Timeline Leading to the First Solidbody Electric Guitar Production Model.

The Solidbody Electric Guitar, which for this article will be referring to what was called the Solidbody Electric Spanish Guitar during its early years, is the variety of guitar preferred by the majority of Dino Guitarists. While the Semi-Hollow electric guitar has been used by players from time to time and the Hollowbody electric guitar isn't totally unknown in the field, it's the Solidbody that has set the standard for Dino tone.

Precursors that led to the Development of the Solidbody Electric Guitar.

The Solidbody Electric was the final stage resulting from guitar manufacturers attempts to increase the volume of the guitar. Popular music, mainly Jazz, Big Band and some forms of Blues and Country, were incorporating more, as well as louder, instruments in the bands of that time and the guitars voice was slowly disappearing from the mix.

Step 1. The first attempt at solving the volume problem came around 1927 or 1928 from National and Dobro, (an offshoot from National), and resulted in the Resonator Guitar. Using metal cones rather than a sound board made the guitar louder. Then again, it also had a large effect on the instruments tone. While Resonators caught on with a couple of styles, Blues and Bluegrass, the majority of players and bandleaders were less than impressed.

Step 2. The next step was the idea of electrically amplifying the guitar. In 1930 George Beauchamp, (ex-general manager of National), developed the first type of electric guitar pickup that could translate string vibration into electrical current. Once George had his pickup ready to go he tapped Harry Watson, (ex-factory superintendent of National), to build him a neck and body. The combination of their work became the first, (not spanish style), electric guitar and took the name The Frying Pan. George then joined with his friend Adolph Rickenbacker to form the company Electro String to manufacture it. Electro String chose to release their guitars as Rickenbackers because Adolphs cousin, WWI flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker, had made the name both well known and easy to remember.

Step 3. As the mid 30s arrived more manufacturers joined in the production of electric spanish guitars. Both Gibson and Epiphone had archtop electrics on the market. Even at this early point in the evolution of the electric guitar some players were grumbling about the problem of feedback. An Amplifier had to be positioned just so in relation to the player or the guitar would start to howl. The first guitar to successfully address the problem of feedback came in 1935 in the form of the Rickenbacker Bakelite Model B Spanish guitar. While not being truly solid bodied its body was constructed of thick plastic walls with a wooden neck attached. It worked! Yet......sadly, the body material weighed so much that the guitar could not be manufactured as a full size guitar and, even the smaller version it was released as tended to be heavy to an uncomfortable degree. No feedback....Great idea! Made from heavy Bakelite plastic......not so good.

Step 4. One guitarist who owned a Rickenbacker as well as a Gibson ES-300 and knew a thing or two about improvising and home experimentation to achieve his musical goals was an up and coming musician named Les Paul. Around 1941 he started going to the Epiphone factory on weekends, (when it was empty), to experiment with what he called his Log. The recipe for his first log turned out to be:

Take one four-by-four solid block of Pine.

Insert between two sawn halfs of an Epiphone body.

Attach one Gibson neck after first applying a Larson Brothers fingerboard to it.

Add one homemade Vibrato.

Add homemade electric pickups.

Wa-La! The Log! Of Note* The log was also not the first solidbody because it's Epiphone body wings were hollow. The Log was the first semi-hollowbodied guitar.

Around 1946 Les Paul took his log to Maurice Berlin, (the original founder of Gibson in 1917 and now the boss of it's new parent company, CMI, Chicago Musical Instrument Company, who Maurice had sold the Gibson brand to in 1944). He asked Maurice to market a guitar of this type as a Gibson. He was laughed at, refused, and asked to leave and take his log with him.

The first log was mainly just a test bed. Les later created two more log guitars from modified Epiphones. The second two he called his Clunkers. It was the second two that Les Paul and Mary Ford used into the early 50s for both their stage act as well as in the studio.

Note* In 1943 Leo Fender and Doc Kauffman worked together to create pickup designs. For purely pickup testing they used a crude solidbody as a test platform.

Enter the Solidbody Electric Guitar.

The Merle Travis.

