‘Rock and Roll’ inspired through the strings

By Staff Writer
December 8, 2006

San Jose Mercury News/MCT

The guitar, in its many forms, could quite easily be described as one of the most popular instruments in modern history and contemporary music. It is one of those instruments that are available at any music store in one if it’s various forms and price points. The six-stringed guitar as we know it has been around for approximately 5,000 years, originating in Asia, with the first of the type of acoustic guitars we know today being made in Naples, Italy, in 1779 by Gaetano Vinaccia.

The two main types of guitars are the basic six-string acoustic and electric guitars. There are thousands of companies out there that make guitars ranging anywhere from $99 to $15,000 and more.

The two most popular companies, due to the famous instruments created by them, are Fender and Gibson. Fender is known for creating the Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars, as well as inventing the first electric bass, the Precision bass. Before that, musicians had to lug around the cumbersome standup bass, so Leo Fender decided to create a bass that could be amplified the same way as an electric guitar. For his Strat and Tele guitars, the bolt on neck was very innovative. Prior to this, guitars had glued-in necks, making repairs more costly and difficult. He wanted to make his instruments so that if something were to break or have a defect, it could be easily repaired or replaced. The Stratocaster was also the first solidbody electric guitar to feature a tremolo bar, for dive effects and vibrato. The Stratocaster and Telecaster designs have been copied countless amounts of time over the years, but nothing is as good as the original. The list of players that use fender electric guitars include Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen, Janick Gers, Dave Murray and Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden and various other artists.

Gibson is well known mostly for the Les Paul signature line of guitars. Gibson had signed a contract with guitarist Les Paul in the early fifties to design a signature solidbody electric guitar. What he designed and had released in 1954 would live on to this day as being one of the best sounding, easiest playing and most legendary guitars in history. It is vastly different from anything fender did. It was a single cutaway, glued-in neck electric, with no tremolo bar and different, hotter sounding pickups. It originally came in two colors: gold and black. Gold was the first choice because it represents all things fine, according to Paul, and black because a player’s hands would be easier to see against an inky black background. When sales began to decline in the late ’50s, more solid and sunburst colors were introduced, but this could not save the Les Paul, for it was discontinued after 1960 for almost a decade. The SG model replaced the Les Paul, and the Les Paul was reintroduced in 1969 after Gibson was bought out. Both guitars remain in production to this day. Notable Les Paul players include Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, the late Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls and James Williamson of The Stooges.

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