History Of Guitar Essay

So when I first started working with co-curator Gary Sturm on an exhibition about the invention of the electric guitar at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, our driving question was: Why electrify this centuries-old instrument?In the hands of guitarists like Buddy Holly, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, and many others, the Stratocaster became an icon of American rock and roll that took the world by storm.The Stratocaster, the Gibson Les Paul, and other solid-body electrics were nothing if not versatile, and rock guitarists were obsessed with versatility.Even as a 13-year-old who grew up primarily listening to, and playing, classical music, I felt compelled to run out and buy his band’s “1984” LP at my local Tower Records store.Rock ’n’ roll is an industry that’s continually pushing musical, social, and cultural boundaries, and the electric guitar is its iconic instrument.The pickup, a device that converts the strings’ vibrations into electrical signals that can be amplified, was bulky and unattractive, but it worked.The commercial version of the Frying Pan was a hollow cast-aluminum lap-steel guitar, and wasn’t an immediate hit beyond some Hawaiian, country, and blues musicians.In the 1970s and ’80s the sound of the electric guitar was stretched in heavy metal music.As one of its leading practitioners, Van Halen pushed his self-built “Frankenstein” (based on a Stratocaster but with a mish-mash of other guitar parts) to the limit, experimenting, for instance, with “dive-bombing,” which uses the tremolo arm to drive the guitar’s lowest note ever lower.It differs from the traditional Spanish-style guitar in that it is played horizontally, on a stand or in the player’s lap, and has a sliding steel bar that can be moved along the frets for a gliding effect.Spanish-style electrics, which you could sling in front of you while standing and singing, proved to be much more versatile for many different musical genres.


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