(A non-production model)

In 1948 Paul Bigsby, working at his shop in Downey, California, (just south of Leo Fenders shop in Fullerton), started hand building custom guitars. While Les Paul and Leo Fender were also actively engaged in similar projects it was the release of Paul Bigsbys non-production Merle Travis guitar, (a neck through design with solid wings and a headstock with all 6 tuners on one side, that denoted the first recognized Solidbody Electric Spanish Guitar design. Note* while both Gibson and Fender deny that the Merle Travis had an influence on their own production guitars still to come, if you take a Strat headstocked neck and an LP Junior, (flat top model), you'll end up with a dressed down version of the Merle Travis.

The Fender Esquire, (1 pickup, some have 2), and Fender Broadcaster, (2 pickups), through the nocaster, (the Broadcaster minus the label), and finally, the Fender Telecaster.

(The first production model Solidbody Electric Spanish Guitar).

The oldest known prototype of a Fender solidbody dates to the summer of 1949. It featured a two-piece body made of pine. The headstock was symmetrical with three tuners on each side. The steel bridge with pickup design was lifted from The Fender Champion Steel guitar. The neck was a bolt-on design that Leo first became aware of through his association with his business partner, Clayton Orr "Doc" Kauffman, who owned a Rickenbacker Bakelite Model B Spanish guitar, mentioned earlier, which had been constructed with a bolt-on neck. Leo noted that this design could keep repair costs down and ran with it.

The second oldest Fender prototype solidbody dates from late 1949 and was made from ash and had the six tuners on one side of the headstock. We recognize this design today as the Telecaster headstock.

Leo was always about keeping costs down. His steel bridge with pickup design was meant to be the only pickup on the Fender solidbody. Another of his associates, Don Randall, had taken note while attending the NAMM show in New York City in the summer of 1949 that most guitars were now sporting two or even three pickups. He basically pressured Leo for the rest of 1949 and into 1950 to also make a two pickup model which Leo finally, grudgingly, went along with.

In April of 1950 Leos sales staff were given sample models of the Esquire to show guitar dealers. By the time it had actually gone into full production and was listed on the Fender pricelist it was August of 1950. By then available with 2 pickups, it carried a list price of $139.95 with it's case was priced at $39.95. In the winter of 1950/51 the 2 pickup version became the short lived Broadcaster. In February of 1951 the Broadcaster name was already toast. Gretsch had drum products and earlier Banjos labeled Broadkaster. Too close for comfort. For a short time the Broadcaster was sold with only the Fender name on the headstock, (these are now referred to as the nocaster), but in short time Don Randall came up with the name Telecaster which it continues to carry to this day.

A few Notations of Events that Took Place After the Birth of the Solidbody Electric Guitar.

(Reference the two books written by Tony Bacon listed below).

Early 1951

Maurice Berlin, still boss of Gibsons parent company, CMI, told his second-in-command, Mark Carlucci, to "get in touch with the fellow with the strange log guitar we had that brief meeting with back in the 1940s". Les Paul says he was told Maurice said "find that guy with the broomstick with the pickups on it".

Late 1951

Ted McCarty, President of Gibson, brings a prototype of the Gibson solidbody that he and his staff had started work on in November of 1950, (shortly after Fenders release of the Broadcaster), to a hunting lodge in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania to show it to Les Paul and Mary Ford. Ted states the visit was to offer royalties to Les Paul if he would publically play the guitar. Les Paul also recalls this occasion as the first time he saw the Gibson prototype. Both also agree the contract was signed that very night. Ted then returns to Kalamazoo to begin work on a production model.

Early in 1952

Valco of Chicago offers a cheap new single pickup solidbody electric guitar in both of its guitar lines. The National Cosmopolitan and the Supro Ozark.

Early Summer of 1952

Kay offers the Thin Twin solidbody electric guitar and Harmony offers the..............get ready for it..............................Stratotone.

Summer of 1952

Gibson launches its new Les Paul model known today as the Gold Top.

 

 

References for this article:

http://www.rickenbacker.com/history_early.asp

http://www.jacksonsrareguitars.com/national-guitars.html

50 Years of the Gibson Les Paul. Written by Tony Bacon. Published by Backbeat Books. First Addition 2002.

6 Decades of the Fender Telecaster. Written by Tony Bacon. Published by Backbeat Books. First Addition 2005