When you think of the electric guitar, you probably conjure up images of Jimi Hendrix jamming or Keith Richards rocking out. So it might surprise you to learn that this instrument wasn’t invented in the 1950s or 60s but much, much earlier. So who used the first electric guitar? And how did it become one of the most popular musical instruments in the world today? Let’s find out.
Who used the first electric guitar?
The acoustic guitar had declined in popularity by the 1920s – especially when popular music styles like “Big Band” music relied on drums and bass, rendering the acoustic guitar pretty much useless. The instrument was seen as tired – so someone decided to invent something new.
That someone was a musician called George Beauchamp, who created the first electric guitar in his own home. The instrument was rudimentary but had some of the features that we expect an electric guitar to have today. But it wasn’t until Beauchamp met an engineer called Adolph Rickenbacker that things really got interesting.
Rickenbacker was one of the best engineers in the world and was based in LA; he loved to play around with new styles. The two of them were able to create a technology that would come to dominate music in the 20th century.
The electric guitar is invented and changes music
Rickenbacker and Beauchamp created an electromagnetic device which was able to pick up vibrations from guitar strings with more accuracy. These electromagnets could change vibrations into an electric signal – which was then amplified through speakers. The resulting sound was loud, brash and exciting – a sound that came to dominate rock music for decades. The new technology was quickly added to an aluminium steel guitar called the “Frying Pan” (because it had the shape of, you guessed it, a frying pan) in 1931, and a year later, the product was rolled out.
People had positive reactions when they first heard the new sound. It had all the familiarity of the acoustic guitar but with extra punch!
What happened next?
Over the next few years, the popularity of the electric guitar skyrocketed. But it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that popular music started to incorporate this revolutionary sound. Since then, artists like Slash and Eric Clapton are famous around the world for their electric guitar-playing, inspiring a new generation to pick up and learn this musical instrument.