A Brief History Of The Electric Guitar

In the early 1920s something new was in the wind... or, more specifically, in wires... being strung everywhere. Electricity was making inroads into everyday life. Radios and record players began to use electrically amplified sound... and it was only a matter of time before folks started to apply electric amplification to guitars.

At Gibson, their top acoustic engineer, Lloyd Loar began to develop electrified instruments . But Gibson had an old-school corporate attitude and they resisted Loar's new, electric concepts. Frustrated, Loar left Gibson in 1924.

When RCA/Victrola introduced their first amplified phonograph in 1925, several musician/inventors around the country experimented with attaching the phonograph's tone arm to their guitars. Two of these men were O.W. Appleton in Iowa, and George Beauchamp in California.

A few years later George Beauchamp designed a guitar pickup, and in 1931 he made plans to manufacture the first commercially available electric guitar. He joined forces with a friend who owned a tool and die plant, Adolph Rickenbacker, and in 1932 they introduced the Electro A-25.

Since the most popular musical style of the day was Hawaiian music, this instrument was designed as a lap steel. Because of its shape, it quickly got the nickname "The Frying Pan." Later in 1932, Rickenbacker also introduced an electric archtop guitar with the same Beauchamp-designed pickup.

Meanwhile, back in the Midwest, Lloyd Loar saw two other companies going electric. Vega produced an electric banjo, and Stromberg-Voisinet introduced a pickup that could be attached to banjo or guitar bridges. So in 1933, Loar started his own company, Vivi-Tone, to produce exclusively electric instruments.

By 1935 Gibson could no longer ignore the growing field of electrified instruments. They begin to make electric archtops and electric Hawaiian guitars.

In 1935 famed guitarist Alvino Rey mounted an acoustic guitar body around his Rickenbacker Hawaiian guitar, creating in a sense the first semi-hollow guitar. In 1940 Les Paul created a similar instrument, cutting an Epiphone archtop in two, and mounting a solid piece of wood in the center. Then, in 1941, O.W. Appleton builds a guitar that foretells the future of the solid-body electric!



1924:

Lloyd Loar, Gibson's top acoustical engineer, designs a crude electrostatic pickup and attaches it to a viola.
He begins to work on other electric instruments, but Gibson resists, so he resigns.



1925:

Musician/inventor/woodworker, twenty-two year-old O.W. Appleton attaches a Victrola tone arm to his guitar.
George Beauchamp attaches a phono cartridge to a 2x4, to make an experimental test electric guitar.


1931:

Beauchamp designs a workable pickup. He teams up with tool and die maker Adolph Rickenbacker
to make the first commercially available electric guitar.
Since Hawaiian music is the big style of the era, they make it a Hawaiian guitar.
(High action strings, played on your lap with a slide.)


1932:

Rickenbacker introduces an electric archtop guitar.
The Vega Company makes the world's first electric banjo.


1933:

Lloyd Loar starts his own company, Vivi-Tone, and makes an electric hollow-body archtop guitar.


1935:

Gibson finally sees the writing on the wall and introduces their first electric guitars.
Keeping with the current musical trends, they only make solid body Hawaiian lap steels and hollow body archtops.


1939:

The Slingerland Company makes a solid-body electric called the Songster. At first glance it looks like a lap steel,
but it actually has a round neck so it could also be played like a regular guitar.


1940:

Les Paul attaches a pickup to a 4x4 piece of pine, and then adds the sides of his Epiphone archtop, to give it some shape.
He calls it "The Log."


1941:

O.W. Appleton creates the "APP" guitar, the first electric sold-body to resemble a present-day electric guitar.
He shows it to Gibson. They reject the concept of a solid-body, traditionally-held, guitar.


1948:

Paul Bigsby builds a single-cutaway, solid-body guitar for Merle Travis.
Leo Fender sees it, and begins work on a similar instrument.


1950:

Leo Fender introduces the Broadcaster (soon to be renamed the Telecaster).


1952:

Gibson enters the solid-body market with the Les Paul Model.