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Electric Guitar History


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By the 1900's, the acoustic guitar had developed as a well-known instrument used in orchestra's and band's around the world. 

The 1930's and 40's were known as the big band era.  During this time, orchestra's increased in size and large sections of stage space was reserved from brass (not bass ;-) players.  Due to the loudness of the brass sections in jazz orchestras, it was necessary to have guitars that could be heard above the brass instruments. This was the time when the need for a guitar using electric amplification became apparent...

Electric guitar history kicks off during this time as many luthiers, guitar makers, electronics enthusiasts, and instrument manufacturers experimented with microphones, guitars and pickups.  One of the more well-known of these was a man who ends up playing a big part in electric guitar history:  American songwriter, guitarist and inventor Lester William Polsfuss better known by his stage name Les Paul.

For a graphical version of the history of the guitar see Guitar History Timeline.
Guitar Inventor Les Paul
Leo Fender in 1978
Some of the earliest electric guitars were nothing more than hollow bodied acoustic instruments that used tungsten pickups. This type of guitar was first manufactured in 1932 by a company called Electro String Instrument Corporation in Los Santos.  Though this guitar was electrically amplified, it did not have a solid body like our modern-day electric guitars do...

The earliest known performance with this kind of electrically amplified guitar was in 1932, by guitarist Gage Brewer.  The first recordings using the instrument were made by players of the Hawaiian Style such as Andy Iona in 1933.
One of the first solid body electric guitars was designed and built by musician and inventor Les Paul in the early 1940's while he was working for the Epiphone Guitar factory.  He used their workshops on Sunday's and developed a guitar made of solid wood with no soundholes. The original solid body guitar created by Paul was very plain compared to today's standards - it was a simple rectangular piece of wood connected to a neck with six steel strings.
Guitar Inventor Les Paul
1946 arrives, World War II is over - enters Clarence Leonidas Fender, better known as Leo Fender.  His company designs the first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar with a single magnetic pickup.  He calls it the "Esquire".  This guitar's design was different in that it departed from the hollow-body electric guitars of the time (mainly used in Jazz music).

Nine years later, in 1954, Fender introduced the Fender Stratocaster, or "Strat." The Stratocaster was seen as a deluxe model and offered various product improvements and innovations over its predecessors.  It included a cutaway body, single-coil pickups and a vibrato mechanism.

Most modern Electric guitars developed from Fender Stratocaster and Les Paul's invention.  Over the years, other companies, like Ibanez, Paul Reed Smith and Yamaha have all produced solid body Electric guitars of their own. However, most Electric guitars still use the same shape as that of a first Les Paul or Stratocaster series.
Leo Fender in 1978
1954 Fender Stratocaster Sunburst
The 1954 Fender Stratocaster with a Sunburst finish.  What a beauty...
And that's a brief outline of electric guitar history.
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