In Praise of the Electric Guitar

Geordie from Killing Joke once said that the guitar is the perfect polyphonic instrument, because it’s as rhythmically accurate as a drum, yet you can play chords on it. I’d go a step further and say that the electric guitar is the ultimate instrument, period. It makes other instruments seem so…limited. Try playing a few chords on your saxophone or getting some vibrato out of your piano and you’ll understand what I mean. Also, the electric guitar has a range of timbres unheard of in classical instruments, and exceeded only by the synthesizer. Since the guitar is dependent on its electronics for much of its sound, choices of equipment can make the guitar sound beautiful or ugly, mellow or aggressive. I love it. I love the dark sparkle of fat altered jazz chords played on some hollow-bodied beast, I love the shimmer and cluck of a country shredder abusing a Telecaster, and I love plugging my Les Paul into my Mesa and cranking it until my pant legs are flapping in the breeze.

Another great thing about the electric guitar is that, for about $1500, you can have an absolute professional quality instrument, the instrument your heroes play. For $5000, you can have a hand-crafted gem that represents the pinnacle of the guitar builder’s art. Hell, for $200 you can get something perfectly playable, not to mention suitable for covering in stickers. Try walking into your local luthier’s shop and see how much violin $1500 will buy you. Because of their low price and ready availability, electric guitars have changed the world. There’s something very leveling and empowering about an instrument that most 15 year old kids can afford, yet remains the instrument of choice for millionaires. In much the same way that guerilla soldiers all over the world seem to tote AK-47s – because they’re cheap and plentiful – the electric guitar has become the weapon of choice for musical rebels everywhere. The face of music has changed more in the sixty years since the advent of the electric guitar than in the three hundred years prior. There are really only two kinds of music out there today: music that has been changed radically thanks to the electric guitar (e.g. jazz, blues, country) and music that wouldn’t even exist without it (e.g. rock and roll, heavy metal).

I’m done. Go plug in and play your guitar. \m/:mad:\m/

Hear, hear.

I wonder how much different the latter half of the 20th century might have looked without the influence of rock music, which without the electric guitar, might never have appeared. I likewise wonder how much more of my hearing I’d have today had the electric guitar never been invented. Further, I hereby proclaim Leo Fender to be one of the foremost geniuses of industrial design in the history of human civilization on Earth or any other planet, including that planet where Tom Cruise was born.

Well, time to strap on the old Strat. :slight_smile:

Funnily enough, only yesterday I picked up a second-hand Strat copy (a KCC) for my son’s birthday, and had some fun messing about with it. But it reminded me why I never took up the guitar as more than a minor hobby, and why I sold my own instrument (a Martin acoustic) years ago.

The true king of instruments is the piano, and that king sired many fine princes, including the Hammond tonewheel organ, the Fender Rhodes and, of course, the synthesizer in its many forms.

In comparison to this panoply of royalty, the guitar is merely a commoner - a lump of wood with strings. All the more reason to admire Django and Santana and Peña and Zappa and Pass and friends for their dedication in the face of such a primitive tool - with its mere 6-note maximum polyphony and finger-stretching chordal badness.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case. :cool:

These go to eleven.

Thank you, Liberace. :smiley:

Now, let’s hear you belt out Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” on your piano, in all of that instrument’s anachronistic, tinkling, monotimbral, polyphonic glory - I’m sure it’ll sound just like “Swan Lake.” :wink:

From Tom Lehrer’s intro to Folk Song Army:


When I was a little boy, before Jimi Hendrix picked up an ax and before I knew of Django Rheinhardt, (I probably didn’t spell that right) the mighty pipe organ seemed very impressive. One person could be impossibly loud, with a wild variety of tone options. I’m still impressed with that.

I’m pretty sure that’s the same reason I’m knocked out by electric guitars. One guitarist can be louder than the biggest pipe organ, with all the stops pulled out. With artistic technique and boundless doodads, the guitarist can play anything he can dream. If he’s good enough, anyway.

With that in mind, it’s interesting that there isn’t more crossover between the two instruments. Sure, there’s E. Power Biggs at the Fillmore, but that’s really unusual. Bart Simpson wore out the church organist by sneaking in “In The Garden Of Eden” by I. Ron Butterfly, but that was fiction. Wasn’t it? :wink: