An iconic musical instrument in many musical styles, the electric guitar is arguably the most important and popular instrument of the past 80 years. Its introduction brought a major change to music technology and shaped the sound and direction of modern music styles. Back to its origins: why, how and by whom was the electric guitar designed?

From the frustration of guitarists to the “frying pan”

“Homemade” trial and error

While acoustic guitars had become hugely popular over the centuries, they had one big problem: their volume. Other instruments had a significantly higher volume than the guitars, so the latter were drowned out in the musical ensembles. And that severely limited the role of guitarists in those ensembles.

Frustrated, guitarists began experimenting with how to boost their volume. Many crude props were used. Everything from microphones to tungsten pickups placed in the soundhole. But none of these solutions were quite what guitarists needed, and they never reached the volume they expected.

The first invention

In the 1930s, the first versions of the electric guitar began to appear. In 1931, the very first electric guitar was born, designed by famous musician and inventor of musical instruments Paul H. Tutmarc.

Tutmarc used a unique method that had never been tried before: he created a microphone using magnets combined with spools of wire. This method amplified the vibration of the strings, increasing the volume of the instrument. This invention was actually inspired by the way phones used magnets to create vocal vibrations!

Rickenbacker’s frying pan

A few years later, two other inventors developed their own version of the electric guitar with a similar method. John Dopyera and George Beauchamp thus created the first instrument that really resembled a modern electric guitar (full body or “solid body”). This guitar was, however, a Hawaiian-style guitar, earning it the nickname “the frying pan” because of its shape. The design of the guitar was entrusted to Adolph Rickenbacker who marketed the very first electric guitars for the general public in 1937.

The development of the electric guitar

Then, in the 1940s, another designer named Les Paul (future inventor of Gibson’s famous Les Paul design) tried to improve the design of the Rickenbacker Frying Pan. He designed a guitar made from a single piece of pine carved to match the typical shape of a solid-body guitar. Les Paul presented his creation to Orville Gibson (creator of the Gibson brand) who unfortunately did not know what to think of his design.

Cependant, Leo Fender (créateur de la marque Fender) a vu l’attrait de la conception et de son fonctionnement. Il a pensé que c’était une excellente idée et, en 1950, il commercialisa la toute première guitare électrique moderne, l’Esquire. Elle fut finalement renommée Telecaster, un nom que chaque guitariste a probablement entendu au cours de sa carrière musicale. Et ce fut un succès retentissant parmi les musiciens. Enfin, ils avaient la guitare qui correspondait à leurs exigences de scène.

La Telecaster allait changer l’histoire de la musique pour toujours et inspirer de nombreuses autres entreprises à créer leurs propres guitares électriques.


Savez-vous ce qui se marie parfaitement avec une guitare électrique ? Le synthétiseur et la boite à rythme. Apprenez comment choisir les vôtres en consultant cet autre article.

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