Rock and roll music was particularly associated with a new
electric guitar design, the Spanish-style solid-body. The
earliest known commercially produced Spanish solid-body is
the 1939 Slingerland. Around 1940, Les Paul experimented
such a design, and in 1947, Paul Bigsby teamed up with country
singer Merle Travis to design a solid-body guitar that more
closely resembled the ones we know today. But it was radio
repairman Leo Fender who would be the first to successfully
mass-produce and market a Spanish-style solid-body electric
The immediate success of Fender's new style of electric quickly
influenced other manufacturers to start producing their own
models. In 1952 Gibson became Fender's first major competitor,
introducing its own solid-body guitar with the help of celebrity
endorser Les Paul. The mass production of these and other
new models of highly desirable electrics allowed teenagers
across the country to reinvent themselves in terms of a vision
of musical rebellion and independence.
Although many people thought that rock and roll would be a
passing fad, by the 1960s it was clear that this music was
firmly rooted in American culture. And electric guitarists
had become the superstars of rock. Live performances in large
halls and open-air concerts increased the demand for greater
volume and showmanship. Popular groups like the Beatles and
the Rolling Stones generated an international following that
verged on the hysterical.
By then, most rock guitarists were no longer aiming to achieve
clean, cutting sounds on the electric guitar. They began to
experiment, and new sounds and textures, like distortion and
feedback, became part of the guitarist's language. Jimi Hendrix
was rock's great master of manipulated sound. By using techniques
such as maneuvering the guitar's tremolo arm and playing close
to the amplifier, Hendrix achieved spectacular effects.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s guitarists continued experimenting.
Their new musical vocabulary emphasized loud, raunchy power
chords, flashy solos, and overall volume, becoming known as
heavy metal. Eddie Van Halen experimented with sounds like
"dive bombing," using the tremolo arm to drive the
guitar's lowest note even lower. Hendrix had done this and
frequently forced the instrument out of tune as a result.
But by the mid-1980s, inventor Floyd Rose had improved solid-body
guitar tremolo systems, making it possible to "dive bomb"
The last several decades have also witnessed the rise of professional
female electric guitarists. Thanks to pioneers like Bonnie
Raitt, women have earned an equal place in what had traditionally
been a male-dominated field. Today, more than six decades
after bursting on the American musical scene, the electric
guitar still features in all types of music and is played
and admired by men and women, young and old, throughout the