This new section in Instrummers has been inspired by my recent purchase of a new guitar – an Epiphone Broadway electric archtop. It has a laminated maple body with a spruce top and rosewood fingerboard. It’s fitted with two Alnico Classic humbucker pickups and a rather weird ‘Frequensator’ tailpiece.
I must confess I was influenced by the new Beatles Get Back documentary which shows John Lennon using a natural-coloured Epiphone Casino. I haven’t had a semi-acoustic guitar since my early teens, when my older brother gave me a lovely Hofner Club 40 guitar which, incidentally, was also used by the Beatles, around the time they were playing in Hamburg:
Why a semi-acoustic? Well, apart from the fact that they look great, I like the fact that they’re loud enough to play without amplification. The hollow body is more prone to feedback but then I’m not using one on stage at high volume and, anyway, the humbucker pickups reduce the problem.
Although I liked the look of John Lennon’s Casino, that wasn’t quite what I wanted because it’s really just another rock guitar and I have a number of those. I wanted one that was designed primarily for jazz. Now, I’m not a jazz guitarist, so what’s that all about? Well, I like the idea of writing and playing pieces for the electric guitar as a solo instrument and the only people who really do that come from a jazz tradition.
What’s different about a jazz guitar? Not so much, but they are usually played with a higher action and heavier strings than a rock guitar, so rather like a steel-string acoustic. I went for D’Addario Jazz Light strings (.011-.050) as the ones fitted to the guitar when I bought it were unbelievably heavy. What you lose when compared to my Strat or Les Paul is the ability to bend the strings but then you do have more control, which is essential when you’re trying to play melody and accompaniment at the same time.
Writing for the solo electric guitar
Usually, the electric guitar is played in a band, either as a lead instrument or rhythm. When it’s played solo, it has to carry both the melody and the accompaniment. This is normal for an acoustic or classical guitar but not for electrics. The problem is that, because the electric guitar is played with a plectrum, any notes played at the same time have to be on contiguous strings – you can’t play a bass note on the 5th string and a melody on the 2nd, because the plectrum can’t jump over strings (whereas, when an acoustic guitar is played fingerstyle, you have different right-hand fingers for different strings). While this is obviously a constraint, it can be overcome with little careful thought.
So, I’ve battled with these obstacles and composed my first short piece for the semi-acoustic archtop guitar. Appropriately, it’s called First on Broadway:
First on Broadway
I recorded it directly into my Apogee duet interface and applied some effects using Guitar Rig 6.
Back on Broadway
My second piece, Back on Broadway, is rather different. Although I originally arranged this as a solo piece – and the first part is played this way – I decided to add a backing track and switch the guitar to just playing the melody in true Hank Marvin style. The backing includes:
Prime Bass from Native Instruments
Picked Acoustic from Native Instruments
ASPIRE (a mallets instrument) from Heavyocity
Studio Drummer from Native Instruments
Notation / tablature
The following PDF file provides notation and tablature for First on Broadway, prepared using Dorico:
The next PDF, prepared using MuseScore, provides a score and tablature for Back on Broadway, arranged for solo electric guitar: