View Full Version : Electric music vs Non-electric music

08-19-2009, 10:44 PM
Upon Les Paul's death, I've been thinking a whole lot about electric instruments, mainly guitars.

We've only had them for about 50-70 years (if you think of hollowbody versus solidbody, which Les Paul invented in the 60's)

There are a lot of people who swear off the electric guitar altogether, and there are those who can only express themselves through these little gadgets.

What is your opinion on electric vs acoustic instruments?

08-19-2009, 10:49 PM
Les Paul DIED!?! That's so sad! Farewell to a legend! :(

(Sorry for the interruption)

08-19-2009, 10:55 PM
Yeah, six days ago. :(

08-19-2009, 11:28 PM
I think there is a certain sense in which an acoustic guitar "inhabits the room." Even though I don't have a volume knob or equalizer on an acoustic, it generally sounds just right. I can grab a pick, or play more quietly if necessary, but there's usually not much head-scratching about whether or not the sound is OK. It is the player--and the guitar. Of course, an electric guitar also inhabits the room, but the sounds and music it makes can be quite tinny without amplification. To consider the amplifier and connecting cable(s) and any effects there might be to actually be part of the instrument is technically defensible, but abstracts things beyond the resonating wood of an acoustic guitar. Playing with an amp involves some "invisible" stuff, in a way. At the very least, the distance between the guitar and the speakers indicates that something odd is going on. The amplified electric guitar "inhabits the room" maybe, but as some sort of violation of the usually observed laws of physics.

An electric guitar is (for the price) generally easier to play, and it retains all of the organic and analog qualities that the acoustic has. For me, they are fantastic, easily as enjoyable as acoustic guitars, and I often play (practice) without amplification. Of course, amplification is needed to really hear everything in an appropriate balance--but amplification introduces all sorts of variables than can be adjusted (pick-up selection, equalization, effects, reverb) and so it is pretty hard to get a sound that fits the situation (or the room) perfectly. Switching for genres (or just to switch for switching's sake) is really tempting. And all of that makes the (amplified) electric a little abstracted.

With the acoustic, people see the player hold the guitar, manipulate strings, and music comes from the guitar. The player sees and feels the same thing, for that matter. With an electric, all the knobs, wiring, and electricity aren't as transparent to the audience. The musician has some secrets, and the technology can, to varying degrees, sort of introduce an awe (an intimidation? a disconnect?) separate from the appreciation felt for the player's musical talent. The acoustic just seems friendlier, more honest maybe.

But getting past those primal concerns that everyone eventually adjusts to, in the context of modern pop/rock/jazz/etc. and all of the electric guitar-playing that goes on--really, I think the electric guitar is pretty much like a magical acoustic. It isn't (apart from some optional effects) digital. It is strings vibrating and being bent/stretched, and reproduced (ideally) through analogue means. And, as long as the settings are right, and the listening equipment is comfortable, the electric guitar can be, for me, at least as enjoyable to listen to as an acoustic, and far richer in expressive possibility.

However, my strongest opinion about electric vs. acoustic: playing without amplification is a lot less hassle.

08-19-2009, 11:38 PM
Wow, my burst of analysis looks sort of inconsiderate, a little jarring/out of place, after the sad faces that appeared in the thread while I was writing it. :(

I wish I could have afforded a Les Paul guitar, but I only spent about a minute with one in a guitar shop. I'm always uncomfortable playing something expensive that I have no intention of buying. But my friend did it a lot, and encouraged me to try one out (I didn't even know what it was, until right before I handed it back to him). It was the easiest-to-play guitar that I have ever played, right up to this day, and that much was clear after less than a minute.

Clearly a genius, and a major contributor to the history of the guitar (and music).