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Musical Space

Musical Space: Electric Guitar


Mark Foley looks at the history of the electric guitar.

Two thousand and twelve marks the 80th anniversary of the invention of the Electric Guitar, an event more important than the first moon landing or the isolation and identification of DNA. The very first electric guitar debuted in Wichita in 1932. Local musician Gage Brewer had vacationed in Los Angeles that summer and a friend happened to work for the Rickenbacker Company.

The company wanted to make the guitar loud enough to be heard with a big band. Brewer procured two prototype instruments, a standard six-string and a Hawaiian steel guitar, bringing them back to Wichita and giving a concert in October of that year.

Brewer specialized in Hawaiian music; but I like to think of the ways that all music was changed at that moment. The Hawaiian model was a precursor to the pedal steel guitar, and became the most recognizable sound in western swing and country music. The six string of course was adopted by the big band players of the era, then blues men, and, later, the men and women of rock ‘n’ roll.

The volume and tone shaped Twentieth Century music irrevocably and the future of all music as well. You can see the very instruments that launched the revolution on display at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum.

Music Los Straitjackets “Cal-Speed” from The Further Adventures of Los Straitjackets