TODAY -

Aha the guitar

Victor Lakpam *

A guitar solo at the  1st Imphal Metal Convention - Metal Age Reloaded - 2012 at YAC Ground (Range) on 14th April 2012
A guitar solo at the 1st Imphal Metal Convention - Metal Age Reloaded - 2012 at YAC Ground (Range) on 14th April 2012
Pix - Bunti Phurailatpam



I picked up Ballard and Bellow before I could pick up a guitar. It was like a holy man in the house of god, who thrives in the holy, I thrived on the likes. I was never really hosanna about the guitar until a day. But vaguely I remember it was one of those pathetic days, everyone has those days, the most demented, in the hideous student apartment; I picked up my roomies guitar.

Wow. Dude. The trip I got out of it was like a young lion cub masticating his first piece of meat. Smelling it, tasting it, getting to know it and savoring every shred of meat. It was so raw and overwhelming, I liked it. Diabolically alive and so intense, I could not let it go. Yet exceptionally soothing. I wanted more, I needed the fix more than I needed it. I just wanted more of it.

Besides the level of intimacy I felt with the instrument was exceptional; I could not believe that a piece of wood could hum, growl in most hellion way, weep like the saddest soul and at same time screech like it was crazy. I'd hit note and the guitar could reflect how I felt, it was eerie, almost conversational, but it felt good. Bonkers. I played the guitar till my fingertips were red to the bones. Even though I never really understood the guitar but I knew how it felt. Ever since I have been tripping on the guitar, I think it is sublime.

History is history no one can alter it, no one should. Facts will remain as facts through time but we give it a new voice, a shadow to cast. The guitar is subsequently a lot older instrument than we can chew about. The roots of the instrument dates back to about 4000 years as estimated, the guitar, as we know it today is a more refined version of what it evolved from time to time. Aesthetics varied from region to region but the principality was the same with the strings, it belonged to the chordophone family. v Different times and different regions gave it tweaks all over the instrument to meet the functionality and to meet the eye. A lot of instruments are indirectly related to the guitar but the most vertical contour would be the instrument the Oud. You could say it started with the Oud. Almost all the refined contradictions are inclined towards the Oud.

Well to begin with, it is an African instrument with a small hollow body besides being fretless and having only four strings. It was the Moors who were responsible for outspreading the instrument. The Moors is a member of a northwestern African Muslim people of mixed Berber and Arab descent. In the 8th century they conquered the Iberian Peninsula, which is the extreme southwestern peninsula of Europe that contains Spain and Portugal. Along with them the moors bought their social habits and norms to the peninsula. Thus Oud. That was in the 8th century, the oud still had four strings.

But during the moors stay in the peninsula, they added another fifth bass string to the oud. All this while the instrument was still fretless. It was somewhere towards the end of the 15th century, the moors were driven out from their last strong hold in Granada. Even though the moors were driven out, the influence of the oud stayed behind. It was during this time, with the inception of the renaissance, the oud evolved into the lute. It is not very structured as with the evidence, some maintain that they both came out during the same time.

But the lute in every way was more genteel than the oud. The lute had a comparatively longer neck, with frets and a rounded body with a flat front that is shaped like a halved egg. It had about 13 to 15 strings and in some case to about 25 strings. The strings were made out of the small intestine of the sheep and for some decency or perhaps convenience the modern day lute strings are made out nylon. The frets were also made out of loops of animal gut tied around the neck, which had to be replaced from time to time.

But in some cases wooden frets were glued to the body of the instrument. Yes they still make the lute till this day but preeminent lute players still prefer the gut made stings. Because for its authenticity attributes in its tone. That's the lute. Then the Baroque period happened and came the baroque guitar. The instrument had five pair of strings and the baroque guitar was insanely extensively detailed with ivory or wood. The instrument had a smaller body, slightly elongated and much quieter sound.

Even though still the instrument did not enjoy the respect that the lute got but it was immensely famous among the women. Towards the 17th century the sixth course of string was added, that is six pair of strings. This form string arrangement gradually gave way to the six single strings. You could say that twelve-string guitar gave way to the modern six-string guitar.

All this while with the entire buzz boiling up in the European nations, going through various periods of evolvements and sonic booms and drop of the economy they ran out of cauldron space. Eventually the European nations started spreading out in search of new land. The main reason was commerce; the European nations went in search of new market and wealth.

Trade was the main reason for all the European countries going around world. But they called it adventure, artsy fartsy people. It was some where in between the year 1492, Columbus landed on the new world, during his time he made three more voyages between the years 1493 1504 to America. He opened the route to other nations as well and several other European countries followed. This scheme was followed for some time and along with all economic schemes and gunpowder, etc., came along the artsy fartsy people with the guitar to America, this is where the guitar becomes an idol.

But back in cozy Europe there was Antonio De Torres Jurado (13 June 1817- 19 November 1892) under his hands the guitar went under serious overhaul. With the help and advice from renowned guitarist and composer Julian Arcas, he designed the classical guitar; he increased the body size, tinkered with its proportions and introduced the revolutionary fan top-bracing pattern.

