April 4, 2019

Solid-body Jazz Guitars

Before electricity, guitarists played along with the band with chords as their guitars could not be heard over the other instruments. The melodious notes a guitarist produced as they plucked at their strings could not trump the blaring notes of the horn in a jazz quartet, for instance.

Unwilling to be relegated to supporting roles in their bands, guitarists experimented with amplifying the sounds of their guitars. There came amplified acoustic guitars, which their inventors modified with wires, magnets, and other attachments that worked as pickups–electromagnetic devices that worked to increase volume.


The first electric or jazz guitars were built in the 1920s and 1930s, but these were just the forerunners of the modern electric guitar. Paul Tutmarc is credited with building the first electric guitar. He was inspired by the mechanics within a telephone where magnets were used to create vocal vibrations. Tutmarc worked on the Hawaiian guitar, using horseshoe magnets to create a pickup and wire coils to amplify the vibrations of the strings.

Meanwhile, George Beauchamp and fellow musician Lloyd Dopyera were trying to create even louder guitars. They decided to go one better and used two horseshoe magnets to create the pickup which led to a loud sound when the strings were plucked. The musicians then had a guitar crafted out of wood, which came out looking like a frying pan. Beauchamp presented this mode to Adolph Rickenbacker, and the two joined to form a company. Which the famous Rickenbacker line of jazz guitars came into production.

The first electric guitar designed to the Spanish style was created and sold by Lloyd Loar, which inspired one, Orville Gibson, to design the electric guitar that changed the game: the Electric Spanish-150 (ES-150). The prototype of the ES-150, created by Alvino Rey, has been called the first ever modern electric guitar. Walter Fuller, an employee at Orville Gibson's company, built the final version of the prototype.

Solid body

However, the guitar the Gibson company had created was hollow-bodied and had flaws. The vibrations from the hollow body were picked up and amplified, creating feedback as well as distortion. Some guitarists even stuffed foam into the hollow bodies of the guitars to reduce the feedback when the volume was increased. This inspired Les Paul to forever stamp his name on the history of the electric guitar by creating the solid-body jazz guitar.

Called the 'log' because of its solid body, Les Paul's guitar had the strings and pickups mounted on a solid block of pine to reduce vibrations. It had two magnetic pickups attached to a 4-inch by 4-inch block of pine, to which Les Paul sawed and added the pieces of an arch-top guitar to make it look like a guitar.

Guitar rivalry

Les Paul took his invention to both Orville Gibson and Leo Fender, two manufacturers of musical instruments, but only Fender saw the potential of Les Paul's innovation. He marketed it, calling it the 'Esquire', and it became the first successful solid-body jazz guitar. It was later renamed the 'Telecaster' and is still one of the best-known guitar brand names around. After its launch, the Telecaster was being embraced by country, blues and rock musicians because of its unique sound.

Gibson realized his mistake in ignoring Les Paul's guitar and built his own solid-body guitar, which he named the 'Les Paul'. It was more expensive compared with the Telecaster as Gibson built an arch-style top on the guitar. It was also designed to look more like a refined traditional guitar. The Les Paul was also the first solid-body jazz guitar to have humbucker pickups–two coils wound in different directions on two magnets–which reduced the 'hum' caused by single-coil pickups.

Fender replied to his competition with the Stratocaster, a double cutaway guitar that features an extended horn shape on the top for balance. It was the first electric guitar with three pickups and had a contoured body for the comfort of musicians. The advection of the Stratocaster kicked off one of the fiercest rivalries between Gibson and Fender in the guitar manufacturing world that is present even today.

Inside the solid-body

There are specific woods used to build a solid-body jazz guitar. These include seasoned hardwoods such as mahogany, ash, maple, and walnut. The denser the wood, the better the sustain- the amount of time a note can be held- will be. The density of the wood can also dictate the tone of the guitar. Some guitar manufacturers have built guitar bodies with Plexiglas.

The neck of the guitar is also constructed with wood, namely rosewood, maple, and ebony. Chrome is used to build the hardware and a nitrocellulose lacquer to varnish the body and give it a nice shine.

