about the Telecaster however, is it’s bright, cutting tone often heard in country music, for which it is commonly known. It is however, quite a versatile instrument and can be heard in styles such as rock, blues, and jazz. To hear some of the masters of the Telecaster, check out Danny Gatton, Roy Buchanon, and Mike Stern.
- The Fender Stratocaster: Four years later, in 1954, Fender introduced the Stratocaster and yet again changed the landscape of American Music. The new, contoured design supposedly influenced by 1950’s muscle cars, introduced some new features such as 3 single coil pickups, 2 tone controls, volume, and a vibrato bar. These new features spawned a whole new palette of sound which in turn influenced all kinds of popular music for years to come. It is perhaps for this reason that the Stratocaster is a bit more versatile than it’s predecessor, the Telecaster. To hear some of the finest music ever played on a “Strat” (as it is commonly known), check out Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Wayne Krantz, and Buddy Guy.
- The Gibson Les Paul: In 1952, the Gibson Guitar Company issued forth it’s Les Paul model guitar. Named after the famous Jazz / Pop guitar player of the same name, the Les Paul featured a marked departure from Fenders Telecaster and later Stratocaster guitars. In both sound and design, the Les Paul was different. Here was now a guitar more reminiscent of Gibson’s earlier Jazz Guitar designs but with a solid body as well as 2 humbucking pickups, 2 tone controls, and 2 volume controls. The result is a darker, thicker sound with more sustain. And while it’s suitable for any kind of music, it’s often associated with hard rock, blues, and sometimes jazz. Prominent Les Paul players include Jimmy Page, Al Di Meola, Randy Rhoads, and of course, Les Paul.
Hopefully this all helps shed some light on at least the beginnings of what Electric Guitars are all about. And while there are many more derivatives of the three designs mentioned here, I think this represents a great deal of what’s typically used by people who love and play the Electric Guitar. I have to admit this article only scratches the surface of this subject but now it’s up to you to take it from here and do your own explorations. Go to your local Guitar shop and check them all out – see what speaks to you. Soon you’ll be on your way to creating your own new sounds and sonic explorations. Now what could be more American than that?! To learn more about how to play Electric Guitar, contact us.