Les Paul is a name that’s synonymous with electric guitars. And, there’s no masking the fact that he was an innovator through and through. Not just with solid body electric guitars, but also with studio effects and multitrack recording.
But the Les Paul was not the first electric guitar used in concert. It was Gage Brewer’s 1932 Ro-Pat-In Electric Spanish prototype. The performance took place on Halloween night, 1932, at the Shadowland Pavilion in Wichita, Kansas.
The Ro-Pat-In Spanish-neck electric guitar was created by the company that would later establish itself as Rickenbacker. And, in the 60s and 70s, Rickenbacker would be popularized by legends like The Beatles, The Hollies, Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Byrds and many others.
Even if the brand largely appeals to an aging population now, there are many other modern, influential players who either use or have used Rickenbackers on stage or in the studio – The Edge of U2, Glenn Frey of The Eagles, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, Chris Martin of Coldplay and Thom Yorke of Radiohead, just to name a few.
The Ro-Pat-In looks a lot like a resonator guitar or dobro (and less like a modern-day electric, like a Fender Stratocaster), which is often used for slide and blues guitar. The guitar’s pickup was the first of its kind, with a “string-driven” design. Its signal was produced as the vibrations of the strings altered the magnetic field. If your guitar has a magnetic pickup, then it’s fair to say its design was based on the Ro-Pat-In’s pickup. And, surprisingly, its sound is comparable.
Leading up to the development of this guitar, companies were hard at work trying to find a way to amplify the sound of a guitar.
As you might expect from a guitar with this design, the guitar has a vintage, chunky, plunky and slightly dirty tone that’s perfect for slide and blues. If you’re a collector, this could be one of the most valuable electric guitars in existence. Be prepared to pay a king’s ransom if you want one in your possession.
Hard as it may be to believe, the electric guitar was once an esoteric instrument. Its popularity began to grow in the 50s and in the 60s and 70s, it would begin to reach a broader audience and become accepted as a must-have in every rock band.
It was Gage Brewer that first used an electric guitar in performance in the 30s.
American musician, guitarist and bandleader Gage Kelso Brewer was born in Gage, Oklahoma in 1904. His name will remain in history, not surprisingly, because of his use of the electric guitar in performance and recording. In both instances, he was the first.
Brewer never achieved popularity as a musician and did not publish a hit song, record a commercially released record or perform in notable venues. A direct-to-disk 78rpm record of “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”, by Marion Harris, is his only known recording.
His music career, however, spanned five decades. Brewer passed away in 1985, in Wichita, Kansas. Brewer’s history may not be well-documented, but one thing’s for sure – he had a great taste in guitars, and perhaps without knowing, started the electric guitar revolution that was to come.