Development of the Modern Guitar

For one of my assessments, we were given questions relating to the history of the modern guitar, each asking a different amount of information depending on the topic. Questions that begin or include the following words equal the grade that could be achieved:

Identify = Pass

Describe = Merit

Explain = Distinction

Below is what I wrote in response to each question given.


State when the Martin Guitar Company was founded and identify some of their key design features and further developments, which have gone on to influence virtually all acoustic guitar manufacturers ever since.

Martin Guitars

Martin Guitars was founded in the US in 1833, by a German immigrant called Christian Frederick Martin Sr, and has since stayed a family business, being passed down 5 times to its current chairman, Christian Frederick Martin IV.

All of Martins guitars are handmade, and where pioneers for introducing some of the key features which impacted how an acoustic guitar is made. Some of these included the X internal bracing, making a guitar with 14 frets, and the “dreadnought” size.

The company is also well-known for  the production high quality strings, as it was during the 1920’s that Martin adapted their guitars to accommodate steel strings. They did this by strengthening the neck and moving it further up the body of the guitar, increasing play-ability at the higher frets.

One of their most popular lines is called the Dreadnought, which is named after a British Ship, with the D28 being made in 1935.



Identify two of the most classic Gibson arch top acoustic guitars, state when they were released and suggest how the music of the time influenced their design and to what effect:

Gibson Super 400

When Gibson first started making guitars, their founder Orville Gibson first  creations where arch tops designs,An arch top Guitar usually has the following features:


  • 6 strings
  • has an arched top and back, so isn’t  flat
  • Adjustable Bridge.
  • similar to members of the violin family,by having f-holes, designed to be like a sound hole by allowing the body to vibrate more, allowing the sound boards to move more freely.
  • Includes some form of tailpiece, (hard tail, Bigsby Tremolo etc)
  • 14th-fret neck join

The two which are the most famous are the Gibson L5, released in 1923, and the Gibson Super 400 in 1934. These Guitars were influenced by the Big Band genre which was very popular at the time, with the L5 being considered the premier rhythm guitar of that era.

The main benefit of this type of guitar was volume, since these guitarists in Big Band style groups would be competing for sound amongst a large ensemble of musicians. This laid the foundation for the shape of Gibson’s later hollow body guitars, such as the ES-333, and the shape of some of their later solid bodies, such as the Gibson Les Paul and the Gibson Les Paul Jr.


Describe in simple terms how a Resonator guitar works and what materials are used in their construction.

resonator guitarA resonator guitar uses a series of spun aluminium cones,

which would resonate inside the body of the guitar when something was played, making it significantly louder than an acoustic guitar.

They mainly served as a means to an end, Again with the goal of the resonator within the guitar boosting it volume, giving it a fighting chance when put with horns and percussion instruments.

Not only did it become louder than its acoustic counterpart, but also had a signature sound of its own, still being used in bluegrass and blues styles even when electric guitars where being created to solve the volume problem.

even though the cone is usually made of metal, over the years the body of the guitar which it sits in has been built with different materials, the main two being either the traditional wood, to give a more natural tone, or metal, to increase resonance, making it louder.


What was the Frying Pan Guitar? State when it was built, what is was made of and who designed it. Identify its significance in terms of the history of the development of the modern guitar.

Frying Pan Guitar

The Frying Pan Guitar (or its official name the Rickenbacker Electro A22), was essentially the first electric guitar, consisting of a lap steel design with two-horse shoe magnets surrounding the strings, creating the first ever guitar pick up. It got the nickname due its thin neck and round body resembling a frying pan.


The prototype was made in 1932 by George Beauchamp, Paul Bath, and Harry Watson, and later the design was sold to Rickenbacker two years later. The idea came about when Beauchamp, and avid fan of Hawaiian music, was trying to get more volume from his acoustic guitar, and experimented with it by fitting it with transducers,

However he noticed that when it was being played, the guitar gave an undesirable amount of feedback. due to the sound of the guitar vibrating through body of the guitar. This led Beauchamp to the conclusion that a solid body was needed to reduce these vibrations, so when he drew up the specification for the frying pan, settled on a solid body.

The significance of it was that by fitting the pick-up under the strings, vibrations could be converted into electrical signals, which then in turn, could be electrically amplified by plugging them into a loudspeaker, allowing it to be played at a much higher volume.

It also started the idea of moving away from holly body guitars in search for greater volume, with the industry experimenting with solid body guitars.


