The guitar

by Siphesihle Msomi & Marlyn Ntsele Inspired by "De muzikantengids, by Jan Van der Plas & Tijs Vastesaeger With a little help from Chillie Stent

The guitar is an instrument that has taken the forefront amongst other instruments.  It has definitely shared the spotlight with various lead singers for striking acoustic and electronic reasons.  The next few paragraphs will give some insight into the instrument that made legends, the guitar.

Acoustic Guitar
The model of guitar we all know and which was the first one to be invented is the acoustic version. The history of this guitar goes back many centuries. The oldest and widely spread model is the “Spanish Guitar”. In the old days the strings of this guitar were made of cat bowels, nowadays the acoustic guitar uses nylon strings.

You will hear the Spanish guitar in a lot of folk and classical  (that is why it is often called “classic guitar”). Even though the name might make you think otherwise, this guitar is produced all over the world. Especially Japan is a big producer of Spanish guitars. In the cheapest price range there are many brands. The better guitar is available from about R2,500/ R3,000. Known brands in this category are Admira, Alhambra, Burguet, Esteban, Martinez, Ramirez, Rodriquez, Ruben and Yamaha. The top of the range models are being crafted by hand by specialists. In this category prices start around R8,000.

In the US in the beginning of the 20th century a special form of this guitar got introduced: the western guitar or also reffered to as folk guitar. This guitar has strings of steel, this gives the guitar a louder volume and a bit of a “harsher” sound. A lot of singer-songwriters and rockbands use this guitar. Also in this category you will find lots of cheaper and more expensive brands. A good western guitar will cost you not less than R10,000. Known brands are Gibson, Fender, Guild, Ibanez, Martin, Taylor, Lowden, Larrivee, Takamine and Washburn. Also the best and most expensive brands get crafted by hand.

Electric guitar
Within the huge range of electric guitars you can choose from there are 3 basic models and all the others are inspired by those models. For the electric guitar those models are the Telecaster and the Stratocaster made by Fender and the Gibson Les Pauls, these are guitars with a solid body that were already developed in the 1950’s.

The sound of the electric guitar can be influenced by the wood, the form and the elements, in combination with the amplifier. The Telecaster and the Stratocaster have a neck that is screwed onto the body. So so-called single coil elements give the guitars a very thin but characteristic sound. The Telecaster is more known for its sharp sound and is mainly used for rock ‘n roll and country music. Famous players are Keith Richards (Rolling Stones), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave), Thom Yorke (Radiohard) and Chris Martin (Coldplay). The Stratocaster has three single coils and is a multi-purpose guitar that can sound very round, but also aggressive. The “strat” is played by the following guitarists: Hank Marvin (Shadows), Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers). With the Gibson Les Paul the neck is glued onto the body, so that a longer “sustain” (constant tone) can be heard. This guitar has two double coil elements (or humbuckers), that give it a full and round sound. Famous Gibson Les Paul-players are Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Neil Young, The Edge (U2) and Slash (Guns ‘N Roses).
The guitars of other brands are all pretty much based on the 3 models above. For around R3,500 you can buy an electric guitar of a brand like Ibanez, Yamaha, BC Rich, Burns, Cort, DaisyRock, Dean, Fernandes, Hohner, Peavey and Washburn. The more known brands are Fender and Gibson (from R10.000 and up), but they also have brands in a cheaper price range under the names Squier and Epiphone.

Semi-acoustic guitar
Another type is the semi-acoustic guitar or the “jazz guitar”. The name says it all, this model is a combination between the acoustic and the electric guitar, with a hollow body or semi-hollow body, but also magnectic elements. This instrument has a full and round sound that only has a short “sustain”. The downside is that because of the hollow body, it easily starts singing around, even with a very low volume. The most known example of this type of guitar is the ES thinline-serie of Gibson, that is mostly famous because of blues guitarist B.B.King. Also the Gretsch, Rickenbacker and Epiphone (The Beatles) are semi-acoustic guitars.

The Wood
The sort of wood that is used to make the guitar has a huge influence on the sound. The top piece of the neck fretboard is an important part in starting the tone. If this part is made of maple it sounds thin, of ebony it sounds more harsh and rosewood it sounds round and warm. The length and sound of the sustain is determined by the rest of the neck. Most necks are made of maple wood, some are made of mahogany. The type of wood  has assisted many stars whom we marvel at for their natural feel in their music.

Amplifiers
Guitarists make their characteristic sound by sending it through the speaker with the help of an amplifier (Amp). Modern amps have a minimal of two channels, clean and distorted, that can be alternated with a pedal. Guitar amps come in all sorts of sizes and models, from mini amps for in your living room to full amp walls. The be able to play in a band a 50 watt amp should be sufficient.

The biggest difference between the several amps is if they work with tubes or transistors. Tubes create a nice harmonic distortion. Transistors are cheaper and easier to use. The basic models of tube amps are coming from the 50’s and 60’s. The Fender Twin (thin and aggressive), the VoxAC30 (round and warm)  and the Marshall (harsh). Nowadays you can find many other brands, but they are all in one way or another based on those 3 models. A good tube amp costs you about R10,000 and the top brands often cost double or more.  Also keep in mind that you have to replace your tubes once a year.
No one has good memories of the horrible sound of transistor amps in the 70’s, but nowadays they have improved lots.

Your standard gear & effects
The standard gear of a guitarist consists of a guitar, the amp, the tuner (from R500) and the effect pedals. Well-known effects are:

  • Distortion: Overdrive, distortion and fuzz (fills the sound with additional frequencies by distorting the signal output.)
  • Modulation: Phaser, flanger and chorus ( gives the illusion of a spatial sound)
  • Octaver (electronically creates octaves that are under or above the tone)
  • Compressor and limiter (smoothens the sound, so that difference in volume are not noticeable and a compressor is used the lengthen the sustain)
  • Wah-Wah (by using a pedal to sweep through and accentuate different frequencies, it changes the sound into a wah-wah sound)
  • Reverb and delay.

Pedals cost between R1000 and R2000 each. Multi-effect pedals (different pedals in 1) can be bought from R3000.

 

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