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The guitar originally had four courses of strings, three double, the top course single, that ran from a violin-like pegbox to a tension bridge glued to the soundboard, or belly; the bridge thus sustained the direct pull of the strings.
In the belly was a circular sound hole, often ornamented with a carved wooden rose.
This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996. When I was a teen-ager, I used to play all the time. Just walking around, in an empty, late-afternoon school hallway, say, I might be seized by the inner music, drop to a crouch and let loose a devastating solo, the whole thing over in 10 seconds.
To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them. A favorite song on the car radio, I am embarrassed to recount, could make me take my hands from the wheel and imitate a Stones riff - stopping only to keep my father's car from drifting into the next lane.
At the same time, this was a way men could dance with other men without compromising their version of masculinity.
At parties, dancing with women, my best friend and I might step away and take a moment to jam, leaning on each other this way and that, falling over and playing incredible dual solos on our invisible Fenders. We joked about it, air guitar being a perfect subject for my generation's mode of discourse, which is a mix of the intimate and the ironic.
What you do is: extend your left arm sort of crookedly, faking chord changes on the neck of an invisible electric guitar, rhythmically. Here was pleasure: a long swig, a half-turn on the volume knob, the hallucinatory rush of adrenaline, followed by mindless dancing around in front of the fogged-up mirror.
As with anything, it is possible to play air guitar well or poorly, but it has nothing at all to do with being able to play guitar, which is in fact a drawback.
Before 1800 the double courses were replaced by single strings tuned E–A–D–G–B–E′, still the standard tuning.
The violin-type pegbox was replaced about 1600 by a flat, slightly reflexed head with rear tuning pegs; in the 19th century, metal screws were substituted for the tuning pegs.