Identify when the Gibson Company released their first ‘electric’ guitars, describe how they were constructed and suggest how the musical styles they were associated with influenced their construction.

ES150Gibson released their first electric guitar in 1936, called the ES150 (ES standing for Electric Spanish, being the first of its kind, and the 150 denoting the price at the time.) which followed the style of arch top guitars Gibson had been making for the last 10 or so years.

The main difference between this and a regular arch top was that it had been fitted with a single blade pick-up at the end of the fret board known as the neck position. Like the frying pan before it, it could be played louder by plugging it into a loudspeaker.

The main reason that it was placed closer to the neck was to get a more low to mid range sound, (better suited to blues and jazz) rather than the higher range it would get by positioning it closer to the bridge. This was also due to the guitar still being a considered a rhythm instrument rather than a lead, like piano or brass sections due to at the arch tops inception  them being not as loud.

It was used by the guitarist Charlie Christian, who became synonymous with the ES150, because he showed off its potential as a lead instrument with horn like guitar solos, earning the pick up on the guitar to have the nickname the Charlie Christian Pick up.

The sound produced from the pickup was very clean, due to the narrow blade that was magnetized, and because of the high resistance, not much signal was lost. Though like with future single coils, The pickup produced a lot of Electromagnetic hum, due to it having no shielding and a large surface area.


Explain in detail how the Telecaster was a game-changer in the development of the modern guitar. When was it released, what factors influenced its design, what materials was it made from and how did these impact on its tonal qualities?


The reason the Telecaster was so significant in the history of the guitar was that it was the first solid body guitar with a bolt on neck to be mass-produced. This was done on a factory assembly line, where they would be given the components, which in turn would have been made quickly and inexpensively, and put together one after the other.

Launched by Leo Fender in 1950 under the name the Fender Esquire featuring one, pick-up only. Later in that year it was fitted with two pick-up and renamed the “Broadcaster” but ran into legal trouble due to a company called Gretsh claiming copyright infringement on the Broadcaster name, due to them having a Broadkaster range of drums and banjos. This resulted in Fender taking the name off the head-stock, with the following amount of Broadcasters produced being dubbed “No casters” Once the lawsuit had been settled the Broadcaster was re-released as the Telecaster in 1952.

It was designed to be in the spirit of the Hawaiian Hollow body Rickenbacker designs, but instead of the bodies being made of Bakelite, a plastic polymer, it was made with wood. Typically the body would be made out of Ash, Poplar, Pine or Alder, which would result in the guitar sounding bright, combined with the two single coil pick up, resulted in a brighter, richer sound at the bridge pick up, or a mellow, bluesy sound from the neck.

Because it was designed to be mass-produced, The Guitar was designed to be simple, it had to be relatively easy to make and repair, since this what Leo Fender’s job was before making guitars. Most problems these guitars had where replayed under warranty of purchase, since these guitars didn’t initially have trust rods, so some broke due to bent neck, while others had faulty electronics. Also giving it a massive headway compared to guitars with hollow bodies was that all the wiring was under the scratch plate, which could be un screwed, making it easy to get to.


Describe how the Gibson Les Paul model was released a reaction to the Fender Telecaster and identify how it differed in design and construction from the Fender guitar.

Goldtop Les Paul

The Les Paul was released in 1952, 2 years after Leo Fender’s company stormed the market with the Broadcaster, in an attempt to reclaim the guitar market. The design was made to be the complete opposite of the Broadcaster, resulting in an expensive, handmade, well built, instrument.

Two differences included a glued neck and a more traditionally inspired shape, instead of the bolt on neck and the Hawaiian styled shape of the Fender instrument. It also was constructed out of Mahogany, with a maple top, or rarely swamp ash, giving it a more warm, deep tone, compared the bright or bluesy Broadcaster.

The first ones released where known as Gold Tops, due to the gold finish they were released in, and had 2 P90 pick-ups in them, these where essentially over wound single coils, having more output than a single coil.The log

The idea of a solid body guitar had been proposed to the Gibson Corporation earlier, as the famous jazz guitarist Les Paul had proposed an idea of a solid body guitar 10 years before hand. “The Log” as it was dubbed, consisted of the neck from a L series guitar, with a solid pine strip running through the middle of it.

Gibson at the time, where still producing Arch Tops with Pick-ups in them, and thought it was a crazy idea and rejected it, not predicting the market for the solid body guitar.


