Today it is very common for us to see different models of electric guitars. Each one with its special characteristics, components, its design, and its sound. The truth is that in their beginnings these guitars broke with all established forms.
Historically, all guitars were modeled after the Spanish guitar, even electric ones, until solid-body guitars came along. It was the 50s, and Jazz, swing, soul, and country musicians expressed the need to sustain a note for a longer time, as well as an amplified sound in order to cover a larger audience. These were the main factors that led to the development of the first solid-body guitars. Its low production cost thanks to the industrial process applied to the construction of the instrument (something rare in the musical sphere at the time) made it accessible to many people, making this tool available for popular artistic expression. This positioned the electric guitar as a socially inclusive instrument, which provided musicians of the time with a means to expand their audience and the possibility of a certain autonomy of performance.
It was the dawn of Rock and Roll, and the creation of these guitars was the cornerstone for future generations.
When we talk about guitar design, we can refer to two large aspects. The first is the design of the components and circuits that make the instrument sound in this or that way. The second, and the one that we will discuss today, is its shape, its appearance, its size, weight, and drawing. Does the shape of an electric guitar matter? Absolutely. The lines of electric guitars are not randomly drawn. They have their history and many times they come to solve needs or problems that performers find when using the instrument. Historically, this shape is what makes us recognize a guitar in the first place. And ultimately, this design defines its appearance, one of the most important aspects that we consider when buying a guitar.
Does The Shape Of The Electric Guitar Affect The Sound And Performance?
When we say the shape of a guitar, we refer to its structural part, and the answer is an absolute yes. This structural part is made up of the body, the neck, the headstock, and the soul, all parts intimately bound together and connected to the sound of the instrument as a whole. The solid body finds its reason in the necessary insulation for the electrical components, which tend to generate more noise if voltages leak. The neck is the wooden strip crossed internally and longitudinally by the soul, which clings to the body. The fretboard rests on the neck, and in turn, cancels the bending coefficient exerted by the tension of the strings. It is finished off by the headstock, which is at an angle with respect to the body and neck, which allows adequate tension of the strings towards the nut. The strings are threaded onto the peg.
The shape of the body itself changed more than once in history due to different reasons. For example, Gibson modified the Les Paul with a cutaway on the lower body, close to the neck, in order to reach the higher frets comfortably. Their first models of his did not include it, and that caused many musicians not to choose it. In turn, Gibson himself introduced the Flying V in 1958, which is considered the first guitar to be played standing up since it does not have the typical curve in the lower part of the body, inherited from Spanish guitars, and designed to support the guitar on the leg. These modifications are good for the experience and comfort when playing the instrument, which can undoubtedly improve performance and sound.
Different Shapes of Most Popular Electric Guitars
We will talk about the most famous, used, replicated, and sold designs in the history of electric guitars. Even though they are designs from 50, 60, or even 70 years old, they are all still being manufactured today, and, as we will see later, they are designs adopted by manufacturers around the world for their own models.
FENDER TELECASTER DELUXE NASHVILLE SSS SUNBURST MIM 2007
In 1951 Leo Fender launched the first solid body guitar with two single microphones, called the Broadcaster. The name would later be changed to Telecaster due to the action of the Gretsch brand. Its predecessor, the Esquire, used the same body design but had only 1 microphone.
GIBSON LES PAUL
Gibson decides it’s time to bring their own solid-body electric guitar to market (to compete with the growing popularity of Fenders). It is a model developed by the company and Lester Paulsfuss, a Jazz guitarist. They use formal and functional criteria of the predecessor guitars to the model but add features, such as a curved top and two more frets, evidencing a trend for leading use (solo). The materials, as well as the finish, stood out (like any other Gibson-brand instrument) compared to the Telecaster, which was often mocked as a “stringed oar”.
FENDER STRATOCASTER 1979 RELIC OLYMPIC WHITE
Around 1954 Fender launches the Stratocaster, a more versatile and improved model of the Telecaster. It had body shapes that made it more suitable for standing use, and incorporated 3 single microphones, giving it a considerably wide range of timbres. The shapes break what is established in the market (and the archetypal heritage), further moving away from Gibson guitars, introducing a Streamline (aerodynamics) in the instruments.
