God Bless America! 

The History of the Electric Guitar

In our fair city alone, there are rumored to be a good 1,500 bands peddling their musical wares, and you know at least two thirds of 'em use an electric guitar. So, why are we still fixated with the damned thing?

To get a little perspective, maybe we should take a little history lesson and go back a few steps (or a few thousand as the case may be). Stringed instruments similar to our modern guitar have been popular for at least 5,000 years. The Roman cithara and the Moorish oud were early predecessors, but the Spanish are usually credited with creating the first "guitar" in the form of the vihuela in the 16th century. Alterations of that design began to spread throughout Europe, although it largely played second fiddle to the "powerhouse" instrument of the day, the mighty lute. Still, as the years passed into centuries, the guitar became an invaluable mainstay, first in the classical music realm, and later as the backbone of many indigenous folk musics.

In early days of the 20th century, as a newly electrified Western culture began its love affair with technology, "louder and "faster" music was bound to follow. The popular sounds of raucous big band music had rendered the guitar inaudible, and even newer inventions like the aluminum resonator guitar, the Dobro, were found wanting. Enter George D. Beauchamp, the undisputed father of the electric guitar (and the eventual founder of the Rickenbacker company), who began production of the instrument in the 1930s. Much like its acoustic counterpart, many were dismissive of this new technology as a fad, especially because they sounded so little like traditional guitars. Some reactions were even more heated, such as that of classical guitar virtuoso Andrés Segovia who scoffed, "Electric guitars are an abomination, whoever heard of an electric violin? An electric cello? Or for that matter an electric singer?"

Abomination or not, the electric axe has become far and away the most popular American instrument. But why? On the surface, there are many practical reasons; it's cheap, extremely portable, and any pimply teenager with an inkling of musical ability can hack his way through a cluster of power chords. I believe the truth behind the instrument's cultural fetish runs much deeper though. The electric guitar has become iconic: symbolic of youth, rebellion, debauchery, and (sorry, ladies) a natural phallic extension for the universally frustrated man-child.

So, as long as there's free-flowing beer and "the Man" is around to keep us down, the electric guitar will be alive and well. God bless America!

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