by Al Wielder
The evolution of the guitar in its present form is forever tied to American ingenuity and precision. The development of the modern steel string acoustic guitar and the electric guitar is an American tale. This article will discuss interesting facts about the development of modern acoustic and electric guitars.
The Making Of Gibson Guitar
The logical place to begin our discussion is with the development of the modern steel string acoustic guitar. The modern steel string guitar is certainly an American invention. The instrument was developed and refined in the USA. From the mid to late nineteenth century until the early twentieth century, many immigrants of European descent made their way to the United States. Among these immigrants were extremely skilled musical instrument makers, also known as luthiers. These skilled craftsmen would play a pivotal role in the development of the modern steel string acoustic guitar.
As the acoustic guitar evolved, two different types of guitars would dominate the development of the instrument. The first type of steel string guitar to be developed would come to be known as the "flat-top" guitar. The "flat-top" guitar was a descendant of European classical guitars. The name is derived from the shape of the guitar soundboard. The soundboard is also called the "top".
The second type of steel string acoustic guitar would come to be known as the "arch-top" or "f-hole" guitar. The "arch-top" guitar has a contoured soundboard and back. The soundboard and the back are carved from a single piece of wood. The design and construction of the "arch-top" guitar are descendants of European violin construction techniques.
The two pioneers in American steel string acoustic guitar construction are Gibson and Martin. These companies still exist today and they produce some of the finest American acoustic guitars available. The Gibson "arch-top" guitars are a favorite of many musicians. The Martin company is famous for their "flat-top" Dreadnought guitars. The Martin "flat-top" guitar of choice is the Martin HD-28 or the Martin D-45.
The role of America in modern guitar development defined the evolution of the electric guitar. The electric guitar is an amazing device. It creates excitement and sound unlike any instrument on earth. The electric guitar is a combination of craftsmanship, engineering, physics and electrical power. At the flip of a switch, electric guitars have the ability to create smooth gentle sounds or chaotic hysteria.
In the United States there are many quality electric guitar manufacturers. It would be impossible to mention each one in this brief article about America's role in the development of the electric guitar. I would like to mention the two American guitar manufacturers that are commonly associated with the modern electric guitar. These two manufacturers are Fender and Gibson.
The Fender guitar company was started by Leo Fender in the late 1940's. Leo's purpose was to create an innovative solid body electric guitar. It has been reported that Leo was most concerned with the utilitarian aspect of the guitar rather than its appearance. Leo wanted to build a clean sounding guitar that minimized the feedback problems associated with previous solid body steel guitars.
In 1948, Leo Fender introduced a guitar that was destined to make music history. He called the guitar the Fender Broadcaster. The guitar was made of ash or alder and had a detachable maple neck. The detachable neck was just one of the innovative features associated with the Broadcaster.
The headstock design placed the tuning machines on one side and at an angle. This design was another clever innovation that accented the Broadcaster. The Broadcaster was later re-named the Telecaster. This stellar guitar is still in production today and is sought out by many guitarists around the world.
In 1954 Leo Fender introduced the Stratocaster. This guitar is widely recognized as a design standard for solid-body electric guitars. This standard remains to the present day. The Stratocaster has been immortalized by guitar greats such as Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton.
It is also very important to mention Gibson guitars when considering the role of America in modern guitar development. Gibson electric guitars encompass many styles and models. However, none are more important than the Les Paul. The Les Paul was introduced in 1952. The first Les Paul was equipped with two high-impedance single-coil pickups with cream colored cover plates. It included a three-way pick-up selector switch with separate volume and tone controls. The Les Paul "Standard" that was introduced in 1952 could not have been more aptly named. The Les Paul Standard is a yardstick by which many musicians measure other fine guitars.
The Les Paul guitars that were created from 1957 to 1960 are regarded as some of the finest solid body electric guitars ever made. As a result, they are some of the most coveted guitars in the world.
Most serious electric guitar players will tell you they have owned or will own a Fender or a Gibson electric guitar. These fine guitars are a benchmark and a plateau for other guitars to emulate. Chances are, if you are a guitar player, you own a piece of this American heritage.
The modern guitar era is far from over. It will be very exciting to see the future development of acoustic and electric guitars. One thing you can be sure of, America will be there and it is likely that Martin, Gibson and Fender will play a direct role in the creation of the next generation of "Super Guitars".