The electric guitar has been said to be the most popular and important instrument for over 50 years in American music. The introduction of the electric guitar brought about a major change to the technologies available to American music and has shaped the direction and sound of the modern music that we have all come to love.
There was a desire to increase the sound of guitar’s way before the development of speakers and amplifiers. In the 19th century, musical performances were set in larger concert venues. The musicians of the time need more powerful and louder instruments, which did become possible with the use of new designs and materials.
It was in the 19th century with the introduction of steel strings that allowed not only greater tension on instruments, but also greater volume. It was at this time that the traditional flattop guitar started to change in both shape and size. With that said, a completely new design was created that allowed for the louder and stronger archtop guitar.
As public dance music started becoming more popular in the 1920s, the then small recording industry needed higher volume in order to capture musical performances, and it was then that guitar producers started making more effort with regards to developing much louder guitars. Some of the people carried on experimenting with the development of guitars with metal bodies and larger sizes, while other inventors placed their focus on using electricity as a possible contributor.
It was by the end of the ’30s that electronicx guitar amplification had proved to be a successful way of building a much louder guitar, despite what some of the traditionalists had to say about the new and improving technology. Jazz and country guitarists were among the first to take the lead with the new electric sound. Makers and players began to build new Spanish-style guitars in the 1940s and 1950s. These electric guitars were made with solid wood bodies, which later led to new sounds and designs.
A Much Louder Guitar
The electric guitar’s history dates back to way before the 20th century. The Spanish-style six-string guitar was first introduced in the 1800s, and since then, guitar makers and players have been seeking higher-volume capacities for their instruments.
“X-bracing” was developed by C.F. Martin by the time the 1950s rolled around. “Z-bracing” is used to reinforce the body of the guitar. Not only did he develop this, but he also developed other innovations that lead to a brand new flattop design. Orville Gibson’s carved-body guitar was developed in the 1890s, which increased the volume and set the standards for all instrument makers in the 20th century.
It was in the ’20s that the quest for a louder guitar became greater, mainly due to big band music, commercial radio, and phonograph recordings. In order to compete in these markets, makers of guitars began building bigger archtop and flattop guitars. They also intensified their experimentation with different designs and materials.
It was John Dopyera from the National String instrument Corporation who took the idea of acoustic amplification to the limit. He did so by designing a guitar that was a steel-bodied instrument with banjo-type amplifiers built into the top of the guitar.
Where Was the First Electric Guitar Made?
By the end of the 19th century, the idea of using electricity to create louder instruments did already exist. It was, however, only in the 1920s and 1930s that makers, engineers, and musicians began solving the issues surrounding electronic amplification.
More or less in the year 1931, George Beauchamp, who worked with Adolph Rickenbacker, produced a pickup where current passed through a wire coil (wrapped around a magnet) that created a field that essentially amplified the vibration of the strings. This was introduced on a lap-string, which was known as the Frying Pan. It was the pickup on this particular model that made it the first viable electric guitar for commercial use.
Other players and makers started adapting the new technology by the late 1930s with the more traditional Spanish-style guitars, made from wood, but they were still concerned with the overtones, distortions, and feedback (the amplification of the vibrations and strings of the guitar). It was at this time that the inventors of the time started to address these sound issues by focusing their time on experimenting with solid guitar bodies instead of the hollow type they had previously been using.
It wasn’t until 1939 that the Slingerland company made the public aware of their solid-bodied electric guitar. In more or less 1940, an instrument that was dubbed “the log” was developed by the inventor and guitarist known as Les Paul. Les Paul had mounted pickups and strings onto a solid pine block in order to minimize vibrations created by the body of the guitar. During the 40s’, Leo Fender and Paul Bigsby had begun experimenting with the Spanish-style solid-bodies designs.
In the early years of the existence of the electric guitar, the viability as a “true” instrument was scrutinized by many. There were many claims that the instrument did not produce an authentic (pure) sound. Jazz and country musicians were there from the beginning to defend this. They proved that the electric guitar could produce a louder sound and had the ability to compete with other instruments in the same class.
The pioneers of the electric guitar in the 1930s and 1940s where artists like jazzmen Oscar Moore, country musicians like Merle Travis, and the blues masters such as Muddy Waters. All of these musicians experimented with the harmonic and tonal possibilities of the instrument. It was at this time that other makers, musicians, and audiences started paying more attention to this new electric sound.
For anyone who is still wondering where was the first electric guitar made, you need not wonder any longer. Over the years, the “Greats” have made what we know today a reality. It took years of searching for answers, and we should all thank these legends for creating the electric guitar as we know it today.