From ‘frying pan’ to Stratocaster: Tracing the rise of the electric guitar in America

Kai Ryssdal and Robert Garrova Nov 8, 2016
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Guitarist Eric Clapton's 2007 Fender Stratocaster 'VG' model is on display at Bonhams in Los Angeles on February 17, 2011. Guitars and amps from Clapton's personal collection come to auction at Bonhams in March 9, 2011 in New York to benefit The Crossroads Centre, Antigua. GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

From ‘frying pan’ to Stratocaster: Tracing the rise of the electric guitar in America

Kai Ryssdal and Robert Garrova Nov 8, 2016
Guitarist Eric Clapton's 2007 Fender Stratocaster 'VG' model is on display at Bonhams in Los Angeles on February 17, 2011. Guitars and amps from Clapton's personal collection come to auction at Bonhams in March 9, 2011 in New York to benefit The Crossroads Centre, Antigua. GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images
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There was a time few of us can probably remember, when an electric guitar could not be heard on the radio. It was a time well before the Fenders and Gibsons of the world had taken the instrument from obscurity to ubiquity. As it turns out, before there was the Fender Stratocaster, there was a primitive electric guitar called the ‘frying pan.’ And before there was Jimi Hendrix, there was a musician from Oklahoma named Charlie Christian who changed the instrument forever.

Brad Tolinski was editor in chief of “Guitar World” magazine and his new book co-authored with Alan Di Perna is called “Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound and Revolution of the Electric Guitar.”

Tolinski spoke with Kai Ryssdal.

On George Beauchamp’s early electric guitar, the ‘frying pan’: 

[It was] a pretty homely little instrument, it actually looked like a frying pan. But the interesting thing about it is that it doesn’t really sound much different than guitars do these days. It sounded pretty good.

 

“Patent for the first commercially-produced electric guitar, the ‘frying pan'” 

From PLAY IT LOUD by Brad Tolinski and Alan di Perna. Copyright © 2016 by Brad Tolinski and Alan di Perna. Reprinted by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

On Charlie Christian, one of the first great electric guitar players:

In the ‘30s, Benny Goodman had a big band. And Benny was the equivalent of like, the Beatles or Elvis at that time… And Goodman had this A&R kind of music advisor, this guy named John Hammond who was pushing hard for this young musician from Oklahoma named Charlie Christian, [he was] 22-years-old. But there were two problems: Christian was black at the time when Jim Crow and segregation laws were still in full effect. And Benny Goodman, his band was white. And the second was he played the electric guitar, which considered at that time to be, at best, a novelty… Goodman decided that Christian’s talent was just too monumental to ignore and, you know,  did the smart thing, put him on radio. Christian overnight became a superstar. You know, it was the first time many, many people had even heard the electric guitar. I always said, it was almost as if The Beatles had hired an accordion player at the height of their success.

Click the audio player above to hear the full interview.

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