Ro-Pat-In Creates the Frying Pan, 1931
In 1931, tool-and-die company owner Adolph Rickenbacker joined forces with Paul Barth and George Beauchamp of National/Dobro to form the Ro-Pat-In company and produce the model A-22 “Frying Pan” Hawaiian guitar. The Frying Pan was the first mass-produced electric guitar (some 2,700 were made), and its innovative electro-magnetic pickup design went a long way towards convincing a skeptical world that electrified stringed instruments were here to stay.
Django Reinhardt Records “Nuages,” 1940
Recorded December 13, 1940, Reinhardt’s laconic and bittersweet “Nuages” became the de facto anthem of Nazi-occupied Paris, selling more than 100,000 copies despite the extreme economic hardships of the time, and securing Reinhardt’s role in jazz history. Although he had already established himself as the world’s most innovative and important jazz guitarist six years previously with the Quintette du Hot Club de France, “Nuages” spread the handicapped guitarist’s (two of his left-hand fingers were irreparably damaged in a fire on October 26, 1928) fame worldwide.
T-Bone Walker Cuts “Mean Old World,” 1942
Many of the guitarists who came to love T-Bone Walker’s outrageous and influential stage show—which featured the crazed and sexy alpha male playing behind his back and doing the splits—got to know him first through his playing on this Columbia single. The silky, jazz-inflected blues lines on “Mean Old World” (as well as the flip side, “I Got a Break Baby”) had a major impact on B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Jimi Hendrix.
“Lover” Released, 1948
Les Paul’s mind-blowing cover of Rogers and Hart’s “Lover” introduced an unsuspecting world to his New Sound in February 1948. Recorded in his garage with a homemade disc-cutting lathe built from a Cadillac flywheel, “Lover” combined “delay, echo, reverb, phasing, flanging, sped-up sounds, muted picking, sound-on-sound layering, and everything else on a single recording,” according to Paul.
Muddy Waters Goes Electric, 1948
Muddy Waters had already been plugging in for five years when he went into the studio to recut “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “I Feel Like Going Home” with an electric guitar. The 78 rpm single sold out instantly (Waters even had a hard time finding a copy), and it brought the blues out of the country and into the modern age.
Bigsby Builds a Vibrato For Merle Travis, 1948
Paul Bigsby was a machinist and foreman at the Crocker Motorcycle Company when he met country picker Merle Travis. As Bigsby loved Western music, and Travis dug motorcycles, a friendship developed, and Travis brought his Gibson L-10 guitar to Bigsby to see if he could fix its ailing Kaufman vibrato. After noticing inherent problems with the Kaufman, Bigsby designed and built his own vibrato—a stable, reliable device that solved Travis’ problem and remains extremely popular with a wide variety of guitar players to this day.
The Fender Broadcaster Debuts, 1950
A few months after the June 1950 introduction of his ingeniously simple, single-pickup Esquire, Leo Fender released the Broadcaster. Soon renamed the Telecaster (due to the fact that Gretsch claimed ownership of the “Broadkaster” name for one of its drum kits), the dual-pickup “plank” became a hit with pro players owing to its slick playability, wide range of sounds, and unmatched roadworthiness.
Gibson Introduces the Les Paul, 1952
With the Telecaster chewing into its market share, Gibson needed its own solidbody, and fast. Created with input from one of the most respected guitarists of the era, the Les Paul hit the streets in the summer of 1952 sporting a mahogany body and neck, a carved maple top, and two P-90 single-coil pickups. Considering the LP’s iconic status, it seems almost funny that it wasn’t immediately a success. In fact, Gibson discontinued the original version in 1960 in favor of a “new” Les Paul model with a double-cutaway, “devil’s horns” body. The change did not go over well with Mr. Paul, and it would be eight long years before Gibson reintroduced the Les Paul in all its single-cutaway, carved-top glory.