Guitar – The History, Evolution and All the Parts You Need to Know About

Guitar - The History, Evolution and All the Parts You Need to Know About
Reading Time: 18 minutes

Every guitar player perceives the “character” and the behavior of his/her guitar based on the manufacturer’s reputation and the reputation of the specific model. In most cases, the manufacturers and guitar models, especially the classic and well-known guitar models, have the most familiar and popular name and the myth they have left over the years.

It seems that around each model there is a consensus and the special way in which guitar players talk about, and to expect it like a veteran and famous model.
If we add to all this the great strength of the cult of personality that was created around the heroes of a specific brand, guitar and the idols who used over the years, and created the spirit and character of those guitars, so we can figure out how each guitar has received its glam and statement.

The love of guitarist and guitar

With the tremendous love that we guitarists have for our guitars, there is a symbiosis and a relationship that cannot be broken. Like a Samurai and his sword, every famous player has his Excalibur and the connection between guitarist and his guitar is perceived as a romantic, mystical charming relationship.

Some veteran musicians have stated that their guitar comes before their woman or man. Our guitars slowly integrate into our inner world, our identity, and become a significant part of who we are, from what we are and our souls.

We cannot separate Slash and his legendary Les Paul, or Mark Knopfler and his famous Fender Stratocaster. Every young and old player, who acquires the Fender Stratocaster, or Gibson Les Paul, feels that he/she also receives a small part of his/her favorite guitar idol, from his shameful legacy, and from the sense of belonging to a certain guitarist-cultural stream.

Accessibility of information

For many years, before the Internet has given us tons of knowledge and information and also confused some things, guitarists and musicians around the world spoke about the character of certain guitar models in abstract and heroic terms, almost mystical and metaphysical. The lack of access to understand what the producers have understood until then has led to the misunderstanding of most people, including guitar players.

In the past, it could sound almost unreasonable to say that a musical instrument is made of electronics and strings, and is based on physical and technical principles that can be understood and balanced.

Today, thanks to the abundance of information and its availability, the trend is that many guitar players know better than ever to speak in technical terms and understand the practical and technical significance of a particular guitar.

No two similar guitars are alike

There are many technical factors that directly affect the music experience and the sound of a particular guitar. Some of these factors are obvious, visible, and are perceived in most cases and some are more invisible.

The most significant reference parameters are usually the manufacturer and model, the building style – Gibson, Fender, Taylor, Martin, Ibanez and other manufacturers, the country it was made in, the guitar wood, the pickups and the electronics system, the bridge and tremolo system, the general suspension and the height of the guitar strings. Those, in general, are distinct and noticeable factors that are easy to grasp.

In this article, we emphasize other technical and structural factors that are concealed from the eye and are “less exciting”, and do not receive enough attention but still have a substantial influence on the experience. Also, we explain why a particular guitar model sounds the way it sounds and what creates our natural connection and attraction to this model.

The scale length

Scale Length is a parameter that many players are unaware of, but nonetheless, it has a huge influence on the experience of playing.

Did you notice the difference of string spacing between the two classics – the Gibson and the Fender Stratocaster? For those who do not notice, the Stratocaster intervals between the frets are larger than Les Paul – something that makes the playing significantly easier, especially the high octaves. 

The guitar scale length is the distance between the beginning of the fretboard and the center of the 12th fret multiple 2.

The length of the scale determines the length of the string. It can be said in a geometric language that the length of the triangle and the length of the string is the hypotenuse of the same triangle.

In Gibson, the length of the scale is 24.75 inches and in Fender Stratocaster, the length of the scale is 25.5 inches. The difference between these two models is only 0.75 inches (a little less than 2 centimeters), but it is a wonder, this “little” difference, which affects the experience of sound and playing with these guitars and in conjunction with other factors, greatly dictates the extent of our connection and attraction to this model and not to another model.

Tension, EQ, Tone & Attack

The overall length of the scale affects not only the spacing of the frets but also on the tension (voltage) of the strings when they are stretched and directed toward a certain given direction (for example E standard).

Many musicians who own the Fender Stratocaster and Gibson Paul’s, must have noticed that when installing Gibson Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster the same type of string set, of the same manufacturer, same thickness and in the same direction, the Stratocaster will have a higher tension and with a little more resistance when stretching the strings, while with Gibson Les Paul, you will feel much more relaxed, easy in stretching, more “casual” and less resistance.

These differences also stem from the overall length of the scale and the explanation is simple and logical. When we stretch the same strings on a different guitar model, the guitar with a shorter scale length will require an easier stretch. This is one of the differences in the guitars’ behavior and geometry.

