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Why the electric guitar?

The electrification of the guitar opened up a wealth of world-conquering worlds of sound and its popularity has seldom waned in the decades since. It changed the world of popular music and became crucial to various genres- pop, rock and roll, blues, jazz, funk, indie etc. But why only the guitar? Why did the electric banjo, mandolin, bass (the electric bass is a guitar rather than an electric double bass), violin, cello, trumpet, sax or piano (strictly speaking- rhodes and Wurlies are different instruments rather than electrically amplified acoustic pianos) never gain any (or only a little) traction? What's so unique about the guitar that an electric transformation of it was so revolutionary? Another way to put it- without the guitar, 'electrification' (as opposed to basic amplification) of acoustic instruments would have had little impact.

I can think of a few reasons.

By the 1940s the guitar (acoustic or electric) was established as a uniquely central and versatile in Western popular music (cheap, portable, easy to learn, adapted to western chordal harmony etc).

The acoustic guitar went great with the voice but was rather quiet so amplification was needed.

The acoustic guitar had a sustain deficit that electricity could remedy.

Its tone could withstand a 'roughening' to better effect than most other instruments.

The electric guitar had an extrovert personality the acoustic never had- you could strut on stage with it, 'make love' to it etc.
 

darkogav

Active Member
I think if you look at the evolution of the amplified guitar in Western popular music, it sort of changed from being an amplified instrument for larger halls and venues to becoming a different instrument as new effects and technology were created and added to it.

If you just track the evolution of the electrified instrument in American music. If your look at Chet Atkins when he was with Mother Maybelle Carter, he is electrified because his parts would have not been heard with the accompaniment of the other instruments. But what you hear there is a totally different instrument than what you hear it being used as 15 or so years later in the 60s by Hendrix with all the fuzz and effects. It’s not the same instrument even though it shares the same characteristics.


 
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ptram

Senior Member
But why only the guitar? Why did the electric banjo, mandolin, bass (the electric bass is a guitar rather than an electric double bass), violin, cello, trumpet, sax or piano (strictly speaking- rhodes and Wurlies are different instruments rather than electrically amplified acoustic pianos) never gain any (or only a little) traction?
As for the piano, I would say mostly because jumping with it on a stage is not easy, nor recommended.

As for the other instruments, I think there is an explicit sexual symbolism in the guitar, that would be much less effective with the violin (wrong position) o banjo (wrong size).

Paolo
 
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applegrovebard

Member
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As for the piano, I would say mostly because jumping with it on a stage is not easy, nor recommended.

As for the other instruments, I think there is an explicit sexual symbolism in the guitar, that would be much less effective with the violin (wrong position) o banjo (wrong size).

Paolo
In modern times (20th-21st century) the guitar has just hit the spot in so many ways (even among closely related instruments- lute, mandolin etc). As far as sexiness is concerned perhaps the sax is its only rival.
 

Henu

Senior Member
"And nothing is more blasphemous than a properly played distorted guitar."

-Frank Zappa
 

Jimmy Hellfire

Senior Member
Portability and enough tonal range. That's all. And of course also the discovery that when distorted, it produces the best and most important sound in the world.

The tabloid clichés on the other hand strike me as weird. Extrovert personality, sexual energy ... come on. That's shit non-musicians say.

It's like when people go "oh martial arts, that's like, you use your opponent's power against them, right?" No man, I use my power against them.
 

NekujaK

Boar on the Floor
In general, the guitar is musically a much more versatile instrument than mandolin or banjo, when you consider note range, tonality, and range of musical applications. Thus, it's a popular instrument for people to pick up and learn to play.

When it became electrified, all the thousands of people with guitars of their own wanted to emulate their musical heroes, creating an environment of expanding experimentation and innovation.

And yeah, it has a sexy factor too. It's difficult to imagine EVH blistering his way through a banjo solo and still looking cool :)
 

RonOrchComp

Senior Member
Because the banjo, mandolin, bass, violin, cello, trumpet, sax and piano can not, under any circumstances whatsoever, be called an AXE.
 

darkogav

Active Member
In modern times (20th-21st century) the guitar has just hit the spot in so many ways (even among closely related instruments- lute, mandolin etc). As far as sexiness is concerned perhaps the sax is its only rival.
In folk and country music, it was more about portability. A mandolin or banjo is very portable, and because of its timbre, you could hear it in the rural areas from far away. Hence the musicians traveled and carried those instruments.
 

RonOrchComp

Senior Member
But seriously, it's because of the pick-ups. The other instruments would have a difficult/impossible time properly housing pick-ups, and therefore making amplification almost impossible. Sure, there is the electric violin, but some people do not consider that a real violin.
 

darkogav

Active Member
But seriously, it's because of the pick-ups. The other instruments would have a difficult/impossible time properly housing pick-ups, and therefore making amplification almost impossible. Sure, there is the electric violin, but some people do not consider that a real violin.
They have pickups for banjos and mandolins

There used to be a band of acoustic instrumental virtuosos called New Grass Revival that was sort of a jazzed up fusion country band. Bela Fleck was in that band. The instruments are all amplified and retain their timbre qualities without sounding like a synth.

 

MartinH.

Senior Member
And of course also the discovery that when distorted, it produces the best and most important sound in the world.
I think this is the answer right there, the next question is why does that sound so good? Cello comes somewhat close if processed right, but guitar is way easier and cheaper to learn.


Imho we should do more to gain a solid understanding of why certain sounds and sound combinations are pleasurable and others are not. E.g. disable the cabsim on a guitar ampsim and it sounds terrible, but can we articulate why exactly this is such a harsh difference? Or which sound fits well to which other sound, based on their overtone content? How this could be used to make more intentional choices during sounddesign instead of tweaking plugins till it "sounds right"?
 

Jimmy Hellfire

Senior Member
disable the cabsim on a guitar ampsim and it sounds terrible, but can we articulate why exactly this is such a harsh difference?
Well in this case it's a simple matter. The cabinet loaded with speakers is the electric guitar's soundhole. So either we need a cab, or an IR that simulates the cabsim. You wouldn't wanna record 6 horns in a cardboard box either. :grin:
 
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