The Electric guitar hasn’t been around nearly as long as the Acoustic and Classical guitars. In fact, the Electric guitar was created just 70 years ago (the 1930s) by Adolph Rickenbacker. Since that time, the Electric guitar has greatly evolved to the where it is today. In this article, we’ll go over the history of the Electric guitar.
Guitars, or similar instruments, have been around for thousands of years. The Electric guitar was first manufactured in the 1930s by Rickenbacker. Original Electric guitars used tungsten pickups. Pickups basically convert the vibration of the strings into electrical current, which is then fed into the amplifier to produce the sound.
The very earliest Electric guitars featured smaller soundholes in the body. These guitars are known as semi-hollow body Electric guitars and still are somewhat popular today, mainly due to the fact that they are flexible guitars.
However, with the use of pickups, it was possible to create guitars without soundholes (like the Acoustic and Classical guitars have) that still had the ability to be heard, if plugged into amplifiers. These guitars are called solid body Electric guitars.
The Electric guitar’s popularity began to increase during the Big Band era of the ‘30s and 40s. Due to the loudness of the brass sections in jazz orchestras, it was necessary to have guitars that could be heard above the sections. Electric guitars, with the ability to be plugged into amplifiers, filled this void.
The Electric guitar that is most prevalent today is the solid body Electric guitar. The solid body guitar was created by musician and inventor Les Paul in 1941. It is a guitar made of solid wood with no soundholes. The original solid body guitar created by Paul was very plain—it was a simple rectangular block of wood connected to a neck with six steel strings. Les Paul’s original solid body guitar shape has, of course, changed from the original rectangular shape to the more rounded shape Les Paul guitars have today.
During the 1950s, Gibson introduced Les Paul’s invention to the world. The Gibson Les Paul, as it was and still is called, quickly became a very popular Electric guitar. It has remained the most popular guitar for 50 years.
Around the same period of time, another inventor named Leo Fender came up with a solid body Electric guitar of his own. In the late 1940s, Fender introduced the Fender Broadcaster Electric guitar. The Broadcaster, which was renamed the Stratocaster, was officially introduced to the public in 1954. The Strat, as it is now known, was a very different guitar in comparison to the Les Paul. It had a different shape, different hardware and was significantly lighter. Fender’s Stratocaster Electric guitar is the second most popular guitar in the world, second to only the Les Paul.
Over the years, other companies, such as Ibanez, Jackson, Paul Reed Smith, ESP and Yamaha have all produced solid body Electric guitars of their own. However, most Electric guitars still feature the familiar shape of a Les Paul or Strat guitar.
Photo by Ethan Prater