Since it “only” stepped onto the scene back in the 1930s, the electric guitar can still be considered the new kid on the block as far as widely-used instruments are concerned. No matter how you cut it though, the electric guitar’s rise popularity and prevalence are legendary. The range of sound an electric guitar can produce by converting vibration into amplified electrical impulses can find its place in just about any musical genre you can name. While its sound is easily adapted to fit most any style of music, its versatility and uniqueness on its own merits have given birth to entirely new genres of music that might not have seen the light of day otherwise.
You might want to get comfortable before asking any musician what’s in their guitar bag, because they are likely to give you the history of every guitar they’ve ever owned. We talked to some devoted electric guitar enthusiasts, writers, instructors, performers, and talented musicians, to find out what makes an electric guitar truly sing, and why theirs is the fairest of them all.
An Exquisite Composition
Australian guitarist Jonathan Bloomer has been running the GuitarNoize.com since 2007 and his efforts in doing so keep him abreast of the latest guitar products, news, instructional DVD’s and albums. Bloomer writes about the newest guitars, guitar gear, amps, effects, and accessories and posts recordings of gear demos and the occasional lesson video.
It's always worth taking a look in a gear enthusiast's personal collection; inside Bloomer's is his custom Cilia guitar:
A few years ago, The Voice Australia guitarist, Michael Dolce, introduced me to a local Australian luthier named Charles Cilia. I spent some time playing many of his guitars, hanging out at the workshop, picking his brains and now I'm excited to say that I own my own custom Cilia guitar. My particular model is a new 7 string called the Cilia CGA7, in fact, it was the 2nd ever made.
The CGA7 has already become very popular for Cilia Guitars due to the jaw dropping Burl Maple top accentuated by the edge burst and golden brown coloring. The Seymour Duncan SH-16 in the bridge and SH-1 in the neck make for very versatile and organic sounding tones especially when using the split coil modes while still retaining the tightness necessary for higher gain tones. In 25 years of playing I have never owned a 7 string, but since receiving this guitar a couple of months ago, not even my Suhr has had a minute of play.
A Class Axe
Jack Smith's website, GuitarNewsDaily.com, is an American-based site dedicated to sniffing out guitar-related news and providing informative reviews on guitars and associated gear. Smith is a passionate musician writing for other passionate musicians in the spirit of sharing thoughts on playing techniques and other useful tips.
For many electric guitarists, sound is only one of three important features. Smith notes, quite rapturously, the two others: look and feel.
Ever heard of a Malden? Most people haven't, but for myself, this beast, a Malden Mozak, is one of the best playing guitars ever to grace my hands. There's just something about the vintage look, especially the ash tray pickups, and the slightly elongated Jaguar body that makes this guitar ooze with classiness. Paralleling the timeless looks is the Malden's exquisite tone, which is warm enough that your hands start sweating.
Chop-Shopping Your Weapon of Choice
Alan Shenton, a guitarist from the South African band Zebra & Giraffe, who blogs at AlanShenton.co.za, has found some of his favorite gear off the beaten path. Even though he plays with a band that has sold over 25,000 albums, played to audiences as big as 60,000, and beat Coldplay and Green Day to win Best Alternative at the MTV Africa Music Awards in 2009, he sometimes finds himself customizing inexpensive gear to get the sound he wants.
Shenton is a good example of how a little electric guitar know-how can bring out the true potential of the instrument:
I always thought my favorite electric guitar would be a Stratocaster; Sunburst, 60’s style, Rosewood Neck, which I have, two of them in fact! Then one day, I picked up a Joe Strummer “Revolution Rock” Telecaster. It was an inexpensive, made in Mexico, Telecaster with average ceramic pickups, but for some reason, this thing just sounded so good. It was a dry, light ash body and it had a deep deep tone. I swapped out the electronics for Custom Shop Texas Specials, and replaced the saddles to a modern Strat' Style for better tonation and alignment.
Technically speaking, there was a lot of things going against this guitar that could have prevented it from being great, but that’s exactly it, guitar playing can’t only be left to technicalities. There’s got to be some raw admiration that speaks louder than any sales pitch or marketing campaign. In four Zebra & Giraffe albums, and over five years, there isn’t a recorded song or a live show where I haven’t used this guitar somewhere, and that’s a damn good deal for my money!
That Meant-To-Be Moment
English musician, performer and teacher Rex Pearson runs RexPearson.com, a website devoted to offering free range of guitar lessons for beginner to advanced courses on alternate picking, tapping and music theory.
Like Smith, Pearson is another proponent of the idea that the perfect electric guitar just feels right in your hands:
The guitar is such an expressive instrument; it’s one that needs a real connection between your mind and hands. My favorite guitar is one that speaks to you when you touch it. The one that feels like it was made for you. It can come from any brand, any wood, any shape or any size and only you can feel when it’s right.
A Faithful Companion
English guitarist Stuart Moir, who runs SMGuitars.co.uk, has spent much of his life playing, teaching, performing and writing about music and guitars. When he isn't posting lessons and reviews on SM Guitars you can often find him playing with the Scarborough band Friday Street.
Moir calls to memory the days of longing he suffered through after he first eyed his prize and the subsequent quest to make it his. 20 years later, after a long road he can fondly set the guitar in its case for a much deserved retirement:
I have an Ibanez Jem777DY. I bought it new in 1990 and have owned it ever since. The guitar was in a local music shop window and me and my guitar-playing friend used to stare at it through the window in true Wayne’s World style while waiting for the bus home from work. I saved hard and borrowed even harder and one day it was mine. I love this guitar, it plays like a dream and can cover pretty much any style of music and even has its own built-in handle.
I have played this guitar almost exclusively since I bought it. We went through music school together and have been on many gigging adventures throughout the UK and across Europe. The guitar is far from pristine but every scratch, scrape, and dent has a story attached to it. I will never sell this guitar, as it has been part of my life for over 20 years. Earlier on this year I decided it was time to retire the Jem and it now lives safely tucked away in its case and only comes for the occasional jam.
The Jack Of All Trades
Guitarist Bob Ferry, of BobFerryMusic.com, is well known in the New York area for his advanced technique, melodic phrasing and creative modern approach to the guitar. He noted for his extensive repertoire and ability to play any style fluently. As a veteran musician, Berklee College of Music graduate and former student of famous guitar educator William G. Levitt, Ferry has built a strong footing in guitar fundamentals. He has put his experience to work in authoring “Visualizing Musicality” and “Guitar Magic Picking and Rhythm”.
When it comes to performing, Ferry appreciates an instrument with as much versatility as himself:
My favorite electric guitar is the Gibson ES 335. I've owned three of them over the years. It's an all around workhorse. I have a Gibson ES 137 that is much like the 335, good for all styles. I am the author of “Bob Ferry's Superimposition of Fingerings for Guitar” which is an innovative system for learning fingerings. My Gibson guitars can be heard on my latest record. "Believe In Me".
Some guitarists, like Bloomer, look over the shoulder of master craftsmen to find their perfect guitar. Some, like Shenton, pick up an underappreciated instrument and rip its guts out to rebuild it and make it their own. Some, like Moir, spy their guitar in a shop window and stare at it longingly until they can afford it. No matter how you come to it, you know the feeling you get when the electric guitar that’s perfect for you drops into your waiting hands.
The right electric guitar will provide endless hours of musical bliss for the occasional player and the professional musician alike. It will inspire you to keep playing, and maybe even to create new music of your own. So what kind of axe are you packing? Crank up the reverb and sound off on your gear- share the story of your electric guitar with us - we’d love to hear it!