The history of the electric guitar
A report on the Buena Vista Social Club
A strange combination: klezmer and mariachi
The world's only full-time percussion soloist discusses her life and her music.
Witches casting spells? Einstein and his theory of relativity or Michael Jordan's ability to shoot hoops? For guitarists and Grammy voters alike, supernatural means only one thing: Santana.
Santana, lead by
its namesake, Mexican-born Carlos Santana beat some well-known favorites
at this year's Grammy show. Winning eight awards for his album Supernatural,
the 52-year old guitar legend tied the record, for most wins in one
night. The last artist to win eight was Michael Jackson, during his
His collaboration with these high profiled groups helped introduce Santana to people whose parents were at Woodstock. Carlos strummed out the chords on guitar while Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 provided the vocals for the breakout single "Smooth". Both the song and video went into heavy rotation on the radio and music networks.
Carlos Santana's sound is unique. When you read reviews of his albums, free-flowing and fluid are words that appear regularly. Much about an artists style can be learned by the music they listen to. Santana's heroes are people like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye.
The Blues and Jazz are huge influences. As are the Mexican sounds of Tijuana, and the Mission District in San Francisco, where Carlos grew up. He is also a master of the sounds that come from the electric guitar. The tones of the notes that come from his instrument are no accidents-- he is very careful about the sound of his playing. "How do you get this note to sound like a baby crying in the middle of a nuclear bomb?" he recently asked a reporter from Rolling Stone.
Musicians get very different sounds from what is basically the same instrument. Santana plays guitars built by Paul Reed Smith. But there are other great guitars-- Gibson and Fender to name just two.
While the sound of electric guitars vary from the raucous hard metal sounds of the Chili Peppers, to rock sounds by Sheryl Crow or the blues of BB King and his guitar Lucille, the function of how the guitar works is simple.
Guitars work by vibrations. To produce sounds on an acoustic guitar, a musician strikes the strings and makes them vibrate. The energy of the vibrations is transferred to the body of the instrument. The hollow wooden body amplifies the sound of the vibrations.
The difference between an acoustic and electric guitar is that the electric guitar amplifies the vibrating string with an electromagnetic "pickup."
Pickups were invented around 1923 to make a louder sound. They take the movements of the strings of the guitar and route them to an amplifier.
A pickup is relatively simple. It consists of a magnet wrapped in fine copper wire. Magnets produce a magnetic field (Beware: we're entering the realm of physics here...)
To focus the magnetic field across the strings, pickups are either individual magnets directly under each string or a single bar that runs under all the strings.
Metal objects in a magnetic field affect it. A guitar string at rest has little affect on the field, so there's no sound. When a string is plucked, it's vibration creates a disturbance.
The electrical disturbance is transmitted through the wire around the magnet to an amp, which changes the electric pulses into the sounds we call music.
There are many elements that affect the quality or tone of the sound produced. A string with greater mass will vibrate more slowly and affect the magnetic field differently than one with less mass. Having stronger magnets, or a more winds of wire will increase the output of the pickup and move the tone from a warm and clean sound that one would associate with a jazz guitarist to a brighter and more distorted sound.
Signal processors or "effects boxes" further change the shape of the signal and thus the sound.
There are all things Carlos Santana manipulates to get the sounds he wants. These, and a lifetime of playing have made his playing unique and some would say, supernatural.
Copyright © MacNeil-Lehrer Productions All Rights Reserved