Petroleum Product of the Week: Electric Guitars
Byon Feb 17 2017
Without the electric guitar, some of history's greatest musicians and performers may have never been discovered.
A well-made electric guitar has a unique sound recognized by its smooth almost liquid string sound and an undeniable warmth. This sound is often so neutral in tone that it can manipulated to sound well in any music style from smooth jazz to heavy metal (via the addition of additional components such as guitar amps or effects pedals). This feature is the most-sought after of the electric guitar: its range.
However, you can't slap an electronic pickup on any, old piece of wood and call it a guitar. Instead, every electric guitar is machined to exacting standards, with some of the highest quality and most expensive still assembled and crafted entirely by hand.
Modern machining makes use of a lot of tools that early luthiers never had the luxury of using: electronic planers, industrial-sized clamping mechanisms, computer-run saw blades, etc. etc. As such, a guitar manufacturer can basically churn out many nearly-identical guitars every single day. This process is fueled by large, expensive machinery, often making use of high and low-speed bearings and slide way mechanisms these machines, naturally, require petroleum-based lubricants to handle the high volume of guitars manufactured each day. In addition to the machinery, a petroleum-based glue is applied between wood layers to make several smaller pieces of wood function as a much larger piece. Additionally, the metal and oil-based plastics that make up the pickups the essential component in producing the signature electric guitar sound are manufactured to the highest standards. The entire process requires a lot of patience.
In addition to gluing several layers together including the pieces of wood that make up the body, the guitar neck and other components require to be glued and set in a drying room for up to two weeks. As such, a guitar is never manufactured from scratch in one day instead, it takes several weeks to get the raw materials in place to finally assemble the guitar. Additionally, petroleum-based lacquers and paints are used to provide the signature colors such as sunburst or even solid color guitars. These, too, require curing and polishing with other oil-based substances to provide a lasting shine. Yet, while the machining process is something to behold, and are examples of pure precision, machine-manufactured guitars aren't quite as valuable as their handmade counterparts.
What makes handmade guitars so special?
Think back before these large types of machines ever existed. Finding the perfect pieces of wood with an ideal shape, bending them over extended periods of time to the same exacting standards modern computers set, and assembling a better-sounding instrument with lesser materials, lesser tools, and a lot more critical thinking. Every handmade stringed instrument from renowned luthiers are considered to be highly valuable works of art some violins, for example, were made hundreds of years ago and are not only sought after by collectors but primarily players themselves! Allegedly, the sound quality of these older, precisely made instruments is markedly better, and people are willing to shell out their life savings on such instruments. However, if you're just getting into violin, guitar, or the performance of any stringed instruments, then you'd be pleased to know that pretty much any instrument you buy from a large manufacturer will likely sound relatively consistent; this, perhaps, is the best advantage of modern manufactured stringed instruments.