Friday 10/22/2010 ~ Electricity, Magnetic Fields, and Sitars
I've been reading a book about Einstein's theory of mass-energy equivalence. ("Why Does E = mc2?" by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw.)
Early in the book the authors discuss scientific work that inspired Einstein, including that of British physicist, Michael Faraday. Faraday is most famous for his work with electricity and magnetic fields. He found, through careful experimentation, that electric currents generate magnetic fields. He also discovered that moving a magnet through a coil of wire generates an electric current. These two simple phenomena, now referred to as electromagnetic induction, are the basis for generating electricity in electric motors... which surround us everywhere... even in the CD/DVD drive in this computer I'm using right now. Quoting from the aforementioned book, "Faraday's contribution to the growth of the industrial world is incalculable."
Oddly, though, despite listing many positive benefits of Faraday's work, the authors fail to mention electric guitars! The basic science behind an electric guitar pickup is Faraday's Law of Induction. A guitar pickup is constructed of a magnet and a coil of wire. As Faraday noted, there is a magnetic field surrounding the magnet. When a vibrating guitar string disturbs that field it causes an electric current to be generated in the coil of wire. A pickup goes bad when there is a break in the coil, which interrupts the current flow. And "disturbing the magnetic field" is why you shouldn't put acoustic strings on your electric guitar. Acoustic strings are primarily made of bronze, rather than the steel of an electric string. Bronze won't impact the magnetic field of the pickup as much as steel, so it won't create as strong a current.
As I was reading about Michael Faraday, I thought, "I should tell everyone about him. After all, his scientific discoveries eventually led to the development of the pickup, which eventually led to rock & roll." But then I thought, "Let's face it, most of us don't care all that much about the science behind an electric guitar. We care about its development and use!"
So, instead of Michael Faraday, I want to talk about Vinnie Bell!
Vinnie Bell was a successful New York City studio musician in the mid-1960s. He played on hundreds of hit songs, movie soundtracks, and TV shows. In the studio his job was the get the guitar sound the producers wanted. And all producers want a hit record. And the easiest way to get a hit record is to mimic the sound of another hit record. And that brings us to 1965, 1966 and 1967.
In early 1965 The Beatles filmed their second movie, "Help!" One scene took place in a restaurant featuring an Indian band. During the filming, George Harrison took an interest in a sitar played by one of the musicians. In mid-1965 he bought a sitar. In October 1965 he used it on a Beatles' recording, "Norwegian Wood," from the Rubber Soul album. Soon the rest of the pop world wanted to use a sitar. In March 1966, Brian Jones used one on the Rolling Stones' hit 45 "Paint It, Black."
At this point, let's take a quick look at the sitar. Here's a picture. Although it looks confusing, with two rows of strings, the lower row is not played at all. They merely vibrate. And the top row of strings are mostly just drone strings, strummed, but not fretted. The melody is primarily played on one string. The hardest part about playing the sitar is holding it. (The second hardest part: listening to someone play one!)
Now, getting back to New York record producers... When The Beatles (and then the Rolling Stones) used a sitar, producers started requesting sitars on their songs. And Vinnie Bell ended up carrying one around New York to recording sessions. Needless to say, a large fragile instrument like a sitar is not an easy thing to haul around. Being a clever and innovative guy, he thought, "There's gotta be an easier way to do this!" On his way to a session he sketched out a small solid-body sized electric sitar. And thus the Danelectro Coral Sitar was born. Like a real sitar, it had sympathetic strings. Unlike a real sitar it was strung and played like a normal electric guitar. Though it was hollow like other Danelectro models, it didn't really vibrate enough to rattle the sympathetic strings, so they were mostly for show and novelty. But the six-string part actually sounded like a real sitar, and was 1000 times easier to use. Here's Sam with a 1967 Danelectro Coral Sitar. The model was an immediate hit, and was immediately used on hit records.
Here are a few (many of these feature Vinnie Bell playing the sitar on the record):
"Green Tambourine" by the Lemon Pipers
"Cry Like A Baby" by The Box Tops
"Games People Play" by Joe South
"Hooked On A Feeling" by BJ Thomas
"Band Of Gold" by Freda Payne
"Signed, Sealed, Delivered" by Stevie Wonder
And we owe it all to Vinnie Bell!
The Danelectro sitar was made from 1967 until 1969 when Danelectro went out of business.
I thought of Vinnie because this week we sold two sitars at Pittsburgh Guitars. Years ago we used to sell real Indian sitars, and on Monday one was traded back in. We sold it a day later. Yesterday we sold an electric model made by the Italia company. Although in recent years the Danelectro name was revived, they are not currently making an electric sitar. Fortunately, several other companies are, and Italia makes a particularly nice one. Here's John with an Italia electric sitar.
So, to recap, two names we should know:
* Michael Faraday, in 1821, discovers electro-magnetic fields
* Vinnie Bell, in 1967, invents the electric sitar
OK! Now we have something to talk about over dinner!
Speaking of sitars... Winter is approaching. And that means dry air! And that's bad. Especially for your guitar! If your guitar gets too dry, the wood will shrink... Your fret edges will get sharp (since steel doesn't shrink)... And eventually your neck angle will change... And then your strings will fret out on the upper frets... And then... it will sound like a sitar!
