The Evolution of the guitar

The Spanish guitar had achieved a cult following, and the associated demand led to a degree of freezing in the design development. To be associated with the folk culture the guitar had to be of a certain form -- soft feminine curves at the waist, a flat top and a long fretted neck. the first guitar to have six single strings tuned to the present arragnement appeared in 1810 -- the Carulli guitar, and from here on advances in design have been a matter of refinement. The guitar's width was increased, the fretboard narrowed and the ornate decoration dropped in favour of the functional appearance now associated with the guitar aesthetic. Performers required greatter volumes for larger audiences and in order to achieve this ever thinner sound boards (the front face) were used. without support the front face would simply collapse under the pressure produced by the tension in the strings and consequently different forms of strutting have been introduced. a modern concert guitar is a very sophisticated and critical structure. Great luthiers (guitar makers) must understand the technology -- how the sound is produced and how the forces are carried -- in oreder to make their instruments. It is essential to know that the sound of the treble and base strings will not be balance unless the sound board is thinner on the treble side, that the sound board vibrates less near the neck, that the sounds produced by the front and back faces must be in phase and that close grained timbers produce greated volumn. there is a great deal of knowledge required in addition to the considerable craft skills.

The events concerning the evolution of the electric guitar since the 1930s echo these earlier happenings to surprisingly large degree. Guitarists in big bands had always found that the guitar was swamped by other instruments. Steel strings had been used to increase the volume -- with consequential reinforcement to the neck (with a steel bolt) and the body -- but it was only when the first electromagnetic pickup was developed in 1931 that this situation changed. the technology push led to a revitalising of guitar design, this time as a system, incorporating both the sound production and its amplification. a period of rapid and varied development occurred between 1930 and the early 1950s primarily associated with two men -- Leo Fender's Stratocaster and the Les Paul series produced by Gibson -- cam to dominate the market. Like the Spanish guitar these designs had achieved a cult following after their adoption by popular folk heroes such as rock musicians Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimi Page. With television to boost the impact, these two designs have come to dominate the perception of the electric guitar concept and it is difficult for designers to break away from these images.

in recent years, many manufacturers have tried different materials, and radical shapes and colours, but guitarists wish to imitate their heroes and this cultural influence has led to a major difficulty in getting the new forms accepted. When competitors wished to enter the market they did so by copying Gibson and Fender designs. Cyncs might suggest that this was because they had no ideas of their own but, because of the cultural influence on the guitar market, it was the only realistic course to take. Now that the patent has expired on the Fender Stratocaster, it is produced all over the world to a design very like the original, despite recent refinements in the detailed design of the pickup and bridge assemblies for examples. they sell in thousands because they look right. Even with the advent of the new synthesiser technology these two forms are still dominating guitar design, despite their complete irrelevance to the sound produced.

Article is quoted from "Design and Technology", Longman