The voltage of the strings is a result of the scale length. Besides the significant effect of the resistance and response speed of the guitar (Attack), the string tension also affects the nature of the sound and the sustain and the tone of the guitar.

The Stratocaster, the Telecaster, and the Les Paul

The classic and traditional structure of the Spanish flamenco guitar is the basis for which they began about 150-180 years ago. Companies like Martin and Gibson designed and built the folk guitars, acoustic guitars and Archie guitars. In the 1930s and 40 of the 20th century, it became also to the design of jazz guitars, such as the ES150 and other models. In the early 1950s, the Telecaster models and the Les Paul were the first electric guitar models manufactured in mass production.

The Gibson Les Paul

Over the years, Les Paul has won the reputation of a long and lasting sustain and a warm, deep sound. This is due to a number of structural technical factors that make it what it is, and they are undoubtedly an integral part of the definition and essence of the Les Paul as a musical instrument.

The Gibson Les Paul was designed in the spirit of Gibson’s traditional guitars with a glued neck and steady, stable bridges. This building style is a natural consequence

Gibson Les Paul

of hundreds of years from the production of violins and strings instruments in general, and later also the Lutta and the Spanish guitars, in which the neck of the instrument was glued to the guitar’s body. However, a hundred years ago,  it was natural for those who build guitars to continue to glue the neck to the body of the guitar.

In the early 1950s, this building style was the foundation of the design of Les Paul’s full-featured body guitar (Solid-body). Gluing the neck of the guitar, the body of the guitar, and turning it into a single stick, gives the preservation and good utilization of the guitar vibration and the Sustain. For years later, humankind will also understand the contribution and quality of the special sound of the screwdriver-Bolt-On Neck.

We should not forget that most Gibson models have the P90-type pickup or other pickups that dictate the nature and the sound of the guitar. Noth that main character of the Less Paul is its short scale, which creates relatively low-voltage, and also affects the EQ (frequency range) of the guitar and the duration of its sound (sustain). 

The Fender Stratocaster

The Fender Stratocaster, with its long scale, has won the reputation of the guitar with the Bell-like sound, which has high bass, and more clean sound.Fender Stratocaster

This sound was created mainly due to some parameters, such as single-type pickups, the type of wood, the screwdriver, and the general practical design of the guitar. But even in this case, the scale length has a significant impact on the behavior of the strings, the EQ-attack and the tone of the guitar.

Rehearsing scales

 Not long ago, the scale length and its influence were unknown parameters for most of the guitar players. This knowledge was esoteric, held mostly by producers and guitar and guitar accessories producers. Nowadays, the demand for electric guitars increased, and guitarists ask more profound technical questions about structural details and their influence on the guitar, such as the scale length.

Same as any other high-demand product, manufacturers began to produce and offer a variety of new and interesting technical specifications, to expand the limits of the instrument and provide a better playing experience

For example, manufacturers like the National PRS and BENEDETTO, realize how much the length of the scale affects the general design of the guitar and decided to use a 25-inch mid-length scale.

Note that, besides the above-mentioned, there are still many different sizes of acceptable scale lengths, which also vary between the types of guitars and various string tools (classic guitars, acoustic guitars, bass guitars, banjo, mandolin, etc.).

History teaches us that the standard scale length measurements of producers have changed  over the years, whether the change has happened due to new technological improvements or due to a particular production period in the company’s life, which

 is characterized by less attention to detail and the accuracy of the building (the CBS period in Fender for example).

In addition to all that mentioned, the scale length will eventually determine the final location of the lower bridge, as well as the direction of the strings while doing a guitar set up.

Guitar fretboard (neck) radius

An additional parameter that has a far-reaching effect on the nature of the guitar is the radius of the neck, the guitar fretboard neck.

Most of us have noticed that in acoustic guitars, electric and bass, the fretboard has a tiny arch. It is important to mention that the arch and radius is not fixed in all guitars, and there are several levels of arc and radius that change between the different designs of different guitars.

There are a number of acceptable radius measurements that repeat among different manufacturers and models, but in general, each radius measurement will be acceptable, as long as there is a person who feels comfortable with this level of the fretboard radius.

The most common radius dimensions are 7.25 inches old and famous of Fender, the 12-year-old radius of Gibson, 9.5 of the modern Fenders and the 16th flat of Martin. There are a few additional common radius measurements, which are used on other guitars on the market.

Guitar Neck

Compound radius guitar neck (fretboard)

There are necks that a single radius neck while some guitars have a variable radius (Compound Radius), which means that it begins in a relatively archy radius, and gradually stretching and shifting as you go along the neck.

