Electric Guitars

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Photo by Frame Harirak

Liz Waid and Adam Navis look at the history and sound of one of the most important modern musical instruments – the electric guitar.

Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2

And I’m Adam Navis. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

This is the sound of a music instrument, the guitar. Versions of the modern guitar have existed for almost one thousand years. People have used the guitar all over the world. But in the nineteen thirties, one thing changed guitar music: electricity.

Voice 2

Today’s Spotlight is on the Electric Guitar. The Electric Guitar is at the centre of most popular music. It shaped modern music more than any other musical instrument. The sound of the electric guitar became THE sound of rock and roll music. Now, musicians use electric guitars without thinking about it. But only eighty years ago electric guitars did not even exist.

Electric guitar on black surface
Photo by Jeremy Allouche
Voice 1

In America in the nineteen thirties, swing music was popular. This is Duke Ellington. The song is called Jubilee Stomp. Large musical groups would play to large groups of people. Listeners would dance to the music. Guitars were not the centre of this music. They were too quiet. Other instruments were louder; the guitar was overpowered by the other instruments. The guitar needed to get louder.

Voice 2

The problem was that it was not easy to make guitars louder. The only way was to make it bigger. This led to some very big guitars. But they were difficult to play. And sometimes they did not sound right.

Voice 1

There were several people working to make guitars louder. The main design added magnets to guitars. These magnets sensed the movement of the steel guitar string. Then the magnets changed the movement into an electric signal. This signal was played through an amplifier, a device to make the sound louder.

Voice 2

But the main problem was called feedback. This happened for a simple reason. The magnets repeated the sound from the amplifier again and again. But one man, named Les Paul, solved this problem. He created a guitar made of solid wood. This stopped the feedback. And it created the modern electric guitar.

Voice 1

Some people debated if the new electric guitar was a real musical instrument. But it became so popular that people had to accept it. At first, the electric guitar was played much like an acoustic, just louder. But soon, guitar players made an interesting discovery. Electric guitars were able to make new kind of sounds. It became the driving force behind music. This was the beginning of rock and roll music. One man who did this was Chuck Berry. Here is an example of his music.

Voice 2

By the nineteen sixties, there were two main makers of electric guitars. They were Fender and Gibson. Both made high quality guitars. But they did not cost a lot of money. This appealed to America’s young people. The electric guitar became a way for people to express themselves.

row of hanging electric guitars
Photo by Hal Gatewood 
Voice 1

At this time, musicians were using the electric guitar in all kinds of music. But rock and roll music was the most popular music. Guitar players tried to use the different sounds of the electric guitar in their music. Some even used feedback from the amplifier. One guitar player who did this was Jimi Hendrix. Many people consider him the greatest guitar player ever. Let’s listen to his style

Voice 2

Jimi Hendrix did wild things when he would play the guitar. Sometimes he would break it or set it on fire. Many guitar players tried to do different things. They tried to develop their own sound. This permitted many different methods of guitar playing to develop.

Voice 1

There are blues players like B.B. King:

Voice 2

There are players like Eddie Van Halen. He hits the strings with two hands. This permits him to play very fast.

Voice 1

And there are players like The Edge from the Band U2. He adds different machines, or effects, to his guitar. This creates different sounds. He says:

Voice 3

“There is a difference between me and other guitar players. I do not use effects to color my parts. I create guitar parts using effects. They are an important element of what I do. They are a part of the art.”

Voice 2

Let’s listen to how he uses the electric guitar to create his music.

Voice 1

Carlos Santana uses the electric guitar in music from Mexico.

Voice 2

There are so many different kinds of players that we cannot list them all. Electric Guitars are now the centre of almost all popular music. It is played all around the world. It is difficult to find a kind of music that has not been influenced by the electric guitar. The electric guitar has changed modern music more than any other musical instrument. And it continues to shape music today.

Voice 1

The writer and producer of this program was Adam Navis. The voices you heard were from the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. Computer users can hear our programs, read our scripts, and see our word list on our website at http://www.Radio.English.net. This program is called “The Electric Guitar.”

Voice 2

If you have a comment or question for Spotlight you can email us. Our email address is radio@English.net. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Thank you for listening. Goodbye!

Question:

Do you have a favorite band that uses an electric guitar? Write your answer in the comments below?

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