Specific design

The main reason for the creation of the solid-body jazz guitar is that the solid body supports the magnetic pickup and allows it to remain stable and unmoved by vibrations coming from the rest of the body. guitar manufacturers have found that the highest density woods make the best solid-body jazz guitars.

How a solid body is manufactured

The main parts of the solid-body jazz guitar are the bridge, the neck, and the body. Then come the fingerboard, the strings, and the nut and tuning heads. Wood is the main component of solid-body jazz guitars.

First, the manufacturers choose the wood to use for the guitar's body, neck, and fingerboard. Sometimes the wood will need to be cured in a kiln to increase its stability. This can take as long as a week. The wood that will make up the body is then planted on both sides and cut to size. A machine called the KOMO then drills weight relief holes into the wood to make it lighter, and a channel in which the wire will be placed.

The wood then goes back to the mill to have a top and back glued on under almost 410 kilograms of pressure. It then goes onto a glue wheel to dry for four hours. The solid block of wood is now ready to be shaped into a guitar. The KOMO cuts the outer edges of the block of wood into the desired shape and also carves out the electronic pockets in the back.

Final shaping

The body of the guitar then goes to the body line for its final shaping. Workers sand the body using sandpaper and then send it to be rabbeted, which involves making a cut with a machine to allow the body to house the binding it needs. Workers then take the binding material, cover it in glue and then wrap it around the rabbet cut made by the machine. The body is then encased in rope to hold the binding material in place. It is left overnight to dry.

The next day, the worker removes the rope, and the body is sent to be sanded down to achieve its final contour. It is then sent to a slack belt machine to be smoothened.

Meanwhile, the neck of the guitar is being shaped and sanded by workers, and the fingerboard and head veneers are applied. Fingerboards are made of rosewood and ebony and are first stabilized in kilns. They are then shaped on a molder with a 12-inch radius. Then location pin holes are drilled. 

Building the fingerboard

From there the fingerboard goes to the fret saw machine, which cuts in the fret slots. Inlay pockets are then created by a machine and the inlays are placed by hand, with workers placing epoxy resin into the pockets, then adding the inlays and finally adding more epoxy on top. The fingerboard is then rested to dry.

After it dries, the fingerboard is placed on a surface grinder that takes off any excess epoxy. A worker then puts glue in the fret slots and places the fret wire by hand. He cuts off the excess wire with a pneumatic snip. A hydraulic press then ensures the frets are pressed into place. A worker then sands the frets over with sandpaper to make them smooth.

The fingerboard is then slotted to receive the binding and is then left to dry. After the frets have dried, the fingerboard is joined to the neck of the guitar.

Manufacturing the neck

The neck is built when the mahogany wood is sawn for greater strength and straightness. The templates for the neck patterns are penciled in and then a band saw is used to cut the neck into shape. This is then put onto a rotary profile lathe, which gives the neck its shape.

A worker marries the fingerboard and the neck by securing the location pins on the fingerboard and gluing it and the neck together. The resulting piece is then left in a glue press to dry. The headstock veneer is also glued onto the neck at this point.

The neck is then sent for shaping and will be rolled by machines and sanded down by hand. It is then ready to be fitted to the body. Some necks are glued to the body, while others are bolted on. Many musicians go for the glued-on version as they feel it leads to notes being sustained for longer periods.

The body is prepared to be married to the neck by having a cavity cut out where the neck will be placed. Workers will place the neck in the cavity to ensure the neck, fingerboard and the body all fit together perfectly. Once satisfied, they attach the neck to the body using a chisel, a clamp, and some glue. The neck is then rotated and fitted into the cavity until it fits seamlessly. The guitar is then left to dry for an hour. A worker then takes the guitar and sands it down to remove the excess glue. The cavities for the pickups and the bridge holes are added by a machine.


Workers now prepare to color and finish the guitar. A wood filler and stain is used to color the wood and perfect the pattern of the grain. Before they spray the body with a finish, the workers seal the body and neck to make sure the paint will not be absorbed by the wood. After the guitar dries, the finish is sprayed on using automated electrostatic techniques. The workers then scrape off any excess finish.

