George Beauchamp and the rise of the electric guitar up to 1939

Matthew William Hill

This thesis examines the rise of the electric guitar in the United States – arguably the most iconic and successful musical instrument of the 20th century – and the role of George Beauchamp in its invention and development. It focuses on Beauchamp’s invention of the electromagnetic pickup, which is the component that makes an electric guitar an electric guitar. The research is based on examination of surviving instruments as well as archival research. An extensive contextual background is given regarding the historical development of electrical musical instruments in general and electric and electrified stringed instruments in particular. The instruments manufactured by Beauchamp’s company, the Electro String Instrument Corporation are discussed as well as difficulties and litigation Beauchamp and his company were faced with while trying to bring the instruments to market. The thesis focuses on the period between the first electrification of a fretted string instrument in 1890, and the conclusion of “the Miessner matter” (a period of prolonged threatened legal action against Electro String and other electric guitar manufacturers) in 1939. The thesis also considers competing pickup systems that emerged in the wake of Beauchamp’s invention.

The University of Edinburgh

George Beauchamp and the rise of the electric guitar up to 1939

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