Electric guitar

Epiphone Les Paul electric guitar

The Electric guitar is a type of musical instrument. It was made in 1931 by George Beauchamp. It is a string instrument usually played with a pick and sometimes with the fingers. It uses things called "electric pickups" which are wire-wound magnets that change the vibration of the strings into electric current. This electric current is then sent to an amplifier that changes it to sound. This electric current can also be changed to produce effects. The main parts of an electric guitar are the neck, the pickups, the tuners, the bridge, the input, the body, the frets, the pick guard, the volume knobs and the tone knobs. There may also be other parts that can change other sounds. A normal electric guitar has one neck with 6 strings on it, although there are 12 string guitars and guitars with more than one neck.

Guitars are made and sold in many parts of the world by many companies. They can be hand made or factory made. Some companies that make electric guitars are Fender, Gibson, and Ibanez.

Introduction to playing

  • The strings of a guitar are normally tuned to the keys EBGDAE (starting from the highest sounding string).
  • Electric guitars normally have 21, 22 or 24 frets.
  • Going up the fret board towards the body(from the head), the notes are E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#. Each fret closer to the body raises the pitch by a semitone.
  • It is normal for the fingers to hurt from fretting when starting out. The skin on the fingers will quickly become accustomed to this, depending on the amount of practice.

Reading guitar tablature

Many guitarists today share their music through a system called tablature (commonly known as 'tab'). Tablature is a way of reading notes for a guitar. It is much simpler than musical notes, but most tabs do not support rhythm. Many tabs can be found online or in books and magazines.

To read guitar tab, generally there is a staff like this:

high E ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
B ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
G ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
D ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
low E ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Each line represents a string. Tab is always read as if the player were holding the guitar on their lap, strings facing up. Each number then represents what fret the finger is placed on.

E -----------------0------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
B -----------------0------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
G --1-------------1-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
D ----2-----------2-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A ------2---------2-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
E -----------------0------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The above diagram would be to play an open E chord, picking each string individually, and then strumming the chord. If the notes are stacked directly above each other, it means to strum the chord.

Some guitar music is written in both musical note format and tablature. The musical notes are written out, with the corresponding tablature under each line of notes.


Electric Guitar (Superstrat based on ESP KH - vertical) - with hint lines and numbers
1. Headstock
1.1 machine heads
1.2 truss rod cover
1.3 string guide
1.4 nut
2. Neck
2.1 fretboard
2.2 inlay fret markers
2.3 frets
2.4 neck joint
3. Body
3.1 "neck" pickup
3.2 "bridge" pickup
3.3 saddles
3.4 bridge
3.5 fine tuners and tailpiece assembly
3.6 whammy bar (vibrato arm)
3.7 pickup selector switch
3.8 volume and tone control knobs
3.9 output connector (output jack)(TS)
3.10 strap buttons
4. Strings
4.1 bass strings
4.2 treble strings

Electric guitar design and construction vary greatly in the shape of the body and the configuration of the neck, bridge, and pickups. However, some features are present on most guitars. The photo below shows the different parts of an electric guitar. The headstock (1) contains the metal machine heads (1.1), which use a worm gear for tuning. The nut (1.4)—a thin fret-like strip of metal, plastic, graphite or bone—supports the strings at the headstock end of the instrument. The frets (2.3) are thin metal strips that stop the string at the correct pitch when the player pushes a string against the fingerboard. The truss rod (1.2) is a metal rod (usually adjustable) that counters the tension of the strings to keep the neck straight. Position markers (2.2) provide the player with a reference to the playing position on the fingerboard.

The neck and fretboard (2.1) extend from the body. At the neck joint (2.4), the neck is either glued or bolted to the body. The body (3) is typically made of wood with a hard, polymerized finish. Strings vibrating in the magnetic field of the pickups (3.1, 3.2) produce an electric current in the pickup winding that passes through the tone and volume controls (3.8) to the output jack. Some guitars have piezo pickups, in addition to or instead of magnetic pickups.