Torres had perfected the fan top bracing system; the bracings were laid out geometrically, based on two isosceles triangles joined at their base creating a kite shape, within which the struts were set out symmetrically. With this move the guitar was improved in a very rational terms, with the volume and tone of the guitar. All of these happened to the guitar during the 1850s. Nothing has happened to the guitar since then and till today it is still the accepted way of making the classical guitar.

In 1833, a German immigrant, Christian Frederick martin, Sr. came to America and opened a guitar shop. Till today the guitar shop still exist and is still faithfully a family run business. C.F martin started to manufacture X braced top guitar. Towards 1900 steel string guitar became widely used, it was much louder and the tension of the string complemented the X- braced guitar, which soon became the industry standard for the guitar. Up to this point the guitar still had a comparatively small body, the sound was loud but it was not yet outstanding as compared to present standard.

This was when martin came up with the Dreadnought style guitar, named after the dreadnought, a predominant type of battleship of the early 20th century. Even though the guitar was developed in 1916 but martin produced it in 1931. This concept had a larger body, which magnified the tone of the guitar. In a standard dreadnought styled guitar the neck is usually attached to the body at the 14th fret. This is now the most common style acoustic guitar produced by modern manufactures.

By 1894, Orville Gibson invented the arch top guitars with oval sound holes. He made it possible by mixing the steel string guitar's body with the body of a more cello in nature. The instrument became louder and more durable than before. In the year 1919 Gibson with the aid from Lloyd Loar redesigned the guitar to what we see it today as the semi acoustic guitar or archtop guitars. This move refined the guitar, distinctively with the f-holes, adjustable bridge and cello type tailpiece. This from of guitar is most preferred by jazz players.

Then the system of mechanical sound system was invented towards the year 1920. This was the time when Hawaiian music was the most hip music of the time. Lap steel guitar player George Beauchamp and a violinmaker John Dopyera invented the resonator guitar in 1927. Resonator guitar is basically the tri cone resonator system of mechanically amplifying the stringed instrument, a mechanical loud speaker made in a cone shape from aluminum, which was placed inside the guitar, resulting to loud sound. The guitar had become its loudest it could come to this point. But it wasn't loud up to the spectator standards. The problem was that the resonator guitar when played live had to be placed on the lap while being played which resulted to the sound energy going upwards and not towards the spectators. It wasn't loud enough when played live. It was good but it was not yet good enough.

In the year 1931, was the year the first electric guitar was designed. The frying pan. It was the inception of the electric guitar from it raised all the other guitars. It had magnetic horseshoe pick up, the body was in the shape of the frying pan and it was designed specifically for Hawaiian style guitar playing. The body of the instrument was made out of cast aluminum. The magnetic pick up was used to transform the sound energy in to a louder sound with the help of the amplifier. George Beauchamp, the Hawaiian style guitar player designed the frying pan and Rickenbacker manufactured it. v All this while young musician Lester William Polsfuss more legendry known as Les Paul (June 9 August 13, 2009) was tinkering with his guitar to make it louder and more distinct to his sound. He was not at all satisfied with electric acoustic guitar with a pick up or the archtop guitar. The point was that since the guitar was heard through the amplifier it was no point having the huge wooden body of the archtop guitar. In 1940 Les Paul came up with the famous Log; it was piece of lumber 4x4 with a bridge, guitar neck and a pick up attached. Les Paul approached Gibson with the model of the Log in intend of manufacturing it in to a guitar.

But the guys in Gibson thought it was strange for a guitar to have a solid body. In fact the Les Paul ended up being the joke for the factory for about ten years. In 1950, Clarence leonidas Fender (August 10, 1909 March 21, 1991), commonly known as Leo Fender, an engineer by profession designed the Fender broadcaster later named the telecaster.

After an invention that was famous around the time, that is the television. It was the first ever mass-produced solid body electric guitar. The telecaster was designed for mass production, it didn't look very exciting and it was two pieces of wood attached to be a guitar with pick up. But it was very sturdy and repair was easier. If you ever held a telecaster you can feel the straight lines. Even though Leo Fender designed the telecaster, he didn't know how to play the guitar. He was engineer not a guitarist. But the telecaster is still a very successful guitar till today and mostly country guitarists prefer it.

By 1950 Gibson was considered outdated and was losing in the business prospect. The guys in Gibson had to game up their plan and approach. In 1952 the Gibson Les Paul was born, it was designed with the collaboration of ideas between Gibson then president Ted McCarty and popular guitarist Les Paul. It had a single cutaway, a glued in head stock and pick ups.The Gibson Les Paul one of the best guitar. It is like the Ferrari in the car world but you always have BMW and Audi.

By 1954 fender bought the Stratocaster to the table. It was designed Leo Fender and two of other musicians George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares. The Stratocaster had a double cutaway with the two extended top horns for balance. The Stratocaster had more soul than the telecaster due to the input of the two musicians. These three models the Telecaster, Les Paul and Stratocaster are embedded with the genesis of modern electric guitar. The style and structure of the guitar transcend all other modern electric guitars.

Today the guitar is in its zenith. Even though it started out as an outsider's instrument, it is the most popular musical instrument. One of the most beautiful human invention and it is here to stay.


* Victor Lakpam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on September 20, 2012.



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