Richard Daniel's HeavyGuitar.com Ezine -- Issue #1
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Welcome to the inaugural issue of the HeavyGuitar.com
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So, let's get this show on the road...
Richard Daniels speaks on the Evolution of the Guitar
I was cruising the aisles of my friendly Guitar Center
superstore the other day when I was overcome by a funny
feeling: Guitar Overload. Too much candy apple paint,
too many high tech features, and to many things to plug
into on the way to the amp. Its not that I am against
fun guitar toys, or the exaggerated world that surrounds
the guitar today. Actually, I am just as much a sucker
for the "latest thing" as the next guy walking around
wide eyed inside the local music store. It is just that
on this particular day I felt that there was something
missing from the overall picture. Whatever that
"something" was, I knew that I was standing over my
head in the middle of it. All of the glitter and shine
that seemed to sort of radiate from the dozens of
guitars in the racks seemed to blind me somehow. All
of this and they weren't even plugged in!
I couldn't put my finger on it, so I decided to remove
myself and just think about it on the drive home. My
contradicted feelings stemmed from trying to see through
the overkill atmosphere at the store. I understand that
a tremendous demand for the guitar over decades of
growth has pushed the instrument to unforeseen heights,
but the problem I saw is that the enshrouded mantle
of icon/image/holy grail that the guitar has truly
earned and accumulated over time, now tends to serve
as a fog around the true reasons and historic
circumstance that allowed the instrument to survive,
flourish and adapted to any cultural or electronic
revolution along the way to the top. I like the music
store. That is why I was there. But the fog of
unquestioned adoration that the modern guitar has been
pushed into just got a little too thick for me that
day. The whole thing left me with some figuring to do.
As a devoted guitar teacher, at some point I need my
students to see the guitar stripped to its bare bones
to gain access to its real nature: a scientific
instrument. It bugs me that any new student of the guitar
(at any age) is being brought in so "late in the story"
of the instruments' triumphant ascendancy to the world's
most popular instrument, that the original underlying
set of diverse reasons for the guitar's long, fortuitous
evolution are being obscured by the trappings and
excess of the very success it brought to itself. I had
to conclude that anybody being presently introduced to
guitar study is destined for an experience similar to
tuning into a movie during the final chase scene: Lots
of action witnessed, but very little perception into
why the chase is taking place or where it is going.
I searched my mind for a framework that would put the
guitar in focus, in respect to what I would say to the
initiate to explain the overall deal of how the guitar
arrived so full blown into our present time. My decision
was to travel back in time and check out the
circumstances surrounding the birth of the guitar. It is
my way of "cutting through the fog" and hopefully
helping you to see the guitar in a new light.
The guitar as we now know it, referred to formally as
the modern guitar, surfaced into the capital cities of
Europe around 1780. Bach and Handel were gone. Mozart
was blazing and Beethoven was a child prodigy. Eighty
years after the invention of the piano, and fifty years
after the height of Stradivarius' violin making efforts,
the guitar was born into the fire and the glory of the
European Classical revolution. The six string modern
guitar was preceded by the lute (real big during the
Renaissance) and immediately by early guitars that
tensioned four and five strings. What I want you to see
is that the modern guitar came into being after
instrument craftsmen and musicologists already nailed
down chromaticism. This was a huge inherent problem
that took a few centuries to work out, but was well
understood by the time the guitar was built.
Many early stringed instruments had some of the guitar's
attributes, but the eclipse of perfections in technology,
instrument construction, and the need for a universally
chromatic chord/melody vehicle to adapt to the intensity
of classical application is what led up to the forced
creation of the guitar. Know that the eclipse was
unique. One of a kind.
The guitar is an ingenious invention that up to one
point in time did not exist. Hard as it is to imagine
today, there had to be one fine earth day of human
history where the sun rose above the horizon and it
was THE FIRST DAY OF TIME IN WHICH THE GUITAR EXISTED.
The very day before, it did not exist. Somewhere in
Europe around 1780 the sun came up one day and there
on the finishing bench of an instrument laboratory laid
the first modern guitar ever made. Please understand:
the new guitar had a whole lot going for it. Our guitar
is a perfected instrument that stood on the shoulders
of all that went before. To me personally, that special
day in history marked the production of the crown of
creation of all human endeavors. The guy that made it
walked up to the bench, picked up the first guitar in
the world, blew off the sawdust, and with the birds
chirping outside, he strummed the very first open
E chord form across the six strings. Never before in
music history had a stringed instrument held so much
future potential. Never had a stringed box incorporated
so many clever inventions, so many figured puzzles,
into one finished universal piece. The guitar was
created out of a very real need and demand for the
Well known was the fact that the string shook in half,
and that the study of music involved fixing (fingering/
fretting) the string between the open string note and
the next higher octave produced at the halfway mark
along the strings length. The dominant (fifth) was
discovered to occur when the string shakes in thirds,
and the mediant (third) was discovered to occur when
the string shakes in fifths. From these discoveries came
the grand invention. Cultures around the world knew for
centuries that the major chord, natural to the overtones
of the singing string, played out over the first half of
any string (open string, 4th fret, 7th fret, 12th fret).