Some guitars have a fixed bridge (3.4). Others have a spring-loaded hinged bridge called a vibrato bar, tremolo bar, or whammy bar, which lets players bend notes or chords up or down in pitch or perform a vibrato embellishment. A plastic pickguard on some guitars protects the body from scratches or covers the control cavity, which holds most of the wiring. The degree to which the choice of woods and other materials in the solid-guitar body (3) affects the sonic character of the amplified signal is disputed. Many believe it is highly significant, while others think the difference between woods is subtle. In acoustic and archtop guitars, wood choices more clearly affect tone.

Woods typically used in solid-body electric guitars include alder (brighter, but well rounded), swamp ash (similar to alder, but with more pronounced highs and lows), mahogany (dark, bassy, warm), poplar (similar to alder), and basswood (very neutral). Maple, a very bright tonewood, is also a popular body wood, but is very heavy. For this reason it is often placed as a "cap" on a guitar made primarily of another wood. Cheaper guitars are often made of cheaper woods, such as plywood, pine or agathis—not true hardwoods—which can affect durability and tone. Though most guitars are made of wood, any material may be used. Materials such as plastic, metal, and even cardboard have been used in some instruments.

The guitar output jack typically provides a monaural signal. Many guitars with active electronics use a jack with an extra contact normally used for stereo. These guitars use the extra contact to break the ground connection to the on-board battery to preserve battery life when the guitar is unplugged. These guitars require a mono plug to close the internal switch and connect the battery to ground. Standard guitar cables use a high-impedance 1/4-inch (6.35-mm) mono plug. These have a tip and sleeve configuration referred to as a TS phone connector. The voltage is usually around 1 to 9 millivolts.

A few guitars feature stereo output, such as Rickenbacker guitars equipped with Rick-O-Sound. There are a variety of ways the "stereo" effect may be implemented. Commonly, but not exclusively, stereo guitars route the neck and bridge pickups to separate output buses on the guitar. A stereo cable then routes each pickup to its own signal chain or amplifier. For these applications, the most popular connector is a high-impedance 1/4-inch plug with a tip, ring and sleeve configuration, also known as a TRS phone connector. Some studio instruments, notably certain Gibson Les Paul models, incorporate a low-impedance three-pin XLR connector for balanced audio. Many exotic arrangements and connectors exist that support features such as midi and hexaphonic pickups.

Guitar amplifier

A Fender Bassman amp head with a 15" speaker cabinet.

The solid-body electric guitar does not produce enough sound for an audience to hear it in a performance setting unless it's electronically amplified—plugged into an amplifier, mixing console, or PA.

Guitar amplifier design uses a different approach than sound reinforcement system power amplifiers and home "hi-fi" stereo systems. Audio amplifiers generally are intended to accurately reproduce the source signal without adding unwanted tonal coloration (i.e., they have a flat frequency response) or unwanted distortion. In contrast, most guitar amplifiers provide tonal coloration and overdrive or distortion of various types. A common tonal coloration sought by guitarists is rolling off some of the high frequencies. Along with a guitarist's playing style and choice of electric guitar and pickups, the choice of guitar amp model is a key part of a guitarist's unique tone. Many top guitarists are associated with a specific brand of guitar amp. As well, electric guitarists in blues, rock and many related sub-genres often intentionally choose amplifiers or effects units with controls that distort or alter the sound (to a greater or lesser degree).

In the 1950s and 1960s, some guitarists began exploring a wider range of tonal effects by distorting the sound of the instrument. To do this, they used overdrive — increasing the gain of the preamplifier beyond the level where the signal could be reproduced with little distortion, resulting in a "fuzzy" sound. This effect is called "clipping" by sound engineers, because when viewed with an oscilloscope, the wave forms of a distorted signal appear to have had their peaks "clipped off", in the process introducing additional tones (often approximating the harmonics characteristic of a square wave of that basic frequency). This was not actually a new development in the musical instrument or its supporting gear, but rather a shift of aesthetics, such sounds not having been thought desirable previously. Some distortion modes with an electric guitar increase the sustain of single notes and chords, which changes the sound of the instrument. In particular, distortion made it more feasible to perform guitar solos that used long, sustained notes.