GIBSON FLYING V
The future was coming to the music scene. Gibson launched the Flying V on the market in 1958, a guitar with a controversial morphology for the time, which sought to compete with the “futuristic” aspect of the Stratocaster.
At first, it was not widely accepted, it was a risky model, in a market with a traditional trend. Even so, many renowned musicians adopted it as the usual guitar, both for its technical and functional capabilities and for its different look.
GIBSON SG SPECIAL 60’S TRIBUTE P90 WORN WHITE LIMITED RUN 2011
Given the decline in popularity that the Les Paul suffered in 1960, the Les Paul came out with a revamped shape in 1961, with a thinner, lighter body, and two cut-away sharp horns that gave more access to the upper frets. In 1963 it finally adopted the name “SG”.
OFFSET (JAGUAR, MUSTANG, JAZZMASTER, FIREBIRD)
FENDER JAGUAR CLASSIC PLAYER SPECIAL CANDY APPLE RED 2012
The term offset is given to an instrument when the lines of its body are not symmetrical. Fender is the most popular brand in this category but not the only one. The earliest offset guitars on record are the Jazzmaster and Gibson Firebird from 1958 and 1963. One of the benefits of offset guitars is comfort. The Fender Jaguar, Mustang, Jazzmaster, and Meteora guitars are undoubtedly one of the most comfortable to play due to their design. PRS also incorporates this category with its beautiful Vela. It’s not a deal breaker for guitars to be determined offset by scale but recently almost all releases are short scale. Another factor in favor of the comfort of the performer. Due to their contour, the vast majority of offset instruments are lightweight and highly resonant.
Why Do Most Electric Guitars Have The Same Or Very Similar Designs?
Mainly, this is due to the commercial success that the original models had and continue to have. In the beginning, in the 50s, it was unthinkable to be able to manufacture a guitar equal in design to the classic Telecaster or Les Paul models. Over the years these same factories began to manufacture models with minor modifications, some cheaper, others more expensive. This diversified the market, not only in terms of the value of the instrument but also in terms of features and the possibility of customization. In turn, with the spread of these instruments, many luthiers and small factories had access to the original designs, and with it, the possibility of copying (but not plagiarizing) these drawings. From there, alternative brands of classic models began to emerge. Over the years, many of these small factories were bought by large manufacturers, such as Squier by Fender, or Epiphone by Gibson.
Which Electric Guitar Shape Is The Best ?
As we have said, the design itself of these guitars has not changed much over the years. Small modifications were introduced, like the cut-away of the Gibson, or the introduction of the off-set models. But we really can’t say that there is a better or worse shape in objective terms. This has a lot to do with how we use the instrument, with the influence we can have from one or another guitarist, the music we make, the sound we look for, and the image with which we most identify. Again, some improvements in the drawing were introduced to solve problems when playing. But today all these needs are met.
To this, we can add the diversification in terms of price and components of all the models on the market, which would allow us to choose any model that we like visually in a wide range of prices, determined by its components. The drawing and the shape itself do not change. What can change, in addition to the circuits, the woods, and metals with which the instrument is made, is the assembly and the factory finish. Undoubtedly the cheapest instruments have a less polished finish, as well as cheaper components.
These are things to keep in mind when looking for a new guitar. All these features make up the playing experience. It can make us feel more comfortable, or less comfortable, and this makes a big difference when we play live. As a first instance, we have to like the guitar visually. We have to like what we see, we have to want to touch it and play it. If we like it, it is already a good start. Then we have to try it. If you are about to buy a guitar, never ever miss trying it out. Hang it up, plug it in and try it out. The more you try it, the more you will know it and the more sure you will be if you like it or not. Try how you feel with it, its weight, and how your hands feel moving through the frets.
Source of images: www.instagram.com/gourasmusic