The History Lesson
This week back in 1937, George Beauchamp patented his greatest invention. The next time you walk home deaf after a rock concert? Thank George Beauchamp. See, in the 1920s, George was a lap-steel guitarist. He loved to play Hawaiian melodies. But it was the big band era — and bands were so big you couldn’t hear a guitar melody over the din. So George was determined to amplify his axe.
First he had a cone stuck on it, like a megaphone. Not loud enough. Then he started a company making hollow metal guitars. Still too quiet. Finally, he studied electronics, and invented a solution: The guitar pickup. It turned a string’s vibrations into electric current —which went to an amp — which could be turned way up.
A year later? George’s company produced the first electric guitar. It had a long neck and a round body — They called it the “Frying Pan.” And to get people’s attention? They also named it after George’s business partner — because he had the same last name as his famous cousin: flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker. The Rickenbacker frying pan made its concert debut in 1932. Soon all sorts of musicians wanted instruments they could crank to eleven. There were Rickenbacker electric violins, electric cellos… and Harpo Marx ordered a Rickenbacker electric harp.
The only problem: The U.S. Patent office couldn’t decide whether the frying pan was an instrument — or an electric device.
It took them five years to figure it out. Plenty of time for competitors to make their own amplified axes. Embittered, George bailed out of the music biz and spent his last days perfecting a different stringed instrument: The fishing pole. He patented lures — and died at sea.
The Electric Lemonade (Variation)
In a chilled highball glass add:
- 1.25 oz. vodka
- .5 oz. St-Germain Elderflower liquor
- .25 oz. freshly-squeezed lemonade
- splash of soda water or ginger ale
Sip, pump fist, bang head. Repeat ‘til deaf.