"Patent examiners questioned whether [Rickenbacker's Frying Pan] was 'operative.'"
Monica Smith, Smithsonian Institution
Although the guitar had existed in some form since the Renaissance, it was most commonly used as a parlor instrument. The nineteenth century saw it gradually move toward the concert hall, but the guitar still remained a solo or small-ensemble instrument. It played a formative role in the birth of jazz in the 1920s, but as bands became larger and brass sections became louder, the guitar struggled to make itself heard.
The solution was to amplify the sound. Around 1924, an engineer named Lloyd Loar, working for the Gibson guitar company, developed the idea of the magnetic pickup. Placed beneath the strings of the guitar, the pickup creates a magnetic field. The strings vibrate and disturb the magnetic field; these disturbances are converted to electrical current that is amplified and played back through a loudspeaker. Gibson, however, more...