After distortion became popular amongst rock music groups, guitar amplifier manufacturers included various provisions for it as part of amplifier design, making amps easier to overdrive, and providing separate "dirty" and "clean" channels so that distortion could easily be switched on and off. The distortion characteristics of vacuum tube amplifiers are particularly sought-after in blues and many rock music genres, and various attempts have been made to emulate them without the disadvantages (e.g., fragility, low power, expense) of actual tubes. Distortion, especially in tube based amplifiers, can come from several sources: power supply sag as more power is demanded than the supply can provide at a steady voltage, deliberate gain over drive of active elements, or alterations in the feedback provisions for various circuit stages.

Guitar amplifiers have long included at least a few effect units, often tone controls for bass and treble, an integrated tremolo system (sometimes incorrectly labeled (and marketed) as vibrato), and/or a mechanical spring reverb unit. In the 2010s, guitar amps often have onboard distortion effects. Some 2010-era amps provide multiple effects, such as chorus, flanger, phaser and octave down effects. The use of offboard effects such as stompbox pedals is made possible by either plugging the guitar into the external effect pedal and then plugging the effect pedal into the amp, or by using one or more effects loops, an arrangement that lets the player switch effects (electrically or mechanically) in or out of the signal path. In the signal chain, the effects loop is typically between the preamplifier stage and the power amplifier stages (though reverb units generally precede the effects loop an amplifier has both). This lets the guitarist add modulation effects to the signal after it passed through the preamplifier—which can be desirable, particularly with time-based effects such as delay. By the 2010s, guitar amplifiers usually included a distortion effect. Effects circuitry (whether internal to an amplifier or not) can be taken as far as amp modeling, by which is meant alteration of the electrical and audible behavior in such a way as to make an amp sound as though it were another (or one of several) amplifiers. When done well, a solid state amplifier can sound like a tube amplifier (even one with power supply sag), reducing the need to manage more than one amp. Some modeling systems even attempt to emulate the sound of different speakers/cabinets. Nearly all amp and speaker cabinet modeling is done digitally, using computer techniques (e.g., Digital Signal Processing or DSP circuitry and software). There is disagreement about whether this approach is musically satisfactory, and also whether this or that unit is more or less successful than another.

Effects units

DS 1 Distortion
A Boss distortion pedal in use

In the 1960s, the tonal palette of the electric guitar was further modified by introducing effect units in its signal path, before the guitar amp, of which one of the earliest units was the fuzz pedal. Effects units come in several formats, the most common of which are the stompbox "pedal" and the rackmount unit. A stomp box (or pedal) is a small metal or plastic box containing the circuitry, which is placed on the floor in front of the musician and connected in line with the patch cord connected to the instrument. The box is typically controlled by one or more foot-pedal on-off switches and it typically contains only one or two effects. Pedals are smaller than rackmount effects and usually less expensive. "Guitar pedalboards" are used by musicians who use multiple stomp-boxes; these may be a DIY project made with plywood or a commercial stock or custom-made pedalboard.

A rackmount effects unit may contain an electronic circuit nearly identical to a stompbox-based effect, but it is mounted in a standard 19" equipment rack, which is usually mounted in a road case that is designed to protect the equipment during transport. More recently, as signal-processing technology continuously becomes more feature-dense, rack-mount effects units frequently contain several types of effects. They are typically controlled by knobs or switches on the front panel, and often by a MIDI digital control interface.

Typical effects include:

  • Effects such as stereo chorus, phasers and flangers, which shift the pitch of the signal by a small and varying amount, creating swirling, shimmering and whooshing noises
  • Effects such as octavers, which displace pitch by an exact musical interval
  • Distortion, such as transistor-style fuzz, effects incorporating, emulating vacuum tube distortion or overdrive
  • Filters, such as wah-wah
  • Envelope shapers, such as compression/sustain or volume/swell
  • Time-shift effects, such as delay and reverb


Electric guitar for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.