The advantage and purpose of the design of variable radius are to minimize as much as possible the buzzing and the noise produced by the strings while they vibrating over the subsequent fretboard and to produce more archy areas on the fretboard, which will be convenient for playing chords and solo playing. Geometry Guitar

Through this sophisticated design, the manufacturer creates a situation in which the following fret the one we are currently pressing, will always have a moving radius and thus have a quieter sound, while the range of movement of the string expands toward the middle of the variable’s length.

This design, which is performed at a high level (and is usually indicative of a high level of planning and production), allows a very low set up with low undesired noises.

Another important advantage of the “complex radius” or “Connie” (Compound/Cone Radius) allows the guitar player to play the easy chords, the lower octaves and technical playing on the high and flat octaves. An example of this building style can be found in some of the models of Jackson and Parker companies and other companies.

The Geometry of Circles

The radius of the neck is a technical term, which relates to the level of the “arc” and the frets on it. It is necessary to see in the arch, as a part of an imaginary circle that revolves around the neck. For example, in the modern Fender, the radius of the circle that revolves around the neck section is 9.5 inches.

Naturally, between the radius and the level of the arc, there is a reverse ratio. The smaller the circle radius, (for example, 7.25 inches of the old Fender or Reissue), so that the level of the circle’s arc will be more radical and, as the circle radius is larger (for example, 20 inches of the Warwick guitars), so the level of the circuit of the circle will be more moderate.

How Rock and Roll changed guitars

At the beginning of the modern guitars industry, manufacturers decided on the radius of the fretboard arbitrarily and with very little prior indication, they made them relatively very curved.

The producers did not take into account the shredding and banding playing style. The rational consideration that led them was the arc, the natural form of the loose wrist when approached the guitar’s neck. The ergonomic consideration was to make it easier to hold chords, especially barre chords, since the guitar was then called Electric Spanish, and it was mostly caught as a tool designed to play an escort role.

The Rock and Roll revolution has led to a change in the traditional concept of the guitar and the musical patterns. Guitars manufacturers received feedbacks and special requests from musicians to make different use of their produced guitars. The new musical genre of the 1950s and 60s included solo scenes that combined “strange” acrobatics exercises, accompanied by “peculiar” string pranks in the rock and roll and blues styles.

Manufacturers and inventors like Mr. Leo Fender were very attentive to the hearts and wishes of the musicians and understood how much the neck geometry effects, and the level of the arch of the neck in particular.

Over the years, with the metaphysical development of electric guitars, guitar manufacturers have begun to experiment and make changes and improvements in the structure of the guitar and to examine their influence on musical techniques of guitarists.

These attempts included, among other things, the design of different radius dimensions in the neck of the guitars, when the trend is to try and give more flat necks, with larger radiuses, and to see the effect.

The impact of the radius on guitar Playability

In general, radiuses and more curved fretboards make it easier for the player to hold chords play solos. But conversely, the more the radius is convex, like the 7.25 of the fender, we will be forced to make the high-altitude (action) pitch higher to reduce the level of buzzing and bad sound at strings tensions.

Today, it is possible to find a wide range of different radiuses on guitars designed to play different musical styles. For example, 7.25 can be found mainly on Reissue guitars that follow the old style, for those looking for Slow-Hand and vintage playback.

In the classic-range between 9.5 inches and 12 inches, you can find classics like the new Stratocaster, the PRS, the Gibsons and many other good guitars.

Radius between 14 inches to 20 inches can be found in modern guitars designed for shredding, banding and low set up. For example, companies such as Ibanez and Jackson, which serve musicians such as Steve Wai, Joe Strii and similar.

Guitar neck profile

The neck profile is a technical term which essentially describes the shape of the thickness section of the neck structure.

The feeling of the neck as one unit in the player’s hand is naturally a multi-dimensional feeling that is very difficult to distill and describe. The feeling of the neck is composed of the structure of the layers of the neck and the neck shape that was created.

When we hold the neck of the guitar, the structure and the feeling of the neck consist of several factors and combinations. The type of fretboards, shape, width, and height, the radius and thickness, and the thickness and shape of what is called the “back of the neck,” or as it is now called – the neck profile.

The term “neck profile” is usually isolated and refers to the mass of the tree from which the “back of the neck” is made.

Although it is not the first thing you look at a guitar, the guitar neck profile is one of the most important parts of the instrument. A soft and light neck profile can make a huge difference in your playing experience and your ability to play for a long time.

