General information and resources for students and adult learners.

The Electric Guitars

The electric guitar was created during the explosion of 20th century innovations in music. It is the driving force behind rock 'n' roll music.

And though the electric guitar physically resembles the acoustic or Spanish guitar the similarity ends there.

What is the difference?
  • The acoustic guitar has a hollow body that functions like an echo chamber, resonating with the sound the strings make when plucked. The only way to increase the volume of an acoustic guitar is to attached a microphone that is plugged into an amplifier.
  • The electric guitar when played, the string vibrations do not echo in a hollow chamber, instead the sound are translated into electrical impulses by a magnetised device called a "pickup".
Where does the sound of the electric guitar comes from?
Electric guitars have added elements. Just like an acoustic guitar, shortening or lengthening a string will give you a variety of pitches or notes. But without a hollow body that resonates, where does the sound come from?
  • The sound comes from electric pickups, wire-wrapped magnets that act like tiny microphones placed under each string.
  • The vibrations of the string cause the magnet in a pickup resonate or more accurately to "modulate" a tiny magnetic field.
  • That signal is picked up by the pickup and turned into a small electrical current.
  • In turn, that current is conducted from the pickup from the pickup to an external amplifier by the electrical cord that has one end plugged into the guitar and the other into an amplifier.
How loud the note is and whether it's distorted or thick and bass-y or thin and treble-y is all determined by volume, tone and effects controls on both the guitar and the amplifier.
  • Electric guitars have narrow necks to make it easier for the player to reach around the neck and the body is cut away to allow high notes to be played easily.
Electric guitars are designed to produced special effects. Many guitarist use effects to alter the sound of their instruments. These are plugged in between the guitar and the amplifier. They change the sound by altering the signal from pick-ups.
Most units have a footswitch to turn the effect on and off. There may also be other controls to vary the level or speed of the effect. On some units the harder the pedal is pressed, the more intense the effect becomes.



  • Early electric guitars has a 'tremolo arm" - a lever which could be sued to alter the pitch of notes as they were being played.
  • Wah Wah pedal - a pedal operated by foot pedals, guitarist can control a variety of unusual sounds. It creates a "wailing" sound by alternately boosting and cutting the treble and bass.
  • A multi -effects unit has several different effects built into one box. Single effects or combination of effects can be selected by pressing the foot switches.
The electric guitar is a versatile instrument and the player can obtain many different sounds. Most instruments have two or three pick-ups designed to produce different combinations. The player can select a single one or any combination of them.

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