The Guitar

The Guitar is another one of those staple instruments in western art music, particularly since the inception of modern-day folk, blues, rock and roll, and post rock genres. The guitar began its life in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, around the same time as the Harpsichord, but remained a relatively unimportant instrument in most classical music for a couple of centuries. Aside from the occasional concerto or, even more rarely, sonata that was composed for guitarists, the amount of music available to players did not pick up until the Romantic period, circa the 1800s. Castilian Spanish guitarists and composers from this era brought the instrument to prominence during this period and successfully tied the classical version of the instrument to latin culture forever.

The guitar’s greatest revolution occurred in 1932 with the electronically amplified archtop guitar, used as an amplified version of the acoustic for use in big band orchestras, and necessitated by the need for more volume to compete with larger ensembles. By the 1950s, electric guitars like the Fender Esquire were being mass produced nationwide. Shortly thereafter, sound engineers learned how to manipulate the guitars signal before amplification, leading to the development of distortion, and thus the bringing in of a new era of rock and roll and heavy metal. The pickups of an electric guitar have proved to be one of the most versatile ways to manipulate semi-acoustic sound ever invented. Alterations to this/these small plate(s) of metal placed on the body and behind the strings have allowed for many different tones to be refined for different uses. Everything on a guitar, down to the composition of its paint and finish, is extremely important to the tone, and many guitarists, like solo artist Eric Johnson and Trey Anastasio of Phish have transcended the typical desire for good tone and become what many call “tone freaks”. Some sound engineers and experimental luthiers have also manipulated the idea of pickups to create new variations on the instrument like the Gittler guitar, which uses a pickup for each string individually, instead of as a group of strings. This allows for greater manipulation of sound, and guitarists can choose what effects to apply on each string, and where to route the sound to on an advanced speaker system.

The Future of the guitar is preceded by an instrument called the ztar. It is essentially a MIDI controller with a guitar interface instead of a keyboard interface, allowing guitarists to advance into the electronic age just as a keyboardists might. The undercore band Deadsy used Ztar on many of their songs, including their most famous single, “The Key to Gramercy Park”. The versatility of the ztar is well demonstrated by all of the different synth tones generated in this song. Like a regular MIDI controller, it is able to play any program that is created for it by a computer, and thus, an infinite spectrum of possibilities is laid forth to the guitarists as well as the keyboardist for the future of music performance and production.

Classical Style Guitar:

Vintage ’57 Fender Esquire electric guitar:

A performance on the ultra rare Gittler guitar:

The Key to Gramercy Park by Deadsy:

The Piano/Keyboard

Since the development and mastery of the harpsichord in the early 16th century, and to some extent the use of early organs before this, the keyboard interface, now most commonly understood as the piano keyboard, has become an integral part of music in regions ranging from North and South America to India to Russia and everything in between. The keyboard’s uses included accompaniment in large Baroque ensembles and as a piece used for concertos and solo improvisational performances, and continued to be used as such from the time of its inception as a harpsichord control scheme until it’s mastery of dynamic capability in the modern day Romantic era piano. Outside of the realm of traditional classical music however, the keyboard interface became a practical tool and musical staple in modern genres such as jazz, rock and roll, soul, blues, electronica of all types, and hip hop. Electronic keyboards made their debut as electronic drawbar organs such as the Hammond B-3, and as the mellotron, an instrument using keyboard interface to control a series of tape wheels that would be read by pins in order to sound different “voices” such as string ensembles, recorders, etc. Digital sound engineering opened up new possibilities for the interface in the 1970s and ’80s, and developers like Roland, Moog, Korg, Kurzweil, and Casio began to create machines based entirely on electronic sound generation. These evolved from early analog synthesizers to current day all-in-one workstations which can perform, record, edit, and produce entire pieces of music with multiple parts and rhythm backing, all using nothing but a series of dials and buttons along with a keyboard interface.

The innovation of MIDI technology has allowed for some of the greatest strides in electronic music and current day production techniques to be taken. Because a MIDI is simply a keyboard interface controller that inputs tone signals to a program on a computer, new generations of music are able to harness the power of their personal computers to create a home studio setting at relatively low costs. It is now the case that with each release of new software that allows for MIDI input, new genres of music are created because of the new voices, tools, rhythms and backbeats available to users changes dramatically. Give the amount of music currently available for sampling, and the ability of these MIDI controllers to use samples of real, acoustic instruments like a guitar, trumpet, or grand piano, the future is going to see a drastic decrease in the amount of traditional musicians giving concerts on “real” instruments. Instead, the DJ, or sound engineer will become a new role that musicians will be eager to play, controlling entire orchestras, rock bands, hip hop tracks, and whatever else they’d like to all from the ease and accessibility of their pc and a few real time controls such as the MIDI, turntables, crossfaders, etc. The keyboard interface has been one of, if not the most, influential element of musical performance over the past few centuries, and it doesn’t seem willing to relinquish its title yet.

-The Baroque harpsichord:

-The Moog analog synthesizer:

-The Korg Triton Workstation:

-MIDI interface:

This last one uses an atari 2600 controller as the computer interface, but it’s the same basic principle, and the concept is displayed well here.

An Introduction:

I have been inspired, through grade incentive for a university seminar, to create a blog about something that interests me. I have a long and deeply rooted relationship with music, and considering my recent desires to cheat on music with the written word and the Internet, I reckon that this is as perfect a time as any to combine these interests, offer some of my own insights, and hopefully – if anyone happens to read on – spark other people’s interests and hear what they have to say about the fate of pop music as well. Each week, I will be posting an exploration of a topic in music – e.g. an instrument, genre, or technology for you sound engineers – consisting of a brief history of the topic, examples of its current uses, and a reflection that outlines how I feel the topic will evolve over the next century.

With that said, I’d very much prefer that people who decide to post make educated, intellectual comments with some foundational basis. That’s not to say that matters of opinion will be a negative factor; I’d love to host discussions with anyone willing to disagree about a topic. I’ll be meticulously maintaining and updating this site and making sure posts meet these criteria, so potential fellow speculators rejoice! Listen, read, post, and let’s all discuss what we think will impression the music of our time!

“The new sound-sphere is global. It ripples at great speed across languages, ideologies, frontiers and races. The economics of this musical Esperanto is staggering. Rock and pop breed concentric worlds of fashion, setting and life-style. Popular music has brought with it sociologies of private and public manner, of group solidarity. The politics of Eden come loud.”  -George Steiner, literary critic and scholar