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Basics of Electric Guitars

By Charles Hopkins Published 07/6/2006 | Music

Since the middle of the 20th century, the electric guitar has been at the forefront of music in the Western world. It is the staple instrument in concerts and studios, and several very famous music personalities have come to be identified with it. Yet not many of us are aware of the basics of an electric guitar. How does it work? How do a few thin strings produce the kind of reverberation that resonate in the minds and hearts of thousands of people at once?

An acoustic guitar is not so hard to figure out. The instrument has a hollow base, and the vibration of the strings produce a magnified resonance in that hollow, so we can hear the sounds loud and clear. The pitch and tone depend upon the thickness, the tension and the material of the strings, and also on their length. You can, of course, vary the length of the vibrating portion of the strings by pressing them down at different points.

However, when you see an electric guitar for the first time, you may be surprised in that it does not produce much sound at all when the strings are plucked. There is no hollow base, so the sound produced by the strings cannot reverberate and get magnified into audible melody. So how does it often take the lead instrumental role in concert hall performances, and reach thousands of people at once?

 The electric guitar works on a principle that is very different from the acoustic guitar. It does not use acoustic reverberations for sound amplification. Instead, it depends upon certain properties of magnetism and electricity to do so.

You shall notice that there are certain bits of metal, slightly raised from the surface, near the center of the electric guitar. These are called 'pick-ups', and they are actually powerful and sensitive bits of magnet. So when the electric guitar is powered on, any vibration of the strings will cause a disturbance in the magnetic filed of the pick-ups, and they can further transform these waves into electric signals, which they then send to the amplifier and from there on to the sound box. In this way, every slight picking and  inaudible strumming of the electric guitar's string is able to produce a sound that can be amplified at will, according to your need for a quiet studio recording, or for forcefully assaulting the ear-drums of fans who pack the massive stadium.

If you're a beginner or a novice in the world of guitar music, and if you're wondering what kind of guitar you should first try to learn, then an electric guitar may be a good choice for you. Though the electric guitar looks more formidable and daunting than the acoustic guitar, its initial learning curve is actually smoother and shallower the other guitar varieties. However, that easy phase is as short as it is sweet; after you're through with the basics, you shall find that the going gets equally tough, whichever variety of guitar you choose to learn.