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Electric guitars and bass guitars have to be used with a guitar amplifier and loudspeaker or a bass amplifier and speaker, respectively, in order to make enough sound to be heard by the performer and audience. Electric guitars and bass guitars almost always use magnetic pickups, which generate an electric signal when the musician plucks, strums or otherwise plays the instrument. The amplifier and speaker strengthen this signal using a power amplifier and a loudspeaker. Acoustic guitars that are equipped with a piezoelectric pickup or microphone can also be plugged into an instrument amplifier, acoustic guitar amp or PA system to make them louder. With electric guitar and bass, the amplifier and speaker are not just used to make the instrument louder; by adjusting the equalizer controls, the preamplifier, and any onboard effects units (reverb, distortion/overdrive, etc.) the player can also modify the tone (aka timbre or "colour") and sound of the instrument. Acoustic guitar players can also use the amp to change the sound of their instrument, but in general, acoustic guitar amps are used to make the natural acoustic sound of the instrument louder without changing its sound that much.
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The electric guitar, developed for popular music in the United States in the 1930s, usually has a solid, nonresonant body. The sound of its strings is both amplified and manipulated electronically by the performer. American musician and inventor Les Paul developed prototypes for the solidbody electric guitar and popularized the instrument beginning in the 1940s.
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The types and models of pickups used can greatly affect the tone of the guitar. Typically, humbuckers, which are two magnet-coil assemblies attached to each other, are traditionally associated with a heavier sound. Single-coil pickups, one magnet wrapped in copper wire, are used by guitarists seeking a brighter, twangier sound with greater dynamic range.
Some piezo-equipped guitars use a hexaphonic pickup. "Hex" is a prefix meaning six. A hexaphonic pickup produces a separate output for each string, usually from a discrete piezoelectric or magnetic pickup for each string. This arrangement lets on-board or external electronics process the strings individually for modeling or Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) conversion. Roland makes hexaphonic pickups for guitar and bass, and a line of guitar modeling and synthesis products. Line 6's hexaphonic-equipped Variax guitars use on-board electronics to model the sound after various vintage instruments, and vary pitch on individual strings.
Many influences are cited as antecedents to the modern guitar. Although the development of the earliest "guitars" is lost in the history of medieval Spain, two instruments are commonly cited as their most influential predecessors, the European lute and its cousin, the four-string oud; the latter was brought to Iberia by the Moors in the 8th century.
Jump up ^ "The first incontrovertible evidence of five-course instruments can be found in Miguel Fuenllana's Orphenica Lyre of 1554, which contains music for a vihuela de cinco ordenes. In the following year, Juan Bermudo wrote in his Declaracion de Instrumentos Musicales: 'We have seen a guitar in Spain with five courses of strings.' Bermudo later mentions in the same book that 'Guitars usually have four strings,' which implies that the five-course guitar was of comparatively recent origin, and still something of an oddity." Tom and Mary Anne Evans, Guitars: From the Renaissance to Rock. Paddington Press Ltd, 1977, p. 24.
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