The Electric Guitar has lost it's myth. The electric guitar, like no other instrument, has shaped the musical development of this century. With a complete break with the tradition of craftsmanship of plucked stringed-instrument construction, in 1948 Leo Fender created an instrument that was designed with industrial reproducibility in mind. This guitar, called "the Telecaster" was free of traditional ornament and very bold in its appearance, as it consisted only of a wooden board with a bolted-on neck. This and the high production numbers put the electric guitar at the vanguard of Pop music.

Chicken or Egg?   With the emergence of radio and television, a generation of musicians developed from the 1940's onward that regarded visual appearance as equally important to the show as the musical aspect. Musical formations became smaller after amplifier technology was developed. If one wanted to achieve loudness, one didn't have to depend on possession of numerous instruments. One single artist could play as loud as an entire orchestra.

Rock 'n' Roll   At the same time, the scaling down of the orchestra allowed more room for the expression of the individual musicians, and both the tonal and physical presence. The bands got to be a size that allowed the projection of the yearnings and requests of the audience on individual musicians. A role-distribution assigned every bandmember a certain role. The individual disciplines were virtually the same in all bands: Guitar, Bass, Drums, Singing. The messages occurred within this system.

Jimi   Popstars arose. Musicians were admired by a young generation of listeners, whose opinion of musical quality ascribed to very different criteria than those of classical music. The indescribable presence of a band and its members was the measure for admiration, and not the virtuous command of the instrument, like a soloist in front of a large orchestra.

Musicians like Jimi Hendrix or Pete Townshend developed an expression that went far beyond musical artistry. They managed to express the thoughts of an entire generation of young people in their playing and gave the instrument that what made it into an effective tool of an young culture: unpredictability and danger. On stage the guitar served as a canvas, as a phallic symbol, as a sex object, as a weapon, as a throwing-object and as the most elementary form of noise. Rock and roll was a physical experience for musicians and audience alike. Young people had invented their own voice. Unlike theater and concert, Rock was far away from any concessions to society and free of the understanding of the parent-generation, i.e. created for provocation. Rock 'n roll became the medium that crossed over national boundaries and united young people.

My guitar wants to kill your mama   With the advent of synthesizers, keyboarders also developed an individual tonal expression and received lots of attention at first. In the end, not even in the nineties, despite extreme tonal metamorphosis, has the keyboard been able to totally lose its bourgeois origin as a piano. In this way it became only partly used as an object of dissociation from society. As a traditional folk instrument, the guitar had no credibility problems. With a guitar or bass one could, e.g. have sex on stage or destroy a drum-set. With keyboard one could only impress intellectuals or even worse, one's own parents. Used as a weapon against generational conflicts, the guitar wasn't only an instrument, but rather more of a statement. The guitar naturally benefited from the fact that you couldn't play it using headphones. At least that's what was claimed.

Mainstream   After the secessive needs of the post-war generation were extinct, room for new musical development arose. The guitar has long lost its danger. No more was the contents of the music not only breaking-out, but also much more reflection about the present. Alongside of this, other manneristicly-applied forms of music developed. Next to the main current of musical development there was always a continuity of breaking-out and provocation. Styles like Garage, Punk, Metal, Hardcore, and Industrial show the continuing diversification of the side current.

Steinberger, Klein, Parker, Auerswald   This development has been accompanied by a combination of musical change and improvements in instrument construction. Whenever defects or hidden qualities of the instrument led to new forms of expression or provocation, the other manufacturers quickly followed suit with the technical changes. Parallel to this, a number of effects-boxes were produced that, put between the guitar and the amplifier, allowed further manipulation. A never-before-known variety of tone colors and tone effects were generated. Amplifiers and speaker-cabinets were newly designed with the purpose of allowing and controlling feedback, which had been up until then regarded as disturbing. The guitar as a tool of sound manipulation was then technically so refined that of Leo Fender's original design only two things have remained: the body and neck. Numerous interesting developments have been lost over time. Others gained a lasting position, like e.g. Ned Steinberger's or Ken Parker's guitars. Worth mentioning are also Jerry Auerswald's instruments, whose free formal graceful designs come the closest to the medial character of Pop. In addition, there are naturally smaller developments from many manufacturers, that nowadays have long become the standard in instrument construction.

A final design of the guitar is surely far off in the future. As the instrument of the folk, the guitar was always the obvious means of expression of melody and communication. Easily learn-able and cheap to buy, it became irreplaceable for composition and interpretation of songs. Its significance for the song remains up until today unchanged.

Pop, Post-Pop   If one were to consider the advent of amplifiers replacing orchestra music as the first big breaking-point, then, through the use of information technology, in the nineties occured a second, possibly deeper break with tradition. After the Pop-Modern, therefore the Post-Modern. Everything seems already tried-out and exhausted. Music is becoming a object of organization and not anymore only of interpretation. Tones and musical fragments are added and subtracted, estranged, cut up and strung together again. That new styles like Drum & Bass, Techno, Dub, Ambient, etc. have been conventionalized in mass-market Pop, shows a changed perception of music. Immediacy, improvisation and interpretation are pushed into the background. At the same time Pop music detaches itself from the personal connection to an artistic author, who can denote himself as the only originator of his works and interpretations.

Guitar or Egg?   II believe that the future of the guitar still lies in its immediacy. As a body-contacting medium of expression of rhythm and harmony, the guitar can produce a sense of authenticity that with a computer unthinkable is. The guitar has long been free from the burden of the enlightenment of the last decades. Now it's much more about finding new answers for current music in nstrument construction. The way which a guitar can be played, i.e. the plucking and shortening of the strings, could be called the guitar's interface, which will certainly remain constant in development. This interface describes the specific expression of the guitar as a rhythm percussion or plucked stringed-instrument. The picking hand determines the rhythm, the fretting hand follows it with the tone modulation. If one looks at the interface of a keyboard instrument, specifically the keyboard composed of black and white keys, one can determine that its developmental stages from organ, cembalo, piano, and synthesizer always takes another attitude of the player into account. I see great creative potential in the rhythm of the guitar. My current project "tesla", an Industrial or noise guitar is devoted to it.

putting on
  I've been building guitars since 1984, only electric guitars since 1988. During my studies of Product-Design from 1992 until 1997, I had the opportunity to get to know my work from a standpoint other than that of traditional craftsmanship. Alongside completely other projects, at this time, the first thoughts about instruments like the birdfish and the tesla emerged.

Every good luthier knows with which construction and material a certain sound is obtained. The artistry lies in giving the instrument a very distinct appearance or effect along with the sound. I see my instruments as absolute. This means that every instrument has a certain symbolic meaning and function in the Pop-complex. One can compare this to the clothing that we wear. We select clothing according to function, e.g. job, sport, winter clothing, etc., as well as according to an expression of fashion with which we then distinguish ourselves. So will one, as a musician, decide which statement he wants to achieve with his choice of instrument.

Ulrich Teuffel

    copyright by Ulrich Teuffel