Your palm on a guitar neck

Anyone who has ever held any tool, a wheel of a good car, a fine tennis racket, or any other tool that has an essential characterization of “Grip” can estimate how much the grip factor is “Game Changer” and has a very large meaning in the nature of the use and performance that the device is intended for.

In this matter, the guitar is definitely not a different animal and the profile of the neck and the grip that it provides us during the play are key factors, who are deeply affecting the course of all the music and indirectly, as well as the complete and the effects we create through our fingers, over the surface of the fingering and the strings.

The fact is that there are several neck cuts that are more popular and common than others. The neck profile is a classic case of flavor and smell and will not be subjected to good and not good.

Guitar neck profiles – What are the options?

In order to appoint and explain the different shapes and profiles of the existing necks, I’ll mainly refer to the profiles that the major companies have presented over the years.

Fender, Martin, and Gibson are the three main companies, who have always been able to establish leadership in the guitars industry.
The technical specifications that they have shaped and produced over the years have also been a sweeping influence on other guitars manufacturers.

Most of the standards by other large and small manufacturers have been decided by the trends and formats of these three manufacturers’ necks of their guitars in the time range of 60 to 100 years.

The neck profiles have three different shapes – C, U, and V. The parameters that differentiate between the neck of the guitar in general and the various neck profiles are the shape, depth, thickness, and how the profile varies, from the beginning of the neck to the end. Common and popular names are DEEP U SHAPE, SLIGHT V SHAPE, THICK C SHAPE and some more names such as Boat Shape Neck, 59 Roundback.

Guitar mass, design, and shape 

The ratio of mass to design is the million-dollar question when it comes to the convenience of the guitar. The matter requires experience and understanding that it seems that only top-notch guitars builders can reach the final goal. This requires a lot of experience, both as a builder and a guitar designer, and no less important experience as a guitar player, who knows how he/she wants to feel the neck.

Really good guitar builders are multitalented. They don’t build guitars just because they were bad players (a common argument among guitar builders). The difference between a good builder, an excellent builder, is not at the finish level of the varnish or the beautiful or less beautiful design. Excellent guitar builders must also be an excellent guitar player – A player who knows how to feel the guitar.

Nowadays, most of the manufactured guitars in mass production are generic. They are almost identical to each other since they are manufactured by the same milling, half-round heads, which are found on the CNC machines of the large producers and the more small factories of the smaller workshops.

It is true that most of the manufactured guitars in the mass production also receive a final manual process, but a lot of the form and the main characterization of the neck profile is determined by the mechanical cutting head. These necks have a homogeneous profile and variation, and are relatively linear and uniform and are almost identical to each other. In today’s mass-production methods, it is unlikely that you will find two necks of the same model that they are different or that they feel drastically different from each other.

Guitar neck profile

What is the ideal neck profile? There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer to this question, and the whole thing changes from player to player. A neck is too thin to a particular hand, can lead to rapid fatigue in the music, due to lack of effective handles. A neck that is too thick and the entire grip will make certain moves difficult.

The most commonly known neck profile of today’s guitars is Profile C and its seems that most of the musicians, over the years, have found it most comfortable and serves them well in most musical styles.

The evolution of the guitar neck

During the last 60 years, the global guitar industry has gained tons of technical experience and knowledge, with regard to the topic of ergonomics and convenience of playing. It seems that this is a subject that remains relevant, both the musicians and the manufacturers. In the course of the road, countless forms and widths of necks have been designed to meet the requirements of musicians and to enable the execution of new and demanding musical techniques that have been developed.

There are companies, relatively new and advanced, such as IBANEZ that their neck has become very thin and technical, designed specifically for unique players, such as Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. On the other side of the barricade, there were the pioneering and traditional companies, such as Gibson and Fender, that continued with classical and traditional necks, characterized by a relatively thick and massive profile, which is less suitable for more technical and modern playing styles.

For a period, it seemed that there was a clear polarity between the companies such as Fender and Gibson, which produce more classical-style guitars, and companies such as IBANEZ that develop their neck for players across the globe, more building-style guitars, progressive and ergonomic, which usually have a thin neck and more flat radiuses. 

Over the years, it seems that the differences and gaps between manufacturers have narrowed down and “infect” each other with knowledge accumulated in the style of building. Today, a variety of different shapes and neck profiles can be found.

For the sake of illustration, an old and relatively traditional company like Fender was not afraid to release the bonds of tradition and make changes in its most classic line of products, such as the Stratocaster. In its classic format, the Stratocaster had a classic C profile, which is relatively uniform and massive. However, in recent years, cervical-necks, designed in a slightly more flat, technical and refined format of the C profile called MODERN C SHAPE or FLAT OVALThere is no doubt that the company’s engineers are paying attention to the market and the desires of musicians.

