The Electric Guitar Turns 75

Friday, August 10, 2012

A new "distressed" electric guitar at Mandolin Brothers. (Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC)

On August 10, 1937, the Electro String Corporation was awarded the first-ever electric guitar patent. Invented by G.D. Beauchamp, the instrument was known as the Rickenbacker Frying Pan.

The new sound of the electric guitar was a dramatic shift from the strum of the acoustic guitars that had been played for centuries. For the first time the guitar could hold its own in a band and it revolutionized the sound of popular music for decades to follow.  

Rudy Pensa is a guitar expert and the owner of Rudy’s Music in Manhattan. He discusses the history of the electric guitar, and its evolution into modern culture. A 63-year-old originally from Argentina, Pensa started playing the guitar when he was nine or ten years old. 

"In New York City, John D'Angelico [was] making violins and cellos," he says. "He realized that jazz was starting to get big, and developed this amazing jazz guitar." From there, the electric guitar began to move from the back of the stage to the front. 

By the 1970s, it had rocketed to the forefront of the rapidly growing hard rock scene. Legendary guitarist Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin was one of the first to perform solos, bending the strings as had never been done before. Pensa hesitates to name him the outright greatest, as rock star Jimi Hendrix was another pioneer of the electric guitar. Gibson.com's list of the top 50 guitarists of all time has Hendrix at the top spot, but the guitar expert is adamant in sharing the top honor between the two masters. 

"I will never say which one is better. I'll put two crowns on each head, the two together," Pensa says. "Hendrix was playing the [Fender] Stratocaster, and Jimmy Page was playing the [Gibson] Les Paul standard at the time." 

Guests:

Rudy Pensa

Produced by:

Robert Balint and Ellen Frankman

Comments [30]

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Nov. 29 2012 07:57 PM

The Doors, Spanish Caravan (a brilliant take on Isaac Albeniz's Asturias).

Aug. 13 2012 08:43 AM
l e bostrom from nyc

Peter Frampton solo on Lines on my Face, Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits on Telegraph Road. I put Hendrix above Page, personally.

Aug. 10 2012 08:52 PM
Darlene Urso from Rochester Hills, MI

Great segment. Thanks.

Aug. 10 2012 07:28 PM
Fred Mertz

"intro/Sweet Jane", off the album "Rock N' Roll Animal" by Lou Reed.

Aug. 10 2012 04:18 PM
David from Rocky Point

Blackdog -- Led Zeppelin

Aug. 10 2012 03:59 PM
Joey Seals from Kentucky

Sultuns of swing,Dire Straights.Mark's tone is amazing,He is such a soulful player!

Aug. 10 2012 02:24 PM
beth from Oregon

"Still Got the Blues For You" Gary Moore
I love it.....

Aug. 10 2012 02:04 PM
Monica

Intro to sweet child of mine...Gives me chills

Aug. 10 2012 01:56 PM
Guy from Portland

Surf guitar!!!! "Surfrider" by Nokie Edwards from The Ventures or "Walk don't run", also by the Ventures.

Aug. 10 2012 01:48 PM
Mr. Smith from Portland, OR

Crazy Train. My heart rate increases whenever I hear it. I don't know why Ozzy even starts singing.

Tail end of "November Rain" - Better than the lyrics by miles

Layla - instant;ly recognizable, awesome in Unplugged as well

Aug. 10 2012 01:29 PM
Arnie Krakowsky

Nice program on the Electric Guitar......However you're missing players like Jim Hall,Herb Ellis,Freddie Green,Wes Montgomery,Grant Green.I could go on and on with the names of the great electric guitar players who played
American Classical music we call Jazz.Let's add them to the list.

Aug. 10 2012 12:09 PM
patti

Jeff Beck's "We ended as lovers" Beautiful, haunting guitar intro

Aug. 10 2012 11:44 AM
deelj from washington dc

Ramblin man-Gregg Allman; Reelin in the Years, Steely Dan and Southern Man, Neil Young

Aug. 10 2012 11:20 AM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

great segment... It is great to hear people like Rudy... totally still excited by the music and the musicians... No bitterness or resentfulness by changing times.

Aug. 10 2012 10:17 AM
Don Jensen from Key West

Black Magic Woman…has one of the most sophisticated and beautiful guitar riffs ever produced. It really takes the electric guitar to its highest level of achievement. Carlos Santana was one of the best electric guitar players and did some very lengthy, intricate, and beautiful riffs.

Aug. 10 2012 10:16 AM
Jack Hersca from Warwick,NY

Great show!! I don't see frank Zappa,Steve Vai or Joe Satriani on the list.
I think these guys should be up there with Jimmy page and Jimmy Hendrix..

Aug. 10 2012 10:05 AM
amalgam from NYC by day, NJ by night

Sure, as Roger noted, not all of the electric guitar's history was covered in the segment (how could it be!), but that was a great collaboration!

Bring Rudy back; the flow in the studio was good.

Also: Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile Blues" from his _Blues_ releases.

Aug. 10 2012 10:05 AM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Thank You for celebrating The Strat... Out come the Hendrix and Zeppelin box sets... I hope I can stand a stiff neck tomorrow

Aug. 10 2012 10:04 AM
Chris Fry from Windsor, Ontario

Stevie Ray Vaughn - Letter to my girlfriend

Aug. 10 2012 10:02 AM
Tisha from the world

Opening of Damn Regret by Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. Ditto for Lit's My Own Worst Enemy. Classics.

Aug. 10 2012 10:01 AM
Amanda J from Music City

Anything by NICK KANE! Most BADA+%*& guitat player ever!

Aug. 10 2012 09:40 AM
Winni from Long Island

Even Flow - Pearl Jam

Aug. 10 2012 09:30 AM
Tony from Chicago

Ernie Isley of the Isley Brothers on "Summer Breeze."

Aug. 10 2012 08:33 AM
Jim Ward from Bloomfield Hills Mich

Mississippi Queen by Mountain Leslie West

Aug. 10 2012 08:27 AM

Sunshine of Your Love by Cream

Aug. 10 2012 08:25 AM
aj rosenbaum

Robben Ford - Pass It On

Aug. 10 2012 08:21 AM
Roger Wesby from Staten Island, NY

RE: Electric guitar. Rudy's anecdotes were enjoyable but your overview of guitar history missed several important people and breakthroughs. In 1939, Charlie Christian, a bluesy jazz player from Oklahoma City, and T-Bone Walker (blues, R & B), who apprenticed with Blind Lemon Jefferson in TX, plugged in and changed everything. Christian in particular made the guitar "a horn" - a melodic, front-line solo instrument, not a background harmonic instrument.
In the late 1940's, Muddy Waters electrified Delta Blues (MS) and launched a new phase of urban blues on Chicago's south side.

Missing from the conversation (except as a product name) was Les Paul, who was working on the electric guitar from the 1920s and who is mostly responsible for the solid body guitar (used in rock) and for multi-track recording.

Aug. 10 2012 08:18 AM
julie stern from south orange, nj

Roundabout by Yes, Layla by Eric Clapton, All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix

Aug. 10 2012 07:37 AM
Paul Olden from Brooklyn, NY

She's Waiting - Eric Clapton, Where Did You Sleep Last Night - Leadbelly

Aug. 10 2012 06:45 AM

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