See you soon,
PS: You're probably wonder what the "Coral" part is all about in the Danelectro Coral Sitar name. In 1966 Nat Daniel sold his Danelectro company to MCA Inc. That was the era when big corporations saw that every kid in America wanted a guitar, so they started buying guitar manufacturing companies. CBS bought Fender, Baldwin bought Gretsch, etc. In 1967 MCA announced a new "Prestige Line" of Danelectro guitars and amps, to be marketed under the "Coral" brand. These guitars and amps only said "Coral" on them, but MCA never hid the fact that they were Danelectro products. In fact, the 1967 catalog even said Coral/Danelectro. So "Coral" was one of those ideas that sounded good at a board meeting, but in reality only caused confusion.
PPS: The Greatest Halloween Show In The History Of Mankind!!
Night Of The Singing Dead, #18
Next Friday, October 29 & Saturday October 30, 2010
The Rex Theater, South Side
Tickets on Sale now!
Here at the store, and online at the website!
PPPS: A few songs Vinnie Bell played on:
(not necessarily using the sitar)
GOOD MORNING STARSHINE - Oliver
BLUE ON BLUE - Bobby Vinton
DOUBLE RAINBOW - Antonio Carlos Jobim
THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN -The Brooklyn Bridge
BABY I LOVE YOU - Andy Kim
HELLO DOLLY- Louis Armstrong
CHAPEL OF LOVE - The Dixie Cups
REMEMBER (WALKIN' IN THE SAND) - The Shangri-Las
YOU DON'T OWN ME - Lesley Gore
A SUMMER SONG - Chad & Jeremy
WALK ON BY - Dionne Warwick
GOIN' OUT OF MY HEAD - Little Anthony & The Imperials
WE'LL SING IN THE SUNSHINE - Gale Garnett
A LOVER'S CONCERTO - The Toys
WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS LOVE - Jackie DeShannon
BRAND NEW KEY - Melanie
CANDY MAN - Sammy Davis Jr.
I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW - Johnny Nash
SUNSHINE ON MY SHOULDERS - John Denver
REUNITED - Peaches & Herb
BABY I'M YOURS - Barbara Lewis
THE BALLAD OF THE GREEN BERETS - Sgt. Barry Sadler
YOUNGER GIRL - The Critters
I'VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN - The Four Seasons
YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO BE SO NICE - The Lovin' Spoonful
IT MUST BE HIM - Vikki Carr
FUNKY BROADWAY - Wilson Pickett
98.6 - Keith
HONEY - Bobby Goldsboro
I LOVE HOW YOU LOVE ME - Bobby Vinton
CANDIDA - Tony Orlando & Dawn
LAY DOWN (CANDLES IN THE RAIN) - Melanie
KNOCK THREE TIMES - Tony Orlando & Dawn
DAYDREAM - The Lovin' Spoonful
MY GUY - Mary Wells
BOTH SIDES NOW - Judy Collins
WALK AWAY RENEE - Left Banke
SUNNY - Bobby Hebb
IF I WERE A CARPENTER - Bobby Darin
THIS DIAMOND RING - Gary Lewis
SUGAR, SUGAR - The Archies
A TOWN WITHOUT PITY - Gene Pitney
YOU LIGHT UP MY LIFE - Debby Boone
ME AND YOU AND A DOG NAMED BOO - Lobo
ONLY LOVE CAN BREAK A HEART - Gene Pitney
DA DOO RON RON - The Crystals
RUNAWAY - Del Shannon
LIGHTNIN' STRIKES AGAIN - Lou Christie
HANG ON SLOOPY - The McCoys
SOLDIER BOY - The Shirelles
SUNDAY WILL NEVER BE THE SAME - Spanky & Our Gang
LAZY DAY- Spanky & Our Gang
SOCIETY'S CHILD - Janis Ian
PALISADES PARK - Freddy Cannon
THIS MAGIC MOMENT - Jay & The Americans
TELL HIM - The Exciters
CARA MIA - Jay & The Americans
ONE FINE DAY - The Chiffons
COME A LITTLE BIT CLOSER - Jay & The Americans
JEAN - Oliver
HAIR - The Cowsills
MOCKINGBIRD - Charlie & Inez Fox
I'M GONNA MAKE YOU MINE - Lou Christie
EVE OF DESTRUCTION - Barry McGuire
CAN'T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU - The Four Seasons
ABRAHAM, MARTIN AND JOHN - Dion
HAPPY TOGETHER - The Turtles
DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC - The Lovin' Spoonful
SUMMER IN THE CITY - The Lovin' Spoonful
THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE - Simon and Garfunkle
MIDNIGHT COWBOY - Ferrante and Teicher
I WILL FOLLOW HIM - Little Peggy March
THEME FROM "TWIN PEAKS" - Angelo Badalamenti
LEADER OF THE PACK - The Shangri-Las
GREEN TAMBOURINE - The Lemon Pipers
LET'S HANG ON - The Four Seasons
OUR DAY WILL COME - Ruby and the Romantics
THE RAIN, THE PARK AND OTHER THINGS - The Cowsills
ITSY BITSY TEENY WEENY YELLOW POLKA DOT BIKINI - Brian Hyland
BIG GIRLS DON'T CRY - The Four Seasons
BAND OF GOLD - Freda Payne
WALK LIKE A MAN - The Four Seasons
MR. DIEINGLY SAD - The Critters
MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK - The Angels
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - Frank Sinatra
DAWN - The Four Seasons
IT'S IMPOSSIBLE - Perry Como
RAG DOLL - The Four Seasons
"1-2-3" - Len Barry
TRACY - The Cufflinks
SHE'S A HEARTBREAKER - Gene Pitney
SUMMER OF '42 - Peter Nero
SHE CRIED - Lou Christie
THE NAME GAME - Shirley Ellis
THEME TO "THE FAMILY GUY"
PPPPS: Customer of the week: Ryan Bingham