Steel Trappings

Steel Guitar Chronicles

Rickenbacher A25 Frying Pan

July 1, 2023 • Geronimo "Geri" ValdrizSteel Guitar History

"HAWAIIAN STEEL" is a weekly radio program that spotlights the Hawaiian steel guitar masters from the past to the present. "The Steel Guitar Chronicles" is a monthly feature of the show that tells the stories, history, and origin of Kika Kila.

This month we explore the unlikely story of the 1932 Rickenbacher Frying Pan, the first commercially successful electric guitar!

Did you know that the first electric guitar was not invented for rock and roll, jazz, or blues guitarists? The first electric guitar was invented for Hawaiians to play Hawaiian music.

George Beauchamp from Texas was a musician playing the acoustic Hawaiian steel guitar. Because audiences were getting bigger and louder, George sought to electrify his guitar.

In 1932 musician George Beauchamp perfected the first electro magnetic guitar pickup called the "horseshoe." This pickup was mounted on to a cast aluminum circular shaped body by Adolph Rickenbacher. He called it the Rickenbacher Model A25 lap steel guitar, but Hawaiian players nicknamed it the "frying pan." These early players include Andy Iona, Dick McIntire, Sol Ho`opii, David Keli‘i and others.

Rickenbacher Frying Pan
From left: 1932 A-25, 1934 A-25, and 1932 A-22. The A-25 had a long scale fretboard while the more common A-22 had a short-scale fretboard. pc: GearVault, RetroFret, Fretboard Journal

By the 1930s touring Hawaiian musicians needed more volume from their acoustic and resophonic steel guitars. Hawaiian music shows were extremely popular and audiences were getting bigger. The sound of the steel guitar was not cutting through to the back of the large halls.

Electrical amplification brought the sound of the steel guitar over the band and out to listeners seated in the back rows. This was a revelation to audiences and the increased volume set the players free!

By the mid-1930s guitar companies were using the technology of the electro magnetic pickup and lap steels invented by George Beauchamp and Adoph Rickenbacher. Thousands of electric lap steel and amplifier sets were manufactured and sold by Gibson, Epiphone, National, and Oahu. It was only a matter of time before the round neck, Spanish style guitar was also electrified.

In 1936, Gibson produced the Electric Hawaiian EH-150 model lap steel guitar using an electro magnetic pickup. They mounted the same pickup on to the top of an acoustic arch top guitar and called it the Electric Spanish ES-150 model. The electric Hawaiian guitar became an electric Spanish style guitar that was later made famous by jazz guitarist Charlie Christian.

In 1941 Leo Fender opened his radio repair shop in Fullerton, California. In addition to electronics repair, Leo made and sold electric Hawaiian lap steel guitars and amplifiers. He later took the same technology used on Rickenbacher lap steels and used it on his own newly created solid body electric guitar called the Fender Telecaster!

All electric guitars made today use the same basic technology of the electro-magnetic pickup invented by George Beauchamp. All electric jazz guitars, rock and roll guitars, and bass guitars have its roots with the Hawaiian lap steel guitar!

And that ends the "Steel Guitar Chronicles" for this month, with more stories, history, and the origin of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar to come! Ka ua e ho‘okani ka kika kila!

"Hawaiian Steel" with Geri Valdriz is broadcast live every Tuesday from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm (HST) on Mana‘o Radio, Wailuku, Maui, Hawai‘i, KMNO, 91.7FM on the radio dial.

You can catch it on the air, or streaming live at Listeners can also access our online archives to enjoy previously recorded programs at your convenience. Just search "Listen on Demand" for past shows.


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