Liberal Arts Blog — the Guitar Takes over the World — Andres Segovia, the Revolution of 1950–1954, How Electrics Work

Liberal Arts Blog — Thursday is the Joy of Music Day

Today’s Topic: The Guitar Takes over the World — Andres Segovia (1893–1987), the Revolution of 1950–1954, How Electrics Work

Guitars are beautiful things. There is magic in the many shapes, lines, and curves. A seemingly endless variety. Both acoustic and electric. It is hard to imagine a time before the guitar took over the world. Today, a few very random notes on the history of the guitar in the 20th century. From Andres Segovia, who to my knowledge is the only modern musician to be granted an hereditary title (Marquis of Salobrena) to the revolution of 1950–1954, to how an electric guitar actually works. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

ANDRES SEGOVIA (1893–1987) — makes the guitar a respected classical instrument

1. From 1937 to 1962, Segovia used the guitar above made by German luthier Hermann Hauser (1882– 952) based on designs by Antonio Torres (1817–1892) widely regarded as the “most important Spanish guitar maker of the 19th century.”

2. For the first half of his career, Segovia used “catgut” strings (“cat” here is short for cattle not the feline species, so anything bovine qualifies although Segovia’s preference was for sheep intestine). But when gut shortages hit during World War II, he switched to nylon strings developed by Albert Augustine, a Danish immigrant and luthier using nylon from the Dupont company.

3. “Segovia plucked the strings only with the nails. When asked which technique he used, he replied: “the only one there is: nails. Because they bring timbre differences and color variation and give sonorous volume to the guitar.”

NB: “Segovia created a strong bass sound with his right thumb in spite of his technique. This was largely due to the flexibility he had in his thumb which helped to create a very strong and voluminous sound in the bass notes. Another innovation that separated Segovia from the Tarrega school was the search for the tension in the strings by placing his right hand further to the right side. In this way, he could not only obtain color variation but an especially strong, round and voluminous sound, something very helpful for giving concerts in big halls…Before Segovia, guitarists from the Tarrega school played the guitar with the hand right over the sound hole, thus creating a mellow sound, but not capable of filling the whole space of a large concert hall.”

THE TURNING POINT: 1950–1954 (the “Esquire,” “Les Paul,” and “Stratocaster”)

1.”Things changed in 1950, however, when Leo Fender, a self-taught electronics enthusiast, created the Esquire, the first mass-produced solid-body guitar.”

2. “Taking note of Fender’s successes, Gibson ate humble pie, introducing its own solid-body model, the Les Paul (below)”

3. “By 1954, with the advent of Fender’s three-pickup, solid-body Stratocaster (above), the three most iconic electric guitars of all time were all released. Music would never be the same again.”

HOW ELECTRIC GUITARS WORK- no sound hole needed, does not have to be wood

1. “Whether hollow or solid-bodied, it’s through pickups that electric guitars create their sound. That’s why electric guitars don’t need to be as big as acoustic ones, or even have sound holes, for that matter. They also don’t need to be made of wood — almost every possible material has been used in their construction, from plastic to aluminum — although wood is typically used for its resonant qualities.”

2. “Essentially, when a string, typically made from nickel and steel (and much thinner in diameter than an acoustic one), is struck, the magnetized pickups underneath catch its vibrations through the electromagnetic field they create (and that partially magnetizes the string) and send signals to a connected amplifier, which often contains a built-in speaker.”

3. “A pickup typically contains a number of magnetic pole pieces (although some consist of a singular magnet) wrapped around many times with fine wire. One type of pickup, popularized by Fender and now largely associated with it, consists of a single coil of wire. Known for their bright, snappy, and sharp tones, they’re ideal for genres like country and funk. The only issue with these is that, along with the string vibrations, they also produce feedback in the form of an unpleasant hum when not strummed, especially in the presence of electrical equipment.”

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Time to share the coolest thing you learned in the last week related to music. Or the coolest thing you learned in your life related to music. Say your favorite song or songs. Or your favorite tips for breathing, posture, or relaxation. Or some insight into the history of music….Or just something random about music… like a joke about drummers. jazz, rock….or share an episode or chapter in your musical autobiography.

This is your chance to make some one else’s day. And perhaps to cement in your memory something important you would otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than you otherwise would about something that matters to you.

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