Rickenbacker invented the first electric guitar!Almost two decades before the Broadcaster, Telecaster, Stratocaster and Les Paul defined what an electric guitar was, another company had already invented the electric guitar.
It was indeed Rickenbacker that invented the electric guitar and the body used Bakelite, not wood!
The road leading to the launch of the electric guitar in 1932 is complicated and starts with the attempt of mounting three speakers inside a guitar.
National Tricone and Dobro
George Beuchenkamp, John Dopyera and Adolf Richenbacher started producing their collaborate effort, the National Tricone Guitar in 1928.
The design involved three speakers mounted inside a guitar. The aim of the invention was and as always has been since, to make the guitar louder.
The result of the three men’s creation was that by 1929, the production boosted 50 National Tricone Guitars, mandolins and Ukeleles per day and times were good.
When the depression hit in 1930, the expensive ‘National’ was not so hot anymore. John Dopyera resigned and started to develop a different version of the speaker inside the guitar concept.
With his further development/inventions, he launched the brand Dobro. National Tricones and Dobros go under the common name resonator guitars.
The master above all playing these guitars is Mr Bob Brozman. The Youtube video clearly demonstrates Mr Brozman’s superior control over the instrument.
Dobro Guitars are similar to National’s but use one inverted resonator cone rather than three.
Many experiments were also made in bridges and different ways to combine wood and metal. Various patents were scrutinised and a few lawsuits led Dobro to gain $2 million which in turn led Adolf Rickenbacker to form a new Company, Ro-Pat-In Corporation (Elektro Patent instruments).
This was the company that would come to build the first, mass-produced, electric guitar.
National Tricones and Dobros are still popular today, they feel a bit different to play than your average acoustic steel string, but a few days of playing either and you should get used to it.
In 1985, the first commercially successful record in CD format had a Dobro on its cover, it was Dire Straits legendary ‘Brothers In Arms’.
The Frying Pan
After the loss of his main Luthier in Dopyera and $2 million down, Adolf set off to create the first electric guitar and possibly hoped to patent the entire idea by naming the company accordingly in 1931 (Elektro Patent Instruments).
Adolf might not have pulled that off but he did invent the world’s first mass-produced, Hawaiian style, electric guitar with the Frying Pan in 1932.
In 1933 the company changed their name to Electro String Instrument and labelled their instruments Electro.
A year later Adolf thought he might as well honoured himself by labelling all guitars, Rickenbacker.
By 1935, Adolf was well on his way and started producing model “B” which should be considered the first solid body electric guitars.
Eccentric Rickenbacker didn’t use wood for the bodies, he decided that Bakelite (bowling balls are made of this stuff) was the material best suited to build guitars out of.
Model “B” might not have been a worldwide success but it was certainly the first solid body electric guitar. Leo Fender used to repair Model B’s and Fryin’ Pans and launched his first variation on the theme with the Broadcaster in 1949.
Combo 400 and Capri
By 1956 Adolf had seen enough of Gibson and Fender’s success of non-Bakelite guitars and released his wooden version of the electric guitar with the Combo 400 and the bass version Combo 4000 bass.
Two years later the Capri series came out, these are the guitars you’d see John Lennon and George Harrison use. The opening chord of A Hard Days Night uses a 12 string electric Rickenbacker named ‘OS 360/12 FG’.
Paul McCartney and the Beatles might be connected to the Hofner bass, which Paul did play live. However, most recordings are made with a Rickenbacker 4001S FG.
The Rickenbacker is forever connected to the tone of ‘The British Invasion’ but many bands since have recorded and toured with Rickenbacker as an alternative to the traditional Fender and Gibson tones.
R.E.M, U2, The Smiths, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and maybe most notable Roger McGuinn have all been frequent Rickenbacker players.
In McGuinn’s case, the 12 string 370/12 pretty much defined the sound of his band, The Byrds.
Rickenbacker has produced a massive catalogue of guitars and if you were to include National Tricone and Dobro into the production, which you should, they have had a massive impact on popular music culture, only comparable to Fender and Gibson.