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Five Ways in Which the Electric Guitar Changed the World

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If there is one single musical instrument that can be conceivably argued as truly world-changing, it has to be the electric guitar, to which just about every artist performing today owes a huge debt. Its rebellious sound and the iconic performers that favored it would provide the soundtrack of the 1960s and would usher in a whole new world of musical expression never deemed possible previously.

Since the electric guitar is such an important innovation in modern human history, we thought we’d show you just how the amplified axe has been influential for both music and wider society over the near-century since it was first dreamt up.

Killed the Big Band

Interestingly, the impetus for the electric guitar’s very creation was the first victim of the electric guitar’s rise to prominence in popular music. In the 1920s and ’30s, the “big band” was all the rage. The problem was that the acoustic guitars of the day had literally zero chance of competing with the vast horn sections leading the melody.

Designers of the day wanted to make the guitar a prominent lead instrument of its own, but this would prove to be impossible without some form of technological breakthrough. The invention of the electric pickup in 1924 and a more refined version in 1931 allowed the guitar to stand out in the crowd, and a lot of people started taking notice!

Suddenly, the “big band” was much less popular, with people enjoying rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, and blues live combos in its place.

Transformed How Music Was Enjoyed

After the electric guitar was invented, suddenly a range of possibilities opened up. Bands didn’t need 20 members anymore. Four would do instead.

Stages could be smaller and music could be enjoyed outside of the large concert halls needed to house big bands. Nowadays, three or four-piece bands can perform to fans in just about any place with power. Basements, backstreet bars, house parties, and even takeaways are all in the cards, making music performance much more accessible for both attendees and performers alike. Electric guitar genres of music such as blues and jazz also had a huge impact on the gambling industry. 

Additionally, the recording technology in the early days of the electric guitar’s life favored loud noise rather than the softer ones synonymous with acoustic guitars. Electric guitars lent themselves much more to the recording process. After the first electric guitars were distributed widely, new musical expressions could be enjoyed from people’s homes too!

New Genres of Music

With the new instrument came even more possibilities for experimentation. Traditional acoustic blues was amplified and fed into the creation of rock ‘n’ roll. In turn, artists such as Chuck Berry and other legends influenced the likes of the Beatles, giving birth to pop music as we know it today, and Led Zeppelin, paving the way for harder rock sounds.

Bands like Black Sabbath took their cues from Led Zep’s harder tracks and gave birth to heavy metal. Later, rebellious working-class youths would reject the then-dominant sounds in alternative music for a much simpler way of writing songs. The anti-establishment wave of punk rock would also not have been at all possible without the electric guitar.

Think about the range of guitar-driven genres that have evolved since the invention of the electric guitar. In fact, think about any popular genre of music from the 1950s until EDM first reared its ugly head in the 1990s, and you’re sure to find an electric guitar. Disparate styles have all embraced the instrument including funk, jazz, soul, R&B, all kinds of metal (death, black, power, hair, etc.), punk rock and its many subgenres (hardcore, grindcore, ska, and everything in between), and reggae all owe a lot to the iconic instrument.  

Expanded the Guitar Player’s Arsenal

Apart from the practicalities of the electric guitar (it was louder and more versatile than the acoustic), the popularity of the instrument owes a lot to the creativity of its early players. The electric guitar made so many different techniques possible, which made the music produced in the 1950s and ’60s truly inspirational.

People couldn’t believe it when Hendrix played with his teeth and made use of feedback to produce an LSD-laden sound of pure psychedelia! Such versatility made the guitar even more alluring and allowed those playing it to dazzle audiences with an array of flashy tricks, mind-bending sounds, and stage shows that would have barely been possible with the cumbersome and quiet acoustic.

Although not really world-changing in itself, the breadth of expression made possible by new models, new features (like a tremolo arm), and breakthroughs in digital effects, meant the electric guitar was constantly reinventing itself and staying right at the forefront of popular culture.

Soundtrack of a Revolution!

By making music performance more accessible and allowing for more rebellious music, the electric guitar provided much of the soundtrack for the societal revolution of the 1960s. Artists like Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and others all sang about radically new concepts not often heard on the radio at the time.

Free love and substance use were the order of the day and parents hated those even more than they hated the rambunctious dress sense and haircuts of the rebellious teen idols at the time. Of course, this only made the early rock bands more alluring. 

These bands gave young people a voice that could be broadcast far and wide for the first time, well, ever. They used it to question the status quo, advocate for civil rights, equality, and greater freedom of expression. Of course, these ideas found a lot of traction at the time thanks to the electric guitar’s ability to cut above other noise. Modern day feminism, civil rights, and the anti-war movement would look very different had it not been for the electric guitar. 

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