Whether you love or hate the electric guitar, one thing is for sure: when Bob Dylan took the stage at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 and plugged in his electric guitar for the very first time, music took a turn towards electric. Decades after his legendary performance, the electric guitar remains one of the most popular musical instruments. Kids dream about one day owning one, and adults just want to keep adding to their collection. From its origins to the most expensive guitar ever sold at an auction, here’s five things you probably didn’t know about the electric guitar.
Les Paul Didn’t “Invent” It
Although Les Paul is usually credited with inventing the electric guitar, the idea of using electricity to create a louder sound already existed by the end of the 19th century. The concept of the electric guitar was actually invented by musician George Beauchamp and electrical engineer Adolph Rickenbacker who were the first to actually achieve a modern guitar that was electrically amplified and had good sound quality. After years of experimentation, the two invented an electromagnetic device and in 1931 they introduced the Rickenbacker Electro A-22–a guitar which was affectionately referred to as the “Frying Pan” for its circular body and long neck.
The Sounds of the Electric Guitar Made it to Outer Space
In 1977, the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched into space with parts of international life and culture onboard. A gold-plated phonograph record with 115 sounds and images was planted on each vessel, and the songs and images were curated by a team led by astronomer Carl Sagan. Along with more traditional selections like Beethoven and Bach, Sagan decided to throw in Johnny B Goode by Chuck Berry. Although controversial at the time, the song is an American rock n’ roll anthem that’s defined by its electric guitar lick. A little late to the game, outer space finally “heard” the electric guitar more than a decade after Bob Dylan’s famous performance.
A Guitar’s Look Can Be as Important As its Sound
By the 1980s, guitarists seemed to be just as concerned about the look of their guitar as they were about the sound. Around this time, Eddie Van Halen decorated his guitars with colored tape, and even went so far as to name two of his custom guitars Frankenstein and Frankenstein 2. Referred to as Frankenstrats, they were Van Halen’s attempt to combine the sound of a classic Gibson guitar with the physical attributes of a Fender Stratocaster. Fast forward 30 years–it’s not uncommon for electric guitars to be found in all types of shapes, sizes, and styles. From hand painted guitars to guitars with metal spikes and studs, electric guitars are just as much a piece of art as they are an epic instrument.
The Most Expensive Guitar is Worth $965,000
In December 2013, Bob Dylan’s guitar sold at an auction for nearly $1 million. Before that, the most expensive guitar ever sold was Eric Clapton’s custom-made black Fender Stratocaster, which sold at an auction for $959,000 in 2004. Clapton’s guitar was assembled from the different parts of three different Strats, and the proceeds went to Eric Clapton’s own addiction rehabilitation charity. Throughout the years, Christie’s Auction House has auctioned off other pieces of music memorabilia, including a guitar case owned by Bob Dylan which had handwritten and typed pieces of lyrics taped in the guitar case.
Leo Fender Didn’t Know How to Play Guitar
You’d think that one of the most prolific names in the guitar world would have known how to play the instrument he spent so much time crafting, but that isn’t the case with Leo Fender. Fender started out as an accountant with a knack for repairing radios before he turned that hobby into a full-time electronics operation, but he never actually learned how to play the guitar. Another Fender-related fun fact: the highly versatile Telecaster was the first mass-produced solid-body electric guitar, and remains one of the most popular guitars today.