Greetings! My name is Pat Zelenka. I'm a guitarist/writer/publisher, and I live in the Michigan area. I hope the articles that I write for you here are helpful to you as a player and musician, and help steer you in the right direction where your guitar playing is concerned.
To me, and I hope to you also, the guitar has proven to be a constant source of inspiration and inner peace. Music is a spiritual practice to me, and the guitar is my conduit. The inspiration I find and feel from playing the guitar is definitely something I want to pass on to others, and hopefully, you too will find music to be your path to complete expression.
3 COMMON GUITARS AND THEIR APPLICATIONS
By Pat Zelenka
In this article, I will cover 3 “essential” electric guitar types, and how various players we all know and love have used them in their music. Obviously, there are other examples of electric guitars, but, for simplicity, and to get started, we will cover the Telecaster, the Stratocaster, and the Les Paul.
In my travels, I have come across many players who have “gaps” in their understanding of what these guitars can do for them, and hopefully, through this article, questions can be answered. Remember, the only “stupid question” is the one you don’t ask, and by making yourself better informed and more knowledgeable about your craft, the stronger you will be, both as a musical consumer and a musician.
1. THE TELECASTER
The Telecaster is what most articles refer to as the “first assembly line solid body electric guitar”. Though this label can be debated with examples dating back to the 1930’s, I like to think of the Telecaster as the first “modern” electric guitar, at least as we have come to think of an electric guitar now. With a bolt on neck (early models did not feature an adjustable truss rod) a solid body, and 2 single coil pickups with switching capabilities, the Telecaster became the forerunner and example to follow for all that came after.
Let’s cover what is included with a Telecaster and it’s beginnings. Leo Fender’s design is simple, and yet, so futuristic at the time. Originally, the Telecaster was known as the Broadcaster, but due to the fact that the Gretsch company already had a patented drum kit named the Broadcaster, Leo changed the name to the Telecaster. It was relatively cheap. Suppliers provided parts for production on an assembly line. It was a guitar for the masses.
A Telecaster features what are referred to a “6 in line tuners”, which is to say that the tuners are all on one side of the headstock, which of course makes reaching them easier for the player. Also included are 2 “single coil” pickups, which via a “3 way position switch” can be played separately or in tandem. It works this way:
Position 1. (towards the rear of the body) Bridge Pickup
Position 2. (middle position) Bridge and Neck Pickups
Position 3. (towards the neck) Neck Pickup
The Telecaster is known for its bright, cutting tone. One of the secrets to the Telecaster's sound centers on the bridge pickup, which has more windings than the neck pickup which gives it a much higher output, sometimes giving twice the power of the neck pickup. The solid body allows the guitar to deliver a clean amplified version of the strings' tone. This was an improvement on previous electric guitar designs, whose hollow bodies made them prone to unwanted feedback, and which sometimes suffered from a muddy, indistinct sound. This design was extremely attractive to touring and local gigging musicians (who would later love the Fender Precision Bass) who were looking for an instrument that was easy to travel with.
The Telecaster, because of its solid construction, allowed the guitar to be played loudly as a lead instrument, with long sustain if need be, and without feedback that hollow-bodied instruments tend to produce at high gain/volume, a different kind than the controllable feedback later used to great effect by Jimi Hendrix and countless other players. Even though the Telecaster is more than half a century old, and more sophisticated designs have been coming out since the early 1950s (including Fender's own Stratocaster), the Telecaster has remained in constant production. There have been numerous variations and modifications, but a model with something close to the original features has always been available.
Players associated with the Telecaster include:
1. Albert Collins
2. Danny Gatton
3. Roy Buchanan
4. Don Rich
5. Waylon Jennings
6. Jeff Beck
7. James Burton
8. Clarence White
9. Roy Nichols
10. Keith Richards
11. Albert Lee
12. George Harrison
2. THE LES PAUL
The Gibson Les Paul guitar went into production in 1952 and was the first solid body electric that Gibson had made. Leo Fender, although not the first person to design or build a solid body electric, had proved that there was a market for such instruments with the commercial success of his Fender Telecaster. Now Gibson, under the presidency of Ted McCarty, wanted to make sure they didn't get left out of the market - so they approached player and guitar designer Les Paul with a view to collaborating on a Gibson/Les Paul branded electric solid body guitar. Through various changes, what we now know as the Les Paul came into being.
The Les Paul as we commonly know it now, has a carved maple top with a mahogany back, 6 on a side tuners, 2 humbucking pickups with a 3 way switch, and 2 tone and 2 volumes controls, one for each pickup. When the pickup switch is flipped down, the bridge/treble pickup is active, when placed in the middle position, both pickups are active, and when flipped up, the neck/rhythm pickup is active. The unusual sound of the Les Paul in comparison to the Telecaster comes not only from the body design with its maple cap/mahogany body, but also from the “humbucking” pickups.
Single coil pickups are subject to what is called a “60 cycle hum”, which can be aggravated by florescent lights, and PC screens. To solve this problem, Seth Lover invented the humbucking pickup, which, as it’s name implies, “bucks the hum”. To do this, Seth simply tied 2 single coil pickups together, with one in reverse. This cancelled the hum, but did create some distortion, which sounds great to our ears now. This had been tried before by others, but after Seth Lover (who later worked with Seymour Duncan) this pickup would be associated with Seth Lover and Gibson for a very long time.
Players associated with the Les Paul include:
1. Jimmy Page
2. Peter Green
3. Dickey Betts
3. Ace Frehley
4. Les Paul
6. Peter Frampton
7. Stone Gossard
8. Paul Kossof
9. Gary Moore
10. Joe Perry
11. Randy Rhoads
12. Pete Townshend
3. THE STRATOCASTER
One of the most copied designs in the world, the Fender Stratocaster, introduced in 1954, is still a benchmark today. Along with the Gibson Les Paul and the Stratocaster's sister model, the Fender Telecaster, it is one of the most enduring and common models of electric guitars in the world.
The name, 'Stratocaster,' was intended to evoke images of newly emergent jet-aircraft technology (such as the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress), and to express Fender's modernistic design philosophy. In designing the Stratocaster's body, a significant area of the back of the guitar, and the area where the strumming arm rests, were beveled to accommodate the player's chest and arm. The upper bouts featured two cutaways, for easier access to the higher frets. The new 'Custom Contour Body' and 'Synchronized Tremolo' bridge made the Stratocaster a revolutionary design. The guitar also featured more complex electronics than the Telecaster: THREE single coil pickups, each with staggered magnetic poles; a three-way selector switch; one volume knob, and two tone controls. This allowed for a wider array of tones, especially with the middle pickup, which, when combined with the bridge pickup, creates the “chimey” sound we all associate with the “Strat”.
Players associated with the Stratocaster:
1. Jimi Hendrix
2. Eric Clapton
3. Hank Marvin
4. Buddy Holly
5. David Gilmour
6. Mark Knopfler
7. Stevie Ray Vaughn
8. Robert Cray
9. Rory Gallagher
10. Buddy Guy
11. George Harrison
12. Dick Dale
As with anything else, be sure and check out these guitars (or variations thereof) in your local music store, and be sure to check out the music of the great players listed above. You won’t regret it. Until next time………………….