Electric guitar design

Last updated

Electric guitar design is a type of industrial design where the looks and efficiency of the shape as well as the acoustical aspects of the guitar are important factors. In the past many guitars have been designed with various odd shapes as well as very practical and convenient solutions to improve the usability of the object.



George Beauchamp is occasionally credited with inventing the electric guitar by designing a lap steel guitar with a pickup,[ citation needed ] though a lap steel does not have functional frets or a standard guitar-type neck.

The earliest "electrified" fretted guitars were hollow-bodied archtop acoustic guitars to which some form of electromagnetic transducer had been attached.[ according to whom? ] The first commercial electrified guitar was the Electro-Spanish Ken Roberts model produced from 1931 to 1936 by Rickenbacker, with one Beauchamp-designed pickup and an early "Vib-rola" hand vibrato created by Doc Kauffman.

Early years

Sketch of Rickenbacker "frying pan" lap steel guitar from 1934 patent application RickenbackerFryingpanPatentDiagram.png
Sketch of Rickenbacker "frying pan" lap steel guitar from 1934 patent application

Audiovox built and may have offered an electric solid-body guitar as early as 1932. Audiovox electric guitars were built by Paul Tutmarc [1] [ better source needed ] who is also credited as the co-inventor of the magnetic pickup along with Art Stimpson, and the fretted electric bass guitar.

Bob Wisner worked for Tutmarc, converting tube radio amplifiers into guitar amplifiers (eventually developing his own amplifier circuits) so Tutmark's instruments could be sold matched up with amplifiers. Paul was unsuccessful at obtaining a patent for his magnetic pickup as it was too similar to the telephone microphone coil sensor device.

Audiovox production was handed over to Paul's son, Bud Tutmarc, who continued building these instruments under the "Bud-Electro" brand until the early 1950s. Bud Tutmarc had been delegated by the senior Tutmarc the task of winding the pickup coils, and he continued producing them for his own guitars. He used horseshoe magnets in a single-coil and later a hum-cancelling dual-coil configuration.

When Wisner was hired by Rickenbacher (later Rickenbacker), he may have passed along Tutmarc's magnetic pickup design, which strongly resembles the pickup on their cast aluminum lap steel guitar, nicknamed The Frying Pan or The Pancake Guitar, released in 1933.

Another early solid-body electric guitar was built by musician and inventor Les Paul in the early 1940s, working after hours in the Epiphone Guitar factory. His log guitar (a wood post with a neck attached to it and two hollow body halves attached to the sides for appearance only) was patented, and is often considered to be the first of its kind, although it shares nothing of design or hardware in common with the solid-body "Les Paul" model later created by Gibson.


Sketch of Fender lap steel guitar from 1944 patent application. FenderGuitarPatentDiagram.png
Sketch of Fender lap steel guitar from 1944 patent application.

In 1950 and 1951, amplifier builder Leo Fender designed the first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar with a single magnetic pickup, which was initially named the "Esquire". The later two-pickup version of the Esquire was called the "Broadcaster". The bolt-on neck was consistent with Leo Fender's belief that the instrument design should be modular to allow cost-effective and consistent manufacture and assembly, as well as simplified repair or replacement. The Broadcaster name was changed to Telecaster because of a legal dispute over the name.

In 1954, the Fender Electric Instrument Company introduced the Fender Stratocaster, or "Strat". It was positioned as a deluxe model and offered various product improvements and innovations over the Telecaster, often based upon responses from working musicians. These innovations included an ash or alder double-cutaway body design, with an integrated vibrato mechanism (called a synchronized tremolo by Fender, thus beginning a confusion of the terms that still continues), three single-coil pickups, and "comfort contours" where the body edges are significantly contoured. Leo Fender is also credited with developing the first commercially successful electric bass, the Fender Precision Bass, introduced in 1951.


The more traditionally designed and styled Gibson solid-body instruments were a contrast to Leo Fender's modular designs and heavily contoured "slab" bodies, with the most notable differentiator being the method of neck attachment and the scale of the neck (Gibson-24.75", Fender-25.5").

Gibson, like many guitar manufacturers, had long offered semi-acoustic guitars with pickups, and previously rejected Les Paul and his "log" electric in the 1940s. In apparent response to the Telecaster, Gibson introduced the first Gibson Les Paul solid body guitar in 1952 (Les Paul was brought in only towards the end of the design process for details of the design and for marketing endorsement ). Features of the Les Paul include a solid mahogany body with a carved maple top (much like a violin and earlier Gibson archtop hollow body electric guitars) and contrasting edge binding, two single-coil "soapbar" pickups, a 24¾" scale mahogany neck with a more traditional glued-in "set" neck joint, binding on the edges of the fretboard, and a tilt-back headstock with three machine heads (tuners) to a side. The earliest version had a combination bridge and trapeze-tailpiece design as specified by Les Paul himself, but was largely disliked and discontinued after the first year.

Gibson then developed the Tune-o-matic bridge and separate stop tailpiece, an adjustable non-vibrato design still in wide use. By 1957, Gibson had made the final major change to the Les Paul of today - the humbucking pickup, or humbucker. The pickup, invented by Seth Lover, was a dual-coil pickup which featured two windings connected out-of-phase and reverse-wound, in order to cancel the 60-cycle mains hum that plagued single-coil pickups; as a byproduct, the two-coil design also produces a distinctive, more "mellow" tone which appeals to many guitarists.


In 1962 Vox introduced the pentagonal Phantom guitar, originally made in England but soon after made by EKO of Italy. It was followed a year later by the teardrop-shaped Mark VI, the prototype of which was used by Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones. Vox guitars also experimented with onboard effects and electronics. The Teardrop won a prize for its design. In the mid 1960s, as the sound of electric 12 string guitar became popular, Vox introduced the Phantom XII and Mark XII electric 12 string guitars. Vox produced many more traditional 6 and 12 string electric guitars in both England and Italy. It may be noted that the Phantom guitar shape was quite similar to that of first fretted electric bass guitar, the Audiovox "Electric Bass Fiddle" of 1934.

In 1966 Vox introduced the revolutionary but problematic GuitarOrgan, a Phantom VI guitar with internal organ electronics. The instrument's trigger mechanism required a specially-wired plectrum that completed circuit connections to each fret, resulting in a very wide and unwieldy neck. John Lennon was given one in a bid to secure an endorsement, though this never panned out. According to Up-Tight: the Velvet Underground Story, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones also tried one; when asked by the Velvets if it "worked", his answer was negative. The instrument never became popular, but it was a precursor to the modern guitar synthesizer.

Multiscale/Fanned-Fret Guitars

In recent years,[ when? ] guitars and basses with multi-scale or fanned-fret fingerboards started to appear. These instruments are supposed to offer an advantage over the classical fixed-scale guitars and basses by providing more freedom in setting the tension of each string at the design and manufacturing phases. This may result[ according to whom? ] in a more uniform tension of the strings, as well as possibly[ weasel words ] offer timbre and tonal characteristics somewhat different from the usual fixed-scale instruments.

Variant designs

Materials other than wood have been used. Travis Bean and Kramer built guitars with aluminium necks. The Gittler guitar was a "skeleton" design from the late 1970s, largely stainless steel.

In 1979, for the Chicago NAMM trade show, Ibanez built a 76-pound solid-brass guitar, primarily as an attention-getting gimmick but also to demonstrate that while such extreme mass would provide very long note sustain (a characteristic sought by many guitarists), the tonal qualities suffered. [2] [3]

Various plastics and composites have been employed. Some hollow-body Danelectro had Masonite body shells. The Ampeg guitars designed by Dan Armstrong pioneered acrylic as a body material. Fiberglass was used by Valco (called "Res-O-Glas") for some models of hollow-body "Airline" guitars sold through Montgomery Ward. Carbon fiber has been used for necks as well as bodies.

1991 saw the introduction of guitar designer Jol Dantzig's first truly workable acoustic-electric hybrid guitar design. The instrument, called the DuoTone, was conceived while Dantzig was at Hamer Guitars. (Dantzig was also the designer of the first 12 string bass.) Adapted by players like Ty Tabor, Stone Gossard, Elvis Costello and Jeff Tweedy, the DuoTone was a full "duplex" instrument that could switch between acoustic and electric tones. Recently there have been many entries in the hybrid category (capable of both acoustic and electric tones) including the T5 by Taylor, Michael Kelly's "Hybrid," the Parker Fly and the Anderson Crowdster.

In the 90s the band Neptune began building a weird metal guitar with 3rd bridge options incorporated. A predecessor of this type of guitars is the Pencilina. Linda Manzer designed the Pikasso guitar with multiple necks.

See also

Related Research Articles

The bass guitar, electric bass, or simply bass, is the lowest-pitched member of the guitar family. It is a plucked string instrument similar in appearance and construction to an electric or an acoustic guitar, but with a longer neck and scale length, and typically four to six strings or courses. Since the mid-1950s, the bass guitar has largely replaced the double bass in popular music.

Electric guitar Electrical string instrument

An electric guitar is a guitar that requires external amplification in order to be heard at typical performance volumes. It uses one or more pickups to convert the vibration of its strings into electrical signals, which ultimately are reproduced as sound by loudspeakers. The sound can be shaped or electronically altered to achieve different timbres or tonal qualities, making it quite different than an acoustic guitar. Often, this is done through the use of effects such as reverb, distortion and "overdrive"; the latter is considered to be a key element of electric blues guitar music and rock guitar playing.

Guitar Fretted string instrument

The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that usually has six strings. It is typically played with both hands by strumming or plucking the strings with either a guitar pick or the fingers/fingernails of one hand, while simultaneously fretting with the fingers of the other hand. The sound of the vibrating strings is projected either acoustically, by means of the hollow chamber of the guitar, or through an electrical amplifier and a speaker.

Leo Fender

Clarence Leonidas “Leo” Fender was an American inventor, who founded Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company, or "Fender" for short. In January 1965, he sold the company to CBS and later founded two other musical instrument companies, Music Man and G&L Musical Instruments.

Fender Stratocaster solid body electric guitar

The Fender Stratocaster, colloquially known as the Strat, is a model of electric guitar designed from 1952 into 1954 by Leo Fender, Bill Carson, George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares. The Fender Musical Instruments Corporation has continuously manufactured the Stratocaster from 1954 to the present. It is a double-cutaway guitar, with an extended top "horn" shape for balance. Along with the Gibson Les Paul and Fender Telecaster, it is one of the most-often emulated electric guitar shapes. "Stratocaster" and "Strat" are trademark terms belonging to Fender. Guitars that duplicate the Stratocaster by other manufacturers are sometimes called S-Type or ST-type guitars.

Single coil guitar pickup

A single coil pickup is a type of magnetic transducer, or pickup, for the electric guitar and the electric bass. It electromagnetically converts the vibration of the strings to an electric signal. Single coil pickups are one of the two most popular designs, along with dual-coil or "humbucking" pickups.

Archtop guitar Type of steel-stringed acoustic or semi-acoustic guitar

An archtop guitar is a hollow steel-stringed acoustic or semiacoustic guitar with a full body and a distinctive arched top, whose sound is particularly popular with jazz, blues, and rockabilly players.

The Fender Jaguar is an electric guitar by Fender Musical Instruments characterized by an offset-waist body, a relatively unusual switching system with two separate circuits for lead and rhythm, and a medium-scale 24" neck. Owing some roots to the Jazzmaster, it was introduced in 1962 as Fender's feature-laden top-of-the-line model, designed to lure players from Gibson. During its initial 13-year production run, the Jaguar did not sell as well as the less expensive Stratocaster and Telecaster, and achieved its most noticeable popularity in the surf music scene. After the Jaguar was taken out of production in 1975, vintage Jaguars became popular first with American punk rock players, and then more so during the alternative rock, shoegazing and indie rock movements of the 1980s and 1990s. Fender began making a version in Japan in the mid-1980s, and then introduced a USA-made reissue in 1999. Since then, Fender has made a variety of Jaguars in America, Mexico, Indonesia and China under both the Fender and Squier labels. Original vintage Jaguars sell for many times their original price.

Jazz bass

Jazz bass is the use of the double bass or bass guitar to improvise accompaniment ("comping") basslines and solos in a jazz or jazz fusion style. Players began using the double bass in jazz in the 1890s to supply the low-pitched walking basslines that outlined the chord progressions of the songs. From the 1920s and 1930s Swing and big band era, through 1940s Bebop and 1950s Hard Bop, to the 1960s-era "free jazz" movement, the resonant, woody sound of the double bass anchored everything from small jazz combos to large jazz big bands.

