There is no more iconic instrument in American music than the electric guitar. In the latter half of the 20th century, no instrument was more ubiquitous in popular music. The electric guitar is inexpensive to build and maintain, musically versatile, relatively easy to learn, and accommodating to a wide range of techniques and skill levels. Read on to learn more about its humble origins.
By the 1930s, recorded music was everywhere in the United States. Music recordings were widely available for purchase. Radio broadcasts made expertly-crafted live performances accessible even to audiences in the the most remote locations. The popular music of the time centered around big bands and radio orchestras, which could easily drown out quieter instruments. Recording technology was simplistic to say the least, and most recordings were made with a single microphone placed in front of the band.
Guitarists began to attach simple transducer microphones to their instruments in the 1920s. These microphones did amplify their guitars when connected to a speaker, but were prone to feedback. If you’ve ever heard a screeching microphone feed back at a lecture or concert then you know that it’s not typically a desirable effect. In 1931 George Beauchamp & Adolph Rickenbacker developed the magnetic pickup to eliminate the feedback problem. Pickups are electromagnets capable of translating the vibration of steel strings into electrical signals, which are then sent to an amplifier, then to a speaker.
The first electromagnetic pickups were mounted on an aluminum-bodied lap steel guitar, nicknamed the “Frying Pan.” The Ro-Pat-In Corporation began selling the “Fry-Pan” in 1932 for use in Hawaiian music, which was very fashionable at the time. By the 1940s, numerous guitar companies had begun selling instruments designed around the electromagnetic pickup, including Kalamazoo hometown heroes Gibson. Take a listen to the “Fry-Pan” and Gibson’s ES-150 below:
Want to learn more about electric guitar? Contact Thompson Tutoring for music lessons today!