A guitar neck in the U-profile is usually characterized by the thickness and round tree mass with the “shoulders”. Necks in DEEP U SHAPE profile have won the nickname BASE Baseball BAT NECKS. These necks can be found mainly, but not only, on old Fender Telecaster. These necks, fit from the nature of things to musicians with big hands.

The V-necks of these types is another format of a profile that was previously popular and made a comeback in the last decade. Neck V can be divided into two main groups: the necks of the wheels with SOFT/SLIGHT V SHAPE and necks with a more profile called the HARD V SHAPE. Usually, they can be found in specially requested musicians who will design the neck profile in the structure of the V, as found in the Stratocaster of Eric Clapton. They can also be found on the REISSUE MODELS guitars, which are part of their authenticity, including some of the “V” neck models.

An additional division that exists in the case of neck profiles is a division of the different manufacturing periods in the life of a company or manufacturer. Most of us know, or at least aware of the production period of the Fender company. Periods called PRE CBS, CBS, POST CBS. Gibson also has the common division of the 50-year-style fleshy neck profiles and the thinnest and most technical neck profiles of the 60.

In companies such as Gibson and Martin who operate for over 100 years, there is also a technical division of before, during and after the World Wars. This relates mainly to World War II, though not only. PRE WORLD WAR, POST WORLD WAR.

As we said before, the neck profile can be a hallmark of a particular production period in the lives of a company, manufacturer, or model. This is from a well that illustrates the trends and the spiritual spirit that was once and today. In some cases, according to the neck, it is possible to speculate on the production period of certain guitars and also to see which trends have survived and remain loved.

Neck profile and height of frets

The metal profiles across the neck of the guitar, are referred to as FRETS. Most guitars and other stringed instruments, such as the mandolin, the Buzoki, and the banjo, meet the definition of FRETED MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS.

Freted musical instruments are a part of the extensive string tools in order to produce a “rigid” tonal division of the sounds along the neck unlike other strings instruments, such as the oud, and the vast and luxurious strings family, where the sounds also are produced by string vibration, but there is no orderly, hardwired, and pre-defined division of the various tones that are found in the instrument.

In the world of geometric concepts-physical, a fret is a cyclical, infinite structure that is characterized by the fact that in different directions, it does not change its relationship and internal cycle. Frets are the geometric elements that create and divide internal divisions.

Surely you have asked yourself not once, why are the intervals between the frets are getting smaller as we rise up in the fretboard and octaves, while the ton gap always stays half a ton? Where does this “lack of symmetry” come from?

When analyzing the guitar, most of us think about the vibration of the strings as the main function of the guitar and the strings. But, some of us tend to forget the other half of the matter and what the left-hand (or right-hand for left-handers) does.

The left hand is constantly busy to shorten and prolong the strings. When we click a certain chord in a particular fret, we actually shorten the string, so that the length of the string is now deployed from the center of the fret on which we clicked to the lower bridge saddle. The rest of the string that exists in front of the pressed fret (toward the keys of the direction) does not fill any position while clicking it, as if it does not exist.

You can see that the playing of the guitar and the production of the strings are based on two main principles in the field. The right hand is the “Operation”, while the left arm is busy with the pressure of the strings, between and with the fretboard. The technical meaning of the pressure of a particular chord, in a particular fret, is to shorten the length of the strings.

In the most technical form, a guitar is actually a tool that has strings on it. The height of the sound that a particular string produces at a given moment is dictated by 3 main parameters:

  • Mass – the thickness of the string and the composition, the gravity and the nature and behavior of the material from which it is made.
  • Tension Voltage – How many pounds of pressure we operate on the string.
  • The length of the scale – The length of the strings with the mass and the tension.

When playing on the guitar, the mass of the strings is constant and determined by the type and thickness of the strings we chose to install on our guitar, for example, an elixir of 0.10. Even the tension of the strings is fixed at the time of playing and is determined by the type and height of the direction we chose to direct our guitar, for example, E Standard.

The only factor that changes at the time of playing is actually the length of the strings, which we change by clicking on the frets on the fretboard. As we rise up the neck, we actually shorten the strings and thus the sound becomes higher.

In fact, the main principle of guitar playing is a “length mass” of the string, when the power and general mass of the strings are a constant factor. Therefore, every half-ton we want to go up requires a smaller chance of the length the string and the fretboard is becoming denser than so that the tones will remain symmetrical.

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