Evolution of The Electric Guitar Design

  • Period: to

    Magnetic Pickup Invented

    George Beauchamp, initially with a phonograph pickup assembly, begins exploring options for amplifying the guitar. He experiments with various combinations of wire coils and magnets in order to find the setup best suited to the frequency range of the guitar.
  • Rickenbacker "Frying Pan" Introduced

    Beauchamp's final pickup design is incorporated into a lap steel, or "Hawaiian," guitar model produced by Rickenbacker (now "Rickenbacher")
  • Rickenbacker "Electro String"

    Rickenbacker incorporates the magnetic pickup into the design of the first electrified "Spanish" style guitar.
  • Charlie Christian and the Gibson ES-150

    Gibson introduces their version of the magnetic pickup, this time on an archtop-style guitar. The archtop guitar, which was previously limited to the role of chordal accompaniment in the ensemble, can now be amplified to the point where single-note melodies can be clearly heard over the volume of the ensemble. Charlie Christian pioneers this new melodic style of soloing on the guitar, and becomes a key figure in the development of Bebop in the process.
  • Les Paul's "The Log"

    Frustrated with the feedback issues associated with hollow-body guitars when amplified at high volumes, Les Paul attaches a guitar neck to a solid piece of wood with hollow sections attached from the sides. With the pickups mounted to a solid surface rather than vibrating along with the guitar's body, feedback issues are dramatically reduced.
  • Leo Fender's "Esquire" Prototype

    Leo Fender introduces an all-new guitar style consisting of a single solid "slab" of wood, with the neck and pickups bolted directly on to the body.
  • Fender Broadcaster/Telecaster

    Leo Fender's prototype, now with a second pickup added, is introduced to the market as the "Broadcaster." The "Esquire" design is retained as the lower cost, single-pickup version of this guitar.
    By 1952, the name of the guitar was changed to the "Telecaster" after a dispute with Gretsch Musical Instruments, who were already marketing a drum kit called the "Broadkaster."
  • The Gibson Les Paul Model

    Gibson recruits Les Paul to be the namesake and spokesman of their own entry into the solid body guitar market, known as the Les Paul model. In contrast to Fender's slab-body-bolt-neck design, Gibson retains historical elements of more traditional guitar designs such as a glued-in neck and an arched-top - reminiscent of their hollow-body guitar models such as the L-5 and the Super-400.
  • The Fender Vibrato System

    Fender Musical Instruments introduces an updated version of the Telecaster, called the Stratocaster, which featured 3 pickups and comfort contours carved out of the body's edges. The most famous design element of this guitar however, was the vibrato system (mis-labeled by Fender as "tremolo"), in which the guitar's strings were mounted onto a spring-loaded bridge that could be moved up and down with a screw-in bar in order to manipulate the pitch of notes in either direction.
  • The "Humbucking" Pickup

    Though the earlier issues with high-volume feedback had been solved with the solid-body guitar design, all pickups of this era were constructed with a single coil of wire and were susceptible to electromagnetic interference which remained audible through the amplifier as a mild buzz/hum.
    Gibson solved this issue by linking two pickup coils together with their polarities opposite each other, which allowed any buzz/hum in the signal to be effectively cancelled out by the opposing coil.
  • Period: to

    Battle for Market Share

    By this point, many of the major developments in electric guitar design had already taken place. The industry's 2 biggest players competed relentlessly with each other - introducing a multitude of new (and now classic) models over the years. By 1969, the electric guitar "boom" had taken off, and both Gibson & Fender were now under the management of large corporate investors. Increased demand resulted in many cost-cutting measures, which impacted quality & opened the market to other competition.