So the major chord 1, 3, 5, 1" plays out over the first
half of the string. The original design goal of the
makers of the first guitar was to take these critical
proportioned points found on the low E string and
reiterate them on adjacent strings in such a way that
the left hand can easily finger the resulting
configuration. The end result of everything about the
guitar's original map revolved around the fact that an
E chord can easily be made, held and manipulated with
the left hand. I'm telling you- it was centuries in
The open E form: fits the hand perfectly, allows easy
conversion to the minor chord, outer open strings sing
two tonic notes two octaves apart, allows easy open
playing of the E major scale; the eclipse of these
features, first witnessed in a wood working instrument
studio more than 220 years ago, were the seeds that
allowed the tree of blues/rock to grow untethered into
our present exploded world view. The other open chord
forms of A, C, D and G also fell coincidentally into
handy, usable constellations. The birth of the modern
guitar signaled a long sought after "breaking of the
code", much like the hard road of discovery that led
to the discovery of DNA, the periodic table or the
electromagnetic spectrum: once the problem was
singularly solved all other searching parties dropped
their efforts and yielded to the obvious superior
breakthrough. Stand by me and see the first guitar
as the finish line, after which all other applications
of style on the instrument are mere reflections of
cultural adaptations. Style followed the instrument.
Although the piano is the ultimate chromatic machine,
the guitar allows for bending a note, a right hand
staccato attack, the sliding a note and the vibrato
technique all of which can't be performed on the piano.
The effect of the guitar's sound is ultra-sensual because
every movement of the finger along the strings' length
directly prints the musical tone with the artist's
personal signature. The flesh of the finger touches
the musical vehicle itself at all times. The strings
of the piano are hidden away in a wooden box. The
guitar is portable. One hand goes over the strings
while the other goes around them. Shorten the string
length and you force the player to contort like a
violin player. Longer strings lengths... check out a
cello player. The guitar is perfect because it allows
the player to sing, to jump around, to strum hard, to
play soft... well, you know. The dawn of electricity
allowed the player to move up the neck, to play sax
lines, leaving behind the original design goal of
universal bass chordophone. The equal proportion of
the frets and the fixed distance between the strings
present a homogenized system to the casual observer.
But we know that everything about the guitar's layout
was determined to produce the primary E form at the
bottom. Everything else, including its ultimate
adaptability to the music of future cultures, fell
into place after that single determination.
The bottom line is that the guitar was born into a
classical world and stood as an answer to a series of
long standing problems on the day it was born. The
solutions that the guitar provided to the players of
the 1780's (friendly E form, highly adaptable
6 string/12 fret/72 digit repeating chromatic pattern)
are the very same mechanisms that allowed the guitar's
acculturation through time and space as it was removed
from Europe, taken to the South of the United States
and you know the rest (Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters,
Elvis, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin,
Van Halen, Yngwie, Stevie Ray and so on.) So next time
you are in the local music store, and Johnny-come-lately
starts playing too loud on a guitar that he just
picked up for the first time, just simply leave the
store, drive around in the car and think hard about
the first guitar player, gazing out the window of the
first REAL guitar shop, never knowing what lay ahead
for his new friend.
I am sure that you have figured out by now that I love
the guitar, and that I am blind out sold on the thing
lock, stock and barrel. Please know that there is a lot
more that I want you know about our instrument of
choice, and I intend to relay that insight to you
in future newsletters.
QUESTION & ANSWER COLUMN
Since this is our inaugural issue... I do not have
questions from you to answer. So I have come up with
a few questions I know many of you have.
For our next issue, please email me at
email@example.com, and send me your questions.
I will address as many of them as I can in the next
issue of HeavyGuitar.com Ezine.
QUESTION: What is the blues scale?
The blues scale is a hybrid, five note minor scale
that has several distinctive characteristics. This
scale is formally called the minor pentatonic and
contains the degrees: 1 -3 4 5 -7. This unique
scale is a subset of the natural minor scale
(1 2 -3 4 5 -6 -7) and is technically known as a
"gapped scale" because it has two intervals of a minor
third (three fret distance) in its makeup between the
1st and -3rd and the 5th and -7th.
The core of the scale is the 1st and the 5th. These two
degrees are found in all common scales and form the
elements of the powerchord. The 4th is a sister degree
of the tonic and along with the 1st and 5th comprise
the three points that comprise the blues song form of
1,4,5. It is the "blue notes" of the -3rd and -7th that
give this scale its special sound. These two minor notes
are normally bent upward during blues lead guitarwork.
