Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Guitar!

The Guitar: The Instrument The Rocked The World.

Last year, about 3 million guitars were sold worldwide. That's more than all other instruments combined! Clearly this data indicates a large popularity for this relatively recent musical instrument.   

Though its ancestors date back to pre-recorded times, the earliest 'guitar' dates back to the Renaissance. A neck, which contained a fret board and tuning pegs, was attached to a hollowed out wooden body to project the sound of the strings. These early guitars were all acoustic, requiring no electricity. This is where six strings were strung together to create an instrument that could play chords (two or more notes played together) or melodic lines in which notes could create basic musical sentences, note by note. The evolution of the guitar happened slowly over a few hundred years with basic changes to the types of shapes, materials, and sizes. The landmark evolutionary step for the guitar was in 1932 when, for the first time ever, it went electric. Like many inventions, the electric guitar came about as a necessity. In the 1930s Hawaiian styled slide guitar compositions were very popular. The guitar was commonly accompanied by various other instruments ranging from the bombastic percussion to loud and blaring horns! This presented a problem to the guitar players that who wanted to be able to be heard in their various musical combos.  

In 1932 George Beauchamp, Adolph Rickenbacker and a few others founded a company to manufacture a guitar that could be amplified. These steps would lead to a musical revolution that now yields the sale of 3 million units annually. So, how did they do this? Well, the answer lies in one of the most powerful forces that exists in our natural world, electromagnetism. The component added was the pick-up. The pick-up is a bar magnet surrounded by a tightly wound wire. This wire is wrapped around the magnet several thousand times. The pick-up is placed near the steel strings of a guitar. The motion of the strings, when plucked or strummed, creates a vibration in the magnetic field thus sending a current through the wire. That current comes out as a small electrical signal. Well, small's not going to cut it if we want to compete with drums and brass. So, the signal was then sent into a radio, which has the ability to amplify or boost electrical pulses and signals. This would create a larger more audible version of that electrical signal. This was the first time an electric guitar signal was sent through an amplifier to create a louder signal that could compete with the accompanying instruments.  

Soon after, this technology was harnessed by many other musical and technological explorers. Varying designs on both the guitar and the amplifier quickly started to appear. The evolution of the guitar took a drastic shift once this technical component was added. Currently there are thousands upon thousands of types of guitars and amplifiers ranging from the simple and basic to the bizarre and complicated. 

This new instrument was an integral player in the creation of new genres of music. The older classical orchestral music had no composed parts for guitar so new compositions were needed. Though there are some classical pieces that feature the guitar, the instruments footprint on the musical world really was made clear once musicians started to play blues, jazz, country, and bluegrass. These were the predecessors to nearly everything we hear on the radio today. Once the evolution of the instrument started to take shape, the evolution of genres quickly followed. Many musicians such as Robert Johnson, B.B.King, Fats Domino, and Jackie Brenston were helping establish the new genre of rock and roll, but there was much more in store for the guitar in the very near future. 

In the early 1940s a young truck driver in Alabama took standard blues music and presented it with a slightly faster tempo and a more pronounced back beat. That truck driver was one of the many people who helped create a brand new style of music that was, as of then, a pretty uncommon sound in the average American household. What was the music?  Rock and Roll.  Who was the truck driver? Elvis Presley. Presley would later go on to be called 'The King of Rock Music'. With the influence of these early blues based musical pioneers, a fleet of musicians from around the planet started to perfect their 'rock' sound, including a quartet from Liverpool, England. The Beatles released their first album in 1963 and created a seemingly unstoppable musical trajectory. The fab four ushered in a cultural revolution that would change the guitar forever. For the first time ever a guitar based musical group was upheld in the public limelight as international celebrities. The guitar driven sound of the mop-top quartet became a staple on radio and television across the world. Soon after, other guitar-led musicians would sweep international media and inspire generations of future musicians.

The guitar is the instrument that rocked the world. 

No comments: