The Electric Guitar

Hello, I’m Scott Birney and this blog will be exploring the history of the electric guitar and its impact on American culture and society. First, however, I feel it is important to explain some of the internal workings of a guitar, electric and acoustic.

A modern Fender Stratocaster electric guitar. 1

Acousitc guitars are usually wooden instruments which use steel, nylon, or in the case of early guitars, animal intestines (more on that on the Background page) to produce sound waves when plucked which reverberate around inside the hollow body of the acoustic guitar before exiting through the soundhole and producing sound. The type of materials used to build the body of the acoustic guitar, their thickness and the types of strings used and their length all affect the sound it makes, which is called a guitar’s “tone.” By pressing down on a fret, you effectively shorten a string and therefore change its sound, which allows guitar makers to build their guitars around various musical scales (tightening or loosening a guitar’s strings via tuning pegs also affects the sound a particular string makes). [1]

Here we see the different parts of acoustic and electric guitars. 2

Electric guitars work in much the same way as acoustics, except for the way in which the sound is collected by the guitar and produced. Electric guitars rely on “pickups,” which are essentially microphones that are made up of coiled wire wraped around magnets. When a string is struck, the magnetic field of the pickup is disturbed. This disturbance is turned into an electrical current which is then transferred to an electrical amplifier and then turned into sound. The materials used to make the body as well as the string type and length all affect the electric guitar’s tone, though unlike the acoustic guitar, an electric’s pickups also have a good deal of influence on how it sounds. [2]

With this basic information in mind, we are now ready to begin our journey into the exciting history of the electric guitar, starting with the Background page.


1 – Marshall Brain, “How Stuff Works,” How Acoustic Guitars Work, (accessed April 11th, 2011).

2 – Marshall Brain, “How Stuff Works,” How Electric Guitars Work, (accessed April 11th, 2011).


Image Sources:

1 – Guitar Skills, “Diagram of an Acoustic and Electric Guitar.” (accessed April 11th, 2011).

2 – Rock Mansion, “Fender Dave Murray Stratocaster.” (accessed February 1st, 2011).

Header Image Source:

Pluck and Play Guitar, “Black Electric.” (accessed February 7th, 2011).

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