The Electric Guitar: Forms of augmentation and their use in the contemporary repertoire

Daniel Santos Rodríguez1, Henrique Portovedo2,3

1Polytechnic University of Madrid, Spain

2CITAR – Portuguese Catholic University, portugal
3University of Aveiro, Portugal



The electric guitar was created in the 1930’s being one of the first augmented instruments in history. This type of guitar applies the principles of electromagnetism to achieve sound amplification. The development of the instrument responds to the historical need to enhance the volume of the guitar to balance its sound within the instrumental ensembles. However, as a consequence of amplification, the timbre also undergoes modifications, so that the performers and composers have to manipulate it using a range of electronic setups, amp and pedals. Furthermore, the appearance of some kind of noises and sounds derived from electromagnetic phenomena leads to a new aesthetic perception of the instrument. This whole process involves an important change in the way the sound is produced, mostly due to the fact that previously the modifications of the instrument timbre were made from the gestures and control of the interpreter together with the acoustics of the space. In the electric guitar this equation has the addition of various electronic sound amplification and modulation devices. Unlike other instruments, whose organological evolution was applied to the field of classical music, the electric guitar was first led to popular music and afterwards absorbed by the tradition of academic music. This particularity crystallized in a different development of the instrument’s augmentation compared to other classical instruments.

This article analyzes the evolution of the augmentation processes in the electric guitar by comparing five works belonging to different approaches and periods of contemporary music, from the 1980’s to the end of the 2010’s, i.e., Vampyr! (1984) by Tristan Murail, Electric Counterpoint (1987) by Steve Reich, Trash TV Trance (2002) by Fausto Romitelli, Anomaly Momentum (2017) by Elliot Sharp, and Not I (2018) by Stefan Prins. The aim is to show the variation in its electronic configuration and also the different degree of autonomy of the interpreter when integrating electronics, that is, the dependence on external musicians or technicians that control the sound and effects. In no case it is intended to analyze the work, but to describe the role of electronics in the works and how it is possible to configure it to perform the compositions.

 In practice, the augmentation of the instrument gathers different configurations: the basic set (electric guitar and amplifier), the basic set and electronic fixed part, the basic set and electronic pedals without fixed part, the basic set with electronic pedals and computer, and, finally, a configuration in which the participation of another interpreter is necessary, intervening in the production of the sound. From all these approaches, the complexity of setting up the necessary set to interpret the music can be extracted, and also the possibility of using different solutions to interpret the same work.

Keywords: Augmented Instruments, Electric Guitar, Contemporary Music Performance



Daniel Santos Rodríguez (Salamanca 1990) is a guitarist, composer and music producer. He graduated from CONSMUPA where he obtained the grade of outstanding in guitar performance. He studied postgraduate studies at the Royal Conservatory of Madrid (RCSMM), specializing in technologies and interpretation of contemporary music. He is a teacher at the School of Modern Music in Leganés and is currently studying for a doctorate at the Polytechnic University of Madrid.

He has published three record works, he has performed at the Cervantes Institute in Tokyo, at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid, at the FAC in Havana, at the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, at the International Contemporary Music Conference in Madrid, etc. He has sounded on Radio Nacional, Radio 5, Radio 3 and Radio Clásica. He has received the 2017 Injuve Award, the 2018 SGAE Foundation scholarship and the 2019 Madrid Community scholarship.


Henrique Portovedo has found his place in contemporary music working with composers such as R. Barret, P. Ferreira Lopes, C. Barlow, C. Roads, P. Ablinger, M. Edwards, S. Carvalho, L. Carvalho, R. Ribeiro, M. Azguime, among many others. Portovedo has premiered more than 40 works dedicated to him. He recorded for several editors such as Naxos, Universal, PadRecords, R’RootsProductions etc. He was awarded with the António Pascoal Foundation’s Merit Award, Eng. António de Almeida Foundation’s Merit Award, 1st Prize of the International Youth Soloist Contest Purmerend, has received many Trinity Music Awards in London, was awarded with Young Creators Award by the Portuguese Institute of Arts and Ideas, the Award from the National Center of Culture in the area of music, among other distinctions. He has been artist in residence at ZKM Karlsruhe, Edinburgh University, Folkwang University and Fulbright Visiting Researcher at MAT University California Santa Barbara. As a researcher in the field of Augmented Performance at CITAR, he received research fundings from FCT and Fulbright. Currently, Portovedo is professor of Electronic Music at the University of Aveiro and visiting professor at Real Conservatorio Superior de Musica de Madrid.