by: Clint Strait
Though inventors and engineers have been creating electric instruments like music boxes and player pianos since the 1800′s, the first amplified instruments were not created until after the development of the radio in the 1920′s. The first instruments considered for electric amplification were stringed instruments like the viola and string bass.
Lloyd Loar, an engineer with the Gibson Guitar Company, designed an electrical pickup that registered the vibrations of the strings with a magnet and coil on the bridge. This electrical signal was then passed on to an amplifier, which rendered the sound. Oddly enough, Gibson was not the first company to produce a commercially advertised electric guitar. It was actually the Stromber-Voisinet Company who mimicked Lloyd Loar’s design to create the fist commercial, amplified electric guitar in 1928. Though this was a working model of an electric guitar, the signal was very week, and it was not until a new innovation came about that the electric guitar we know today actually arrived.
The magnet and coil located in the bridge was not direct enough to receive full vibrations from the strings, so engineers began creating pickups that registered the vibrations directly from the strings. In 1932, George Beauchamp and Adolph Rickenbacker produced the first, successful electric guitar, known as the Frying Pan. This innovative Hawaiian model was designed to be played flat on the lap, and it was an immediate success with Hawaiian musicians. However, this instrument continued to be used for a similar Hawaiian instrumental style.
It was not until the electric guitar was captured by the imagination of Charlie Christian in 1939, that the electric guitar took on a unique style, all its own. Over the next ten years, many artists and guitar makers alike began experimenting with new electric guitar designs. Most of these designers continued with the same pickup devices but experimented with mounting the pickup differently. A widely known acoustic guitarist known as Les Paul, built an electric guitar on a four by four piece of pine wood, and he called it The Log, and soon thereafter, Leo Fender introduced a solid wood body electric guitar in 1950. The guitar grew in popularity and only two years later, Gibson created a similar styled guitar that was endorsed by Les Paul. These guitars had fantastic sustain and fewer feedback problems, and they quickly grew to extreme popularity.
From there it can be said that the rest was history. Guitarists from the 50′s and 60′s mastered this new instrument, making it an everlasting icon of American music and culture. New models and designs are virtually limitless, countless musicians have made the electric guitar sing in so many different ways, and it is truly a symbol of American innovation and exploration.
About the Author
Clint Strait is a third generation owner and assistant manager of the Strait Music, Austin Music Stores, the best in Austin TX guitar stores. For more information please visit www.straitmusic.com.