The end result is that the blues scale is not
particularly melodic, but its use carries a characteristic
hard hitting direct sensation: a contrast of minor and
major effect. The early rock guitarists employed this
very same blues scale used by the founding delta and
Chicago blues fathers, but forced this abbreviated,
convertible minor based scale into a new diverse
world of use.
QUESTION: What determines a strings frequency?
First of all, the term frequency commonly refers to the
number of times a second that a tensioned, singing
string completes its full up and down movement over
the time period of a second. This number reading is
usually given in hertz (hz) which is the number of cycles
per second (440cps or hz.) and is referred to as the
fundamental frequency of a note. This frequency number
determines a note's tone, and its relative position in
the musical range (treble/bass). Three common factors
normally determine the frequency of a singing string.
The mass-per-unit length, or the gauge of any given
string, directly affects the string's resulting
frequency. The thicker a string, the more resistance
a string offers the force of vibration, which results
in a lower frequency. With all other factors constant,
a thinner replacement string will vibrate at a higher
frequency. The greater the length over which a singing
string is tensioned, the lower the resulting frequency
sounded. This is a handy thing to know when you set out
to intonate your guitar, which involves micro-
adjustments to the string's vibrating length using the
six individual string mini-saddles built into most
Of course the tension of the string is the single most
convertible factor that affects the frequency of a
string. The greater the tension from winding the string
tighter, the greater the resulting frequency. Have a
reputable guitar technician set up your guitar's string
height and intonation. Be aware that if you change the
gauge of your strings that the resulting accumulative
change in tension from the pull of all six strings
may require a sting height, bridge, nut or truss rod
adjustment to the neck of the instrument.
QUESTION: What is the difference between the Fender
Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul?
Because today's market place offers such a wide variety
of customization, aftermarket products and spinoffs that
apply to both of these guitar models, my answer will
address only the historic perspective in which these
guitars are held. While both of these models came to
prominence during the 1950's, the traditional hallmark
difference between these guitars is the Les Paul
employed two double coil pickups in its design while
the Stratocaster came with three single coil pickups.
A tremendously popular recording star of the late 40's
and early 50's, Les Paul was compensated for his
services as an advisor to the Gibson guitar company in
exchange for the use of his name on a line of
specialized guitars. The resulting masterpiece, the
Les Paul guitar, employed a laminated mahogany top solid
body, dark wood fretboard and an angled head stock with
three tuning machines on each side. Several of the
overall design features of the Les Paul hark back to the
era of the hollow body arch top acoustic guitar: The
strings carry over the bridge to an anchor on the face,
the wood of the top and back of the guitar is carved to
mimic the "bulge" of an arch top, the thickness of the
instrument's body remains uniform around the perimeter
of the single cutaway body, and the pickplate is fixed
a quarter inch or so above the actual painted top of
the guitar. The input jack of the Les Paul is along the
lower back edge, directly into the side of the guitar.
The dawn of the Stratocaster during the mid 50's marked
a true departure from the telltale characteristics of
the acoustic guitar. The very first Strat ever sold had
a patented multi-spring, pivoted wammy bar. The double
cutaway, one piece solid body sported a specially
shaved "thinned down" top edge to fit the performer's
body. The bolt-on neck of the Strat was offered only
with a one piece maple neck/fretboard during the
vintage years of the late 50's, with a distinctive head
stock that ran all six tuners along the upper edge.
The face of the rounded top headstock ran flat and
parallel to the fretboard. This required the top four
strings to be pulled under small metal "string trees"
on the way to the tuners in order to get enough
tension over the nut. The pickplate of the Stratocaster
is screwed directly to the top of the guitar, and
three single coil pickups are placed directly in
elongated holes in the pickplate. The input jack is
placed at an angle in an indented metal housing
excavated into the face of the guitar just off the
pickplate by the control knobs.
Comparing the playing and trademark sound of the two
guitars, the double coils of the Les Paul have always
offered a softer, mellower midrange sound when compared
to the cutting treble output of the single coils of a
Stratocaster. Of course, the question of which guitar
is "best" has always been a matter of preference to
each performer that owns one. I have found that when
the subject is brought up that brand model loyalty can
be downright fierce and a matter of sworn alliance.
The truth is that at this late date in the evolution
of these two models, the availability of custom
hardware, advancements in electronics, high tech body
parts, and a vast diversity of choice concerning every
aspect of the design makeup of both the Les Paul and
the Stratocaster, has created a world where each
particular guitar is unique to itself.
Nowadays when you see a "Strat" or a "Les Paul" on stage
or TV, the chances are that what you are actually seeing
is a facade of a vintage model's body shape outfitted
with hardware that has little or nothing to do with the
original traditional characteristics associated with
the ideal, historic model.
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HeavyGuitar.com Ezine. Please send your questions, and
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Cordially, Richard Daniels, Heavy Guitar Company /
Richard Daniels Productions. Voice: (610) 869-5885
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