5 Guitar Myths Busted

Sunday, November 29, 2009| by Will Chen

So you’re a guitar fanatic. Eat, drink, breath guitar? Here are a few nuggets of information I’ve been researching lately which bust some common guitar myths:

  1. Myth: Les Paul/Leo Fender/Adolph Rickenbacher invented the electric guitar – While all had a very important role in developing the first solid body electric guitars, they were all nearly 50 years late to the party! The first documented application of applying electricity to a guitar goes to U.S. Navy officer George Breed who was granted US Patent no 435679 in 1890 for his “Method of and Apparatus for Producing Musical Sounds by Electricity”. However, his idea was actually the opposite of his later brethren using an electromagnetic field to force a string to vibrate, similar to what the Fernandes Sustainer or Ebow accomplish. You can read more on Breed’s invention by performing a patent search or checking out this excellent article on the instrument and it’s designer: http://polkaboy.typepad.com/polkaholics/2007/12/update-who-inve.html
  2. Myth: All the vintage PAFs sound so good due to being hand wound – While there’s no doubt in my mind that a hand wound pickup can sound absolutely fantastic, the man himself, Seth Lover inventor of the humbucking pickup, only hand wound the prototype PAFs. All of the pickups which made it into production guitars were wound on a machine using an automatic traverse. However, before the 60’s there were no counters on the machines and they simply wound them until the bobbin was “full”. This variance in winding is likely the cause of the variation in tone between many early PAF’s. Of course, there is even some debate over what hand wound actually means as some will define guidance of the wire by hand even when fed by machine as hand winding. You can read an entire interview by Seymour Duncan of Seth Lover describing how it was done in the old days here: http://www.provide.net/~cfh/seth.html
  3. Myth: A “breathing” nitro finish is the key to good tone – If you think you’re the key to your Fender guitar’s tone is its nitro finish, check the date. From 1955 until the late 60’s Fender sealed their guitars by submerging them in a vat of Homoclad; a heavy, oil based sealer product from Sherwin Williams. From the late 60’s into the mid 80’s, all Fenders had a polyester undercoat regardless of the final finish. From the 80’s until very recently all Fenders additionally used a poly based top coat. So the vast majority of those glorious tones made by our heroes on Fender guitars were made on poly coated instruments. You can see pictures of the Homoclad submerging process in Tom Wheeler’s American Guitars book as well as read a very informative post by Mark Kendrick from Fender here: http://www.fenderforum.com/forum.html?db=2000&topic_number=50113
  4. Myth: Eddie Van Halen invented two hand tapping - Eddie Van Halen single handedly made two hand tapping a fashionable and must know technique in the 80’s and is routinely incorrectly credited with inventing it. The earliest recorded examples were by the late Jimmie Webster in 1958 who 6 six years earlier in 1952 published a instruction manual for the technique titled 'Touch Method for Electric and Amplified Spanish Guitar'. However, Jimmie learned this technique from none other than Harry DeArmond, inventor of the first commercially available attachable guitar pickup in the 1930’s, who created the technique to show off the sensitivity of his pickups. You can hear some Jimmie Webster recordings at a posthumous tribute MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/jimmiewebster
  5. Myth: Good Tone – While I can’t argue that everyone has their tonal center by which they measure what they hear, everyone has their own subjective opinion of what defines a good tone. From a dual humbucking Dean into a solid state Randall to a vintage Tele into an all tube tweed Fender, there have been literally millions of variations of what a guitar sounds like and each sound has their fans. Therefore, there can not be a single universal good tone but rather only tone. It’s up to the player to make it good or move on…
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