After the guitar has dried, it is then buffed. First, it is buffed on a wheel and a jeweler's rouge applied to remove any rough spots. Then it is buffed twice more to bring about a shiny gloss.


Now it is time for the hardware and electronics to be attached to the guitar. Hardware attached to the body include those related to the pickup, such as the pickguard, the pickup compression spring, the pickup selector switch, the volume and tone knobs and potentiometers, and the output plug assembly. Hardware attached to the bridge include the base plate, bridge bar, and cover, vibrato block, rear cover plate, compression springs, set screws, and levers.

The pickups, tuning keys, pots, jackplates and toggle switches are installed by workers. They put notches in the tailpiece and nut and string the guitar, checking the pitch of its neck as well as its intonation. They also adjust the bridge height. In this stage, the workers also ensure there is no dust or grime on the guitar and they polish the hardware, which could be made of nickel, chrome or gold.

A final inspection is then carried out following a last buff and polish. The solid-body jazz guitar is ready to go!

Popular guitars

Fender Telecaster: The first mass-produced solid-body jazz guitar, the Telecaster is simple and elegant, and is perfect for rock, country music, indie-rock, funk, blues, jazz, and R&B. Its unique tone is derived from the size of its body, the density of its wood and, most importantly, the metal plate on which the pickup is placed. The Telecaster has various models including the American Standard, Thinline, and Squier Tele. Famous musicians to rock the Telecaster include Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones, Prince, Luther Perkins from the back-up band for Johnny Cash, and Frank Black of the Pixies.

Fender Stratocaster: The successor to the Telecaster, the Stratocaster has its own bevy of fans and has also been influential in the development of rock music. Like the Telecaster, the Stratocaster has a single-coil pickup, but it differs in that rather than just having pickups at the neck and bridge, it has a middle pickup as well as a five-way selector. This allows musicians to have a greater choice of tone variations. The Stratocaster is the first solid-body jazz guitar to have three pickups and the first to feature a vibrato system within itself.

Instead of the standard, slab-like body, the Stratocaster has double cutaways. It was originally built for Bill Carson, the Western swing guitarist, who likened the fit of the Fender to his body with that of a well-tailored shirt. The Stratocaster is great for rock, pop, blues, R&B, disco, country, and indie rock, and was rocked by legendary musicians such as Jimi Hendrix who was widely hailed as one of the most creative and influential musicians of the 20th century, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Blake Mills.

Gibson Les Paul: After Les Paul's electric guitar invention was ignored by Gibson, the musician had the guitar built by Fender and called the Telecaster. As the Telecaster gained popularity and Les Paul grew more famous as an artist, Gibson agreed with the musician to have him endorse their newly designed solid-body jazz guitar. Called the 'Les Paul', the guitar is now one of the most imitated and wanted guitars in the world.

The Les Paul comes with humbuckers that have been engineered to produce a higher output with a clearer tone. The Les Paul comes in various models such as Goldtops, Black Beauties, and Sunbursts, and are favored by country, jazz, blues, rock and soul musicians. Famous musicians to have played the Les Paul include cultural icon Bob Marley, Slash from Guns n Roses and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.

Gibson SG: This is Gibson's best-selling guitar of all time and was originally released as the new Les Paul. The SG has a similar humbucker configuration as the Les Paul, but it has unique horn-shaped cutaways and a modified neck that makes it lighter and allows for easier access to the upper frets. In addition, the body is slimmer than the original Les Paul and the neck more slender.

With its thunderous output and aggressive style, the SG has stamped its presence on rock n roll. It is perfect for rock, punk, metal, pop and blues music. Notable musicians to rock the SG include Pete Townshend of The Who, Robbie Krieger of The Doors and Angus Young of AC/DC.

Future of the solid-body jazz guitar

guitar manufacturers are always looking to fine-tune and upgrade their inventions. These upgrades include changing the design of the guitar, the materials used to make it, the pickups and the finishing. Some manufacturers are even looking at making guitars out of plastic or graphite. In addition, the advention of 3D printing has changed the design game for the guitar, as it enables designers to create three-dimensional designs before manufacturing takes place so they can experiment more during the design process. The future looks bright- and loud!