This is a story from the JULY/AUGUST 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this complete story and more photos, plus features on comedian/podcaster/writer/actor/musician Marc Maron, former Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson and his new career as a solo performer and painter, Matt Bruck’s collection of rare and vintage British amps, comedian and author Dave Hill, and much more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.
Photo Courtesy of Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum
ELECTRIC DAWN: Meet Gage Brewer’s 1932 Ro-Pat-In Electric Spanish prototype, the first electric guitar ever used in a performance.
By Alan di Perna
The first documented, public electric guitar performance took place at the Shadowland Pavilion in Wichita, Kansas on Halloween night, 1932. The performer was guitarist Gage Kelso Brewer, and his instrument was the 1932 RO-PAT-IN electric Spanish prototype seen here, along with another RO-PAT-IN prototype, the legendary A-25 Frying Pan. While Brewer’s A-25 was lost in a 1935 fire, his electric Spanish model has survived down through the years and is now on exhibit at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum. It is the centerpiece of the museum’s current exhibition, The Electric Guitar—Wichita’s Instrument!
A professional guitarist working coast-to-coast in the early decades of the 20th century, Brewer befriended George Beauchamp, founder of the RO-PAT-IN company, which would become Rickenbacker, and inventor of the electro-magnetic horseshoe pickup that made possible the electric guitar as we know it today. Brewer purchased the A-25 and ES prototypes in the summer of 1932 and brought them back to Wichita, where he unveiled them with a great deal of showmanship and panache, touting the instruments in a press release as “a new invention which is startling the music world.”
“The Spanish electric guitar that Brewer brought to Wichita,” museum director Eric Cale explains, “was the prototype that led to the half dozen or so production-model Spanish guitars made later that year from wooded bodies similar to National’s Trojan model, built by the Harmony Company of Chicago. Brewer’s guitar features a tenor-sized body and a 24-fret neck with 17 frets clear of the body. The top is one inch thick, indicating that the acoustic qualities of the guitar itself were not a consideration in its design. No volume control is present on the guitar. Cable connection on Brewer’s guitar was by two phone tips rather than a quarter-inch jack. Phone tip connections and the absence of volume controls are features found on a very few of the earliest production guitars.”
The guitar is on an extended loan to the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, and the museum is currently in negotiation with the instrument’s owners to acquire it for the permanent collection.
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This is a story from the JULY/AUGUST 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this complete story and more photos, plus features on comedian/podcaster/writer/actor/musician Marc Maron, Matt Bruck’s collection of rare and vintage British amps, former Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson and his new career as a solo performer and painter, comedian and author Dave Hill, and much more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.