In the United States during the 1930’s, Hawaiian music was all the rage. Turnouts were so good that it actually became a problem–acoustic lap steel guitars just weren’t loud enough for such large audiences.
George Beauchamp solved this problem by developing the “Frying Pan” or “Pancake” guitar, the world’s first electric lap steel–in fact, it was the first solid-body electric guitar in history.
Beauchamp was the first to realize that acoustic properties were actually unnecessary for an electric instrument–in fact, they were undesirable, as a resonating guitar body would lead to uncontrollable feedback. Making the body solid ensured that it wouldn’t vibrate and wouldn’t feed back. The minimal, all-metal design makes it look like a futurist’s dream even today. And, as you’ll hear for yourself, it still sounds fantastic.
The Frying Pan was manufactured by the company that Beauchamp co-founded, Ro-Pat-In (later renamed to Rickenbacker Electro–sound familiar?), starting in 1932. The frying pan’s body and neck were made entirely of aluminum. And like a modern electric guitar, the Frying Pan required a separate amplifier, which Ro-Pat-In also sold.
Rickenbacker retired this guitar model in 1939, but its place in history was already secure. Every time you strap on an electric guitar, you can thank Beauchamp for the very idea of a solidbody electric guitar–just as we can still hear distant echoes of Hawaiian music in modern country.
Check it out: the Rickenbacker Frying Pan in action!