Explain how the Fender Stratocaster became one of the most influential guitars in history. When did it debut, what factors influenced its design, what other ‘industry’ were the custom colours adopted from and which famous guitarists adopted it as their instrument if choice?


The Fender Stratocaster was first made in 1954, 4 years after Fenders Game changing Broadcaster. It was designed to be different from its predecessor, having a lot of influential new designs which hadn’t been seen before such as a contoured body shape rather than being flat and slab like, as well as having double cutaways to make the higher frets more accessible. The main emphasis on the guitar was to be easier to play.

It had a string through body design, unlike the Broadcaster and Les Paul, which both had fixed bridges. the Strat employed a Floating tremolo which the saddles are attached to, which underneath is attached by 5 strings, which some player took out 2 to allow them to push on the tremolo bridge to get a vibrato effect.  daphne blue strat

One of the aspects which made it so influential was that it had 3 single coil pick-ups, unlike any guitar at the time which only had one or two, giving it more tonal diversity as the player could choose from either one of different pick-up positions. Later on player found a way to jam the selector between either the Bridge and Middle, or the Middle and Neck, giving them the combined tone of the two pick-ups. Players loved this so much that fender made a 5 way selector switch as standard in 1977.

Another was that it had a different wiring system, unlike the Telecaster which had just one tone control for the two pick-ups, and the Les Paul which had one for each. The Stratocaster was wired so that volume control applied to all of the pick-ups, as well as the top tone control only working for the neck pick-up and the middle pick up for the bottom.

The colour option available at its release was a two-tone sunburst, which stayed until 1960, where fender offered a range of different colours  based off automobile lacquer colours from DuPont, at a 5% extra cost.

Due to the amount of tonal diversity a player can get from the instrument, It’s found a home in many different genres, other than Country, which was intended for.  Some notable players include, Eric Clapton, Richie Black more, David Gilmour, Tom Delonge, and Mark Knofler.


Identify how the tonal characteristics of the ES335 differed from that of solid bodied electric guitars and how this made it suitable for certain styles of music.

Gibson ES335

The ES335 was released in 1958, as an attempt by Gibson to combine past and new between its newer solid body models and its heritage of hollow body arch tops. Even though their Les Paul had better sustain and less feedback than their older guitars, it lacked the brighter tone from their previous models, instead being warm and dark, due to the mahogany it was being made from. But their older models, suffered from having too much feedback, due to excessive vibration within the hollow body of the guitar at louder volumes, but however did have a much brighter tone.

The result of blending the two created the ES335, which consisted of a block of maple running through the centre of the guitar, giving it some of the tonal characteristics of a solid body guitar, as well as having all the pick-ups and neck fitted to it, while having two “wings” which where hollow, letting the sound resonate as it was played, which handled feedback much better.

Because it was neither solid or non solid, but a combination of both, it developed its own unique sound, allowing it to be used in genres ranging from country, to rock, to blues. It was also cheaper than some of Gibson’s other guitars, making it a good compromise between old and new, sonically and by price.



Describe how the Superstrat guitars of the 1980s developed the original Stratocaster design. What styles of music did these design features make them particularly suitable for?

Ibanez RG

A Superstrat is the name given to a guitar that resembles a Fender Stratocaster in appearance, but has been modified so it can be definitely distinguished from a traditional strat.

This type of guitar gained a lot of popularity in the 1980s, with the rise of Heavy Metal in the decade, and as a result, manufacturers, including Fender, began making guitars for this niche market.

The Stratocaster look changed aesthetically, some become more pointer, while being made in a larger array of colours and patterns to make them stand out.

Companies began fitting them with custom humbuckers which could handle high gain outputs over the relatively low gain single coils, while some removed the bridge and middle pick-ups altogether to just to have a bridge pick-up.

The number of frets increased too, with superstrats usually having 24 frets opposed to 21 as standard, allowing the player to have 2 octaves worth of notes to play with,  and having deeper cut a ways in order to access them.

The Floyd Rose double locking tremolo allowed guitarists to “dive bomb” (play a note and then push up and down on the tremolo arm and bend it up or down in pitch) greatly increasing the strats sonic capabilities, this also got rid of the problem with Fenders tremolo arms, as pushing the bar would sometimes lead to the guitar going out of tune.

A notable example of a Superstrat is Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstrat, which was create using a mixture of different guitar parts because he wasnt happy with an off the shelf model.






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