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How Steel Played a Role in the Era of Rock and Roll - worldsteel

Steel News - Published on Wed, 16 Oct 2019

Image Source: worldsteel.org
From its use in acoustic steel guitars in the 1930s, to modern pick-ups and guitar strings, steel has played a central role in the evolution of popular music. By providing the technological leap that made rock and roll possible, the electric steel string guitar changed music forever. The unique sound created by the magnetic pickup device at the heart of the instrument, combined with its steel strings gave rise to a new wave of musical expression. From rock-a-billy to punk, progressive, hard and just plain rock, it is the reverberations of a steel string electric guitar that made all these variations possible and played a hand in creating iconic songs the world over. Stainless steel strings, which entered popular use in the 1960s, are known for giving guitars a clear, bright sound with plenty of sustain While the skills of such musical luminaries as Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, and Keith Richards can seem otherworldly, the true magic behind the electric guitar are the magnetic fields that make it work. Key to this is the ‘pickup’ – a permanent magnet with a wire coil wound around it that is fitted to each electric guitar.

The pickup magnet’s north pole faces outwards from the guitar body, magnetising the steel strings suspended above it. The strings in turn become magnets themselves, with their magnetic field in alignment with the permanent magnet. The steel string is absolutely integral to the workings of the electric guitar and, when plucked, the strings’ magnetic vibrations are converted into an electrical signal for the amplifier using the pickup.

The all-important pickup was created in 1931 in Los Angeles when an electrical instrument company wanted to see how they could amplify a guitar’s sound electrically. The steel guitar was already in existence and was played on the lap, but the sound produced was not loud enough to be heard by large audiences. The solution? To develop an electrified steel string guitar.

The first ‘electrical stringed musical instrument’ was patented in the US in 1937, and was the work of George Beauchamp, a musician and general manager of the National Guitar Corporation, and Adolph Rickenbacker, an electrical engineer. In the early years after the invention of the pickup, however, electric steel guitars were still played on the lap.

At the beginning of the electric steel guitar’s history it was mainly played for jazz, swing, folk, Hawaiian and country music. “It goes a long way back in popular music, the idea of the steel guitar,” says University of Surrey music lecturer Doctor John McGrath. The rock and roll sound was yet to come, but with the technology in place it was just around the corner.

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Posted By : Rabi Wangkhem on Wed, 16 Oct 2019
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