Wichita holds a special place in the history of the electric guitar. It was in Wichita that the instrument was first introduced by a dynamic performer named Gage Brewer in 1932. Wichita served as Brewer’s home base but his professional connections were well established across the country. This was especially true in Los Angeles, California where he took a role in the development of the first successful electric guitar. Because of Brewer’s connections and flair for showmanship, Wichita became the launching ground for what is possibly the 20th century’s most remarkable musical instrument, the electric guitar. The instrument made its debut through a series of Halloween Concerts that year.
Brewer was best known for playing the guitar Hawaiian Style, across the lap, face-up being intonated with a metal bar on the strings rather than fretted by hand. During the first half of the 20th century, this style of playing rivaled the traditional Spanish style in popularity. It was for this reason that the majority of the earliest electric instruments were designed to meet the simple function of the Hawaiian guitar. In September 1932 Gage Brewer acquired both a Hawaiian and Spanish guitars and it is from the Spanish model he received that all contemporary electric guitars descend.
With the invention of the telephone and phonograph in the late 19th century, followed by broadcast radio in the 1920’s and finally, the wider availability of electrical service to the public in the 1930’s, the electric guitar was an instrument whose time had come.
Campaign for Volts! – Wichita and the Electric Guitar
Amazing Exhibit of the Earliest Electric Guitars from the 1930’s
Until recently it went unrecognized that an unassuming mid-western city gave rise to the twentieth century’s most remarkable musical instrument, the Electric Guitar. In the summer of 1932 an enterprising Guitarist, Orchestra Leader and Music Educator from Wichita, Kansas named Gage Brewer acquired the first electric guitars from their inventor, George Beauchamp of Los Angeles and whisked them to Wichita for a triumphal debut through a series of highly promoted Halloween performances. It would take several years for the instrument to catch on but Brewer proceeded through a career spanning five decades prominently featuring the instrument.
Newspaper accounts from early October ‘32 tell of Brewer receiving two pre-production instruments from Beauchamp and how he planned to debut them in his remote, mid-western city of 100,000. Accounts from Wichita seventy-five years ago described the never before heard instrument as electrical perfection and similar to the music heard from a pipe-organ!
WSCHM celebrates the 75th year of this technological achievement and those who first participated in the development and use of the electric guitar.
Featured in the exhibit rare electric guitars from the 1930’s: Brewer’s original Ro-Pat-In Electro Spanish, Les Paul’s own Custom Gibson Electric, Alvino Rey’s Modified Fry-Pan Spanish, Eddie Bush’s Electric Dobro, Gibson’s Original Electric Proto-type, amazing failed technological wonders: Artifacts by Stromberg-Voisinet ”Stromberg-Electro”, Vivi-tone and Volu-Tone.