The History of The Electric Guitar: How Music Was Changed Forever
By: Bob Martin
In The Beginning
The guitar's soft melodic tone made it difficult for people to
hear it when being played alongside other instruments. So during
the 1930's an inventive individual decided to change that and
invented the first electric guitar. Little did he know, or have
imagined way back then how the invention of the electric guitar
would significantly affect the course of 20th century music.
Like most new things, the electric guitar had its critics but it
quickly won people over because of its ability to allow
musicians to play much more creatively and express their own
The First Pickup
In 1924 an inventive engineer working for the Gibson guitar
company named Lloyd Loar, designed the first magnetic pickup.
Using a magnet, he converted guitar string vibrations into
electrical signals, which then were amplified through a speaker
system. This first pickup was crude, but it was a great
The First Electric Guitar
In 1931 the Electro String Company was founded by Paul Barth,
George Beauchamp and Adolph Rickenbacker, and developed the
first electric guitars marketed to the general public. They made
their guitars from cast aluminum and were played on a person's
lap using a steel slide much like today's steel guitar. Because
of their unusual material, they were affectionately called
The early success of the frying pans prompted the Gibson guitar
company to build their first electric guitar, the ES-150 which
is a legend today.
The First Solid-Body Electric Guitar
Electric guitars were quickly becoming popular, even though
there was a major problem with their construction. Their bodies
would vibrate due to the amplified sounds coming through the
speakers they were played into, causing what we know as
feed-back. The obvious remedy was to build a guitar made with a
solid body which wouldn't vibrate so easily.
As with most innovations, there is controversy over who invented
the first solid -body electric guitar. Guitar legend Les Paul in
the 1940's developed his affectionately called "The Log"
solid-body guitar by attaching a Gibson neck to a solid piece of
wood...a railroad tie, hence the name "Log."
Around this same time, guitarist Merle Travis and engineer Paul
Bigsby developed a solid-body electric guitar that resembled the
solid-body guitars that we're so familiar with today.
The First Mass Produced Electric Guitar
Leo Fender in 1950 was the first to mass produce an electric
guitar which was originally called the Fender Broadcaster. This
guitar was quickly re-named to the infamous Telecaster because
the name "Broadcaster" was already being used by another
company. Leo followed this up in 1954 with the most renowned
guitar of all time...the Stratocaster.
Leo's success led other guitar manufacturers into developing
their own mass-produced electric guitars. Most notable was the
teaming-up of the Gibson guitar company with Les Paul to create
the famous Gibson Les Paul electric guitar.
More Affordable Electric Guitars
During the 1960's and 1970's famous brand name electric guitars
were too expensive for the average person to buy. Less pricey
imitations quickly came to market but they were sub-standard in
sound and playability. The Japanese, in the 1980's started
manufacturing electric guitars of similar quality to the more
expensive American made models, but with much more affordable
pricing. This prompted Fender and other leading guitar
manufacturers into producing less expensive versions of their
classic models. This resulted in electric guitars now being more
affordable and accessible to more people.
Today, the Gibson and Fender guitar companies are still
producing some of the most well-known and best made electric
guitars on the market. But it's getting crowded with other high
quality brands such as BC Rich, ESP and Peavey. Innovative
designs, shapes and materials are being incorporated with new
technologies to produce better sounding electric guitars.
Modern guitars have built-in software allowing them to sound
like other types of guitars. Some are even fitted with pickups
that synthesize the sound of different instruments or record the
notes in musical notation.
The electric guitar has come a long way with an interesting and
inventive past and many in the industry say it has an even
About the author:
Bob Martin says don't buy a new electric guitar
until you take a serious look at this today.