Electric Guitar Is The Sound Of The 20th Century

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Electric Guitar By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Guitar » Electric Guitar
Last updated: 02/03/2018
Tags: electric guitar, gypsy jazz, jazz, rock guitar teacher

What did the twentieth century sound like? Like no other, that's for sure! In previous centuries the loudest sounds were probably a crying baby, a church organ, a thunder clap or a steam train. For the most part it must have been comparatively very quiet without the PA speakers and piped music of the modern era.

In the west, the twentieth century heralded a new age of bright lights and loud music, an adrenalin-fuelled century of massive social and technological change at a pace never imagined in the past.

Embracing this change was a new breed of musician and instruments. In the nineteenth century, volume in music meant numbers of musicians - large orchestras could cater to big audiences, but with the advent of the power amplifier and loudspeaker, all this changed. First singers benefited from this with the microphone, but over time the development of new instruments meant that a band of three or four players could entertain thousands.

Enter the genre of rock and roll and at the centre of this music, the electric guitar. Invented in 1931 by Gorge Beauchamp, essentially for jazz musicians who had to compete with larger big band brass sections, the modified instrument soon came to the forefront of popular music. First in jazz (with players such as Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian) and in the 1950s with this new style that captured the imagination of the forward looking youth of the day.

Desperate to forge a new, liberated social identity out of the ashes of the war, the immediacy and power of the new instrument seemed to represent the new power of the individual. A single musician suddenly had the voice and presence of a huge band. For many this coincided with a philosophy of individualism and personal freedom. The 'century of the self' (Adam Curtis) was at full steam, and personal experience the regulator of meaning. By the late 1960s the electric guitar had, in the hands of musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, become an iconic totem capable of expressing with shrieks and howls the fears and anxieties of a nuclear age generation.

The ubiquity of the electric guitar in popular music since the sixties went hand in hand with huge sales of the instrument. Generating billions of dollars in revenue in the US alone, the instrument truly became the sound of the twentieth century; on the radio, on the TV, from behind millions of closed bedroom doors, and even on the streets with the advent of battery powered amplifiers.

Predictably the playing styles of the instrument also blossomed. In fact it might be said that no other instrument has undergone such an evolution, especially in terms of the sound worlds that have been produced. With the introduction of effects units and technical playing advances made possible by ever more refined instrument design (for example tapping on the neck by Stanley Jordan - facilitating a more piano-like contrapuntal approach) whole new sub-genres of music have been born or subverted. From thunderous walls of sound in American metal, to sparkling rhythmic duets of east African dance music, the more melodic blues of west African artists such as Malian musician Ali Farka Tour, and Carnatic (south Indian) master R. Prasanna, the instrument is as versatile and various as the hands that play it.

Ultimately though it is as a symbol of western counter culture that the instrument prevailed. From The Beatles to Punk and neoclassical rock of the eighties, grunge and Brit-pop of the nineties the sound world of the electric guitar dominated the airwaves of the twentieth century.

Matthew Bacon Electric Guitar Teacher (East London)

About The Author

Drawing on over twenty five years of performing in many different musical situations and styles, I tailor my lessons to suite the students musical interests and needs.

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