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History and Fame of the Electric Guitar

By Leslie Keith

Staff Writer


The electric guitar has been one of the most important instruments in bands around the world for more than fifty years; however, very few people take the time to know how the electric guitar came to be and where it got its fame.

The evolution began with George Beauchamp, a musician, and Adolph Rickenbacker, an electrical engineer. Many people believe that credit should go to Les Paul, but Beauchamp and Rickenbacker are the ones that are considered to be the people responsible for creating the first commercially viable modern amplifiable electric guitar. Others had attempted this mission before by using carbon button microphones attached to the bridge of the guitar; however, this method did not work.  Beauchamp and Rickenbacker discovered how to build the modern electric guitar, but their story, like so many before them, was not easy.

The need for the electric guitar came along because the classic acoustic version was too quiet to contribute to the music that a band produced in different settings. This problem was noticeable in the 1880’s. The famous bands in the early ‘20s got their musical power from the drums and brass; therefore, the acoustic guitar was considered to be a “second-tier” instrument and only produced melodies that the musicians in the band could not hear in many pieces of music. The need for a more powerful form of the guitar was obvious to everyone. This is where our two inventor’s come into play.

Beauchamp, who designed the very first crude electric guitar in his own home, played Hawaiian guitar. According to the guitar historian, Richard Smith, Hawaiian music as a genre was a key factor in the invention of the electric guitar. “You had the Hawaiian musicians,” Smith said, “where…the guitar was the melody instrument. So the real push to make the guitar electric came from the Hawaiian musicians.”.

As mentioned before, various people had tried attaching different materials to hollow-body wooden guitars to amplify the sound with no great results, then the Hawaiian-style lap steel guitar was electrified. These guitars are played with a steel bar and placed across the knees and played horizontally, giving to the term of “lap guitars” or “lap steel guitars”. Eventually some forms were forged from brass and were given a louder sound than the wooden varieties. During the same time in history the lap steel guitar started to be made from metal; electrical amplification was becoming a reality.

Beauchamp and Rickenbacker met at the Dopyera Brothers, a guitar manufacturer in Los Angeles, and they agreed to work on an electric guitar project together. Rickenbacker was a man who loved to experiment and to dare new things, like founding The Rickenbacker International Corporation, a company whose sole purpose was to create and manufacture electrical musical instruments.

After a lot of experimenting, Beauchamp and Rickenbacker finally invented an electromagnetic device which picked up the vibrations of the guitar strings with great clarity. The electromagnets converted the vibrations into an electrical signal, which is then amplified and played through speakers. In 1931, they installed these pickups on a new model designed by Harry Watson, which was a aluminum lap steel guitar called the “Frying Pan” for its size and shape. The first commercial prototype was finally the hands of reality.

Manufacturing stated during the summer of 1932 by the Ro-Pat-In Corporation, later renamed the Rickenbacker Electro Stringed Instrument Company, with the “Frying Pan” the first commercially feasible electric guitar. The first known public mention of an electrically enhanced guitar appeared during October of 1932 in Wichita, Kansas in an article printed in the local newspaper, the Wichita Beacon. Gage Brewer, a musician, demonstrated for the press two of his recent purchases, an Electric Hawaiian A-25 and a standard Electric Spanish, two of the first electric guitars made by Beauchamp.

As time continued on the electric guitar became more popular and started to appear in more bands across the world. Some of the people to first record with the electric guitar was Les Paul, Lonnie Johnson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, T-Bone Walker, and Charlie Christian. Fame of the magical instrument, however, can be granted to Les Paul.

Les Paul was an American jazz, country, and blues guitarist, song-writer, and luthier. Many believed he was the original inventor of the electric guitar, but this rumor is not true as explained earlier in the article. He did help make the instrument famous though by using it in multiple forms of his music and going through with help of creating the famous brand Gibson.

The other famous brands of guitar ranked best to least include: Gibson, Fender, Ilbanez, Paul Reed Smith, Epiphone, Jackson, ESP, Yamaha, Taylor, B.C. Rich, Martin, Schecter, Rickenbacker, Gretsch, and Mosrite of California.

In the end we can thank Beauchamp and Rickenbacker for their hard work and dedication to music that it took to create the electric guitar. It is still used in many bands and in many ways creates the melody and harmony that is required in order to create great music.

The factual evidence within this article was found on 

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