This article aims to give some insight into the history of the electric guitar, from the earliest electric guitars manufactured by Rickenbacker, to the more well known guitars manufactured by the likes of Fender and Gibson.



The popularity of the electric guitar began in the big band era when guitarists needed to amplify their instruments to compete with the large brass sections found in most jazz orchestras. In the beginning, electric guitars were primarily made up of hollow archtop acoustic bodies with electromagnetic transducers attached, to convert the sound into electricity for amplification.

Some of the earliest electric guitars, then just hollow bodied acoustic instruments used pickups made of tungsten, and the guitars themselves were manufactured by Rickenbacker in the 30’s. In 1935, Rickenbacker manufactured a solid bodied electric guitar made from Bakelite, which was nicknamed “The Frying Pan” for its shape.

In the early 1940’s, after working after hours at a Gibson Guitar factory, guitarist Les Paul created a guitar consisting of a simple 4x4 wood post with a neck attached to it, homemade pickups and hardware, and two detachable Swedish hollow body halves attached to the sides for appearance only. He called it his “log” guitar, and is considered to be the first of its kind. The solid body Les Paul guitar sold by Gibson in 1952 does not share its design or its hardware.

In 1950 and 51, Leo Fender designed the first guitar to be commercially successful. Originally named the Esquire, it featured a single magnetic pickup, with the two-pickup version being called the Broadcaster; this was later renamed to Telecaster in homage of the television. The telecaster featured an ash body, 21 frets and a bolt-on neck, which allowed for cost effective and easy manufacturing or replacement.

In 1954, Fender introduced perhaps one of the most recognised guitars of all time, the Fender Stratocaster, or simply the “Strat”; known for its double cut-away body design, 3 pick-ups and synchronized tremolo mechanism. Leo Fender is also credited for the design of the commercially successful Fender Precision Bass, first introduced in 1951.

The electric guitar achieved wide popularity in the 1960’s; with the success of guitar-based pop groups. Electric guitars were soon being manufactured by individuals and companies all over the world, often as copies, and became available to the keen amateur as well as the professional musician.

Electric guitars are now seen in many genres of music, from Rock to Surf, over to Ska and Punk. Fender and Gibson, perhaps the two biggest guitar manufacturers of all, have helped inspire nearly three generations to learn or get in touch with music, and they will continue to do so for a long time to come.

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