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This One Goes to 11: A Brief History of Guitar Amplification

This One Goes to 11: A Brief History of Guitar Amplification

The guitar was originally a parlor instrument. It was meant to be played in small rooms for small audiences. Overtime, however, players longed for increased volume, which resulted in a series of innovations that eventually culminated in the electric guitar.

Making the Guitar Louder

First came the steel strings. Westward expansion in the 18th century United States required a lot of fencing, so the material was cheap, and steel strings proved significantly louder than gut. Predictably, the internal bracing had to be fortified to accommodate the additional tension, which resulted in the X-brace, a staple of acoustic guitar design that is still used by luthiers today. 

Archtop guitars were likewise developed to increase the instrument’s volume. Arching the top and back resulted in enhanced projection. “Gypsy Jazz” guitar builders used a different approach to achieve a similar end; doubling the top wood and carving out oversized sound-holes. 

The resophonic guitars of the 1930s incorporated primitive metal speaker systems into the guitar’s body. This definitely increased volume, albeit at the expense of the instrument’s “natural” tone. Inventor Rudolph Dopyera felt that the tri-cone design did the best job of preserving the instrument’s voice, but the cheaper, single-come models became popular amongst blues musicians who enjoyed the “honky” timbre. Originally intended to compete with brass and wind instruments, resos have now become closely associated with bottleneck slide playing.

Bring in the Electronics

The first magnetic pickups were designed for Hawaiian lap steel guitars. “Spanish”-style Jazz players adapted this technology for their own purposes, retro-fitting their archtops with floating pickups that were suspended between the strings and soundboard. In 1952, Leo Fender introduced the world to the first solid-bodied electro-Spanish guitar, the Telecaster

Fender’s design begot a slew of variations and imitations, and volume gluttons focused their appetites on amplifiers. After blowing up all the available options, Surf guitarist, Duck Dale, commissioned the first 100-watt amplifier. Bigger and badder models soon followed, resulting in the towering full stacks of today. 

When it’s a question of being heard over the din of a noisy bar, or in any number of other sonic contexts where guitarists are expected to perform, louder is better. Our team at Midwood is ready to outfit you with the gear you need to cut through the mix. We also have attenuators if you want your amp to roar without the decibel overload. Give us a call today and we’ll help you take it to 11 and beyond!

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May 12th 2022 Douglas Armstrong

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