PRS Guitars American guitar and amplifier manufacturer

Paul Reed Smith Guitars, also known as PRS Guitars, is an American guitar and amplifier manufacturer located in Stevensville, Maryland. Founded in 1985 in Annapolis, Maryland by Paul Reed Smith.

Pickup (music technology)

A pickup is a transducer that captures or senses mechanical vibrations produced by musical instruments, particularly stringed instruments such as the electric guitar, and converts these to an electrical signal that is amplified using an instrument amplifier to produce musical sounds through a loudspeaker in a speaker enclosure. The signal from a pickup can also be recorded directly.

Variax is the name of a line of guitars developed and marketed by Line 6. They differ from typical electric and acoustic guitars in that internal electronics process the sound from individual strings to model (replicate) the sound of specific guitars and other instruments. The maker claims it is the first guitar family that can emulate the tones of other notable electric and acoustic guitars. It also provides a banjo and a sitar tone. The Variax is currently available as an electric guitar, but modeling acoustic guitars and modeling electric bass guitars have been available in the past.

Fender Telecaster Deluxe

The Fender Telecaster Deluxe is a solid-body electric guitar originally produced from 1972 to 1981, and re-issued by Fender multiple times starting in 2004.

Electric upright bass

The electric upright bass (EUB) is an instrument that can perform the musical function of a double bass. It requires only a minimal or 'skeleton' body to produce sound because it uses a pickup and electronic amplifier and loudspeaker. Therefore, a large resonating structure is not required to project the sound into the air. This minimal body greatly reduces the bulk and weight of the instrument. EUBs must always be connected to an amplifier and speaker cabinet to produce an adequate audible sound. The EUB retains enough of the features of the double bass so that double bass players are able to perform on it.

Outline of guitars Overview of and topical guide to guitars

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to guitars:

A solid-body musical instrument is a string instrument such as a guitar, bass or violin built without its normal sound box and relying on an electromagnetic pickup system to directly detect the vibrations of the strings; these instruments are usually plugged into an instrument amplifier and loudspeaker to be heard. Solid-body instruments are preferred in situations where acoustic feedback may otherwise be a problem and are inherently both less expensive to build and more rugged than acoustic electric instruments.

Greco guitars

Greco is a Japanese guitar brand owned by the Kanda Shokai Corporation (in Japanese) 神田商会, a musical instrument wholesaler mostly known for being part of Fender Japan. Instruments manufactured with the name "Greco" are electric and acoustic guitars.

Paul Tutmarc

Paul Tutmarc was an American musician and musical instrument inventor. He was a tenor singer and a performer and teacher of the lap steel guitar and the ukulele. He developed a number of variant types of stringed musical instruments, such as electrically amplified double basses, electric basses, and lap steel guitars. His second marriage was to his former student Bonnie Buckingham, known as Bonnie Guitar.

Electric ukulele

An electric ukulele is a ukulele which is electrically amplified. If not plugged in, it can still play acoustically. It was patented by Edmund A. Rafalko, Jr. on November 27, 2012, patent number US D67,592 S. The patent's term length is 14 years.

The Fender Telecaster, colloquially known as the Tele, is the world's first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar. Its simple yet effective design and revolutionary sound broke ground and set trends in electric guitar manufacturing and popular music. Introduced for national distribution as the Broadcaster in the autumn of 1950 as a two-pickup version of its sister model, the single-pickup Esquire, the pair were the first guitars of their kind manufactured on a substantial scale. A trademark conflict with a rival manufacturer's led to the guitar being renamed in 1951. Initially, the Broadcaster name was simply cut off of the labels placed on the guitars and later in 1951, the final name of Telecaster was applied to the guitar. The Telecaster quickly became a popular model, and has remained in continuous production since its first incarnation.


  1. Bud Tutmarc's remarks concerning his father's role in developing the first magnetic pickup for a guitar and the first fretted electric bass guitar.
  2. "1979 Ibanez Solid Brass Ibanez Artist 2622 Guitar".
  3. "Catch of the Day".