The guitar's history mirrors the cultural values, preoccupations,
and norms in the United States over time. So, too, does the
guitar's design, especially since the development of solid-body
guitar construction by the 1950s.
Because the sound produced
by solid-body electrics does not depend on their shape, makers
could experiment with a wider range of guitar designs. This
era's seemingly radical instruments echoed the popular cultural
focus on space-age modernity. The Fender "Strat"
recalled the modern tail fins and imaginative colors of Detroit's
cars, while the Gibson Flying V literally appeared ready for
Yellow Cloud and PRS Dragon electric guitars.
Once the electric guitar had been firmly established
by the 1960s and 1970s, guitar designs became increasingly
distinctive and reflective of popular music trends. And by
the 1980s guitarists were more and more concerned with the
look as well as sound of their instruments, regarding their
guitars as identifying signatures. Eddie Van Halen decorated
his guitar with colored sticky tape, and Prince has had guitars
of all shapes and colors custom-created for his stage performances.
Country musician Junior Brown took the customization of his
guitar a step further. To solve the problem of switching back
and forth between a Spanish-style electric and a Hawaiian
or lap-steel electric, Brown put the two together to form
a new guitar, the "guit-steel."
Today, makers of electric guitars often emphasize materials,
finishes, and overall design as much as the technological
aspects of their instruments. Style and craftsmanship are
and will continue to be especially important to the marketing
success of electric guitars.