Slingerland Songster Model 401: The First Electric Guitar?
It has been said that the electric guitar is a young instrument that’s still evolving. I have to agree with that it is evolving, but being young isn’t necessarily true. There are more instruments that are relatively young; the piano didn’t get it’s current design in the early 20th century, the saxophone was developed in the early 20th century as well, and the oboe got it’s final shape also in the early 20th century. The electric guitar came a couple of decades later, but never stopped evolving. After all, the electric guitar changed hand in hand with the ever-changing taste of popular music, while the other instruments relied less on popular music.
For years, I was told the Rickenbacker ‘Frying Pan’ was the first electric guitar, but I think that term has to be reevaluated. The Frying Pan was a lap steel guitar, and in the same year Gibson launched their ES 150, which in fact is an electric guitar, although a hollowbody. It’s also been said the Frying Pan was the first solid body, but that’s also not true; its body was a hollowed piece of aluminium. So… I decided to do a search to find out what was really the first solidbody electric guitar?
Based on this search, I think the Slingerland Model 401 is the first electric solidbody guitar. I can’t find any reference to the first solid body electric, at all, predating the Slingerland. For sure, the 401 and its sibling the 400 (designed for slide), were availabe in 1936, but some claim 1934 and sometimes even 1932. Unfortunately, it’s extremely hard to get some confirmations since the company no longer exists to this day, and all the old records were lost or destroyed in the 1970s. Nonetheless, it’s a very unique instrument worth mentioning and reviewing. The other contestant for being the first electric guitar was designed by Lloyd Loar who left Gibson to found Vivitone. This guitar was essentially just the top of a guitar with a pickup attached to it, but the sides and back removed.
Here are some pictures of a Slingerland Songster 401, arguably the first solidbody electric. It doesn’t have the floating, un-intonatable bridge, but the rest is original and in a remarkable good condition.
As being quite the pickup-lover I’m absolutely amazed at this pickup! It’s a construction of six little coils, making it a six coil ‘humbucker’ with a huge horseshoe magnet underneath. I wish I could hear this pickup!
Whether or not this is the first ‘true’ solid body, this guitar is an amazing piece of musical history and in my idea absolutely worth viewing and reviewing, and hopefully spike interest in guitars of the ‘birth stages’ of electric guitar!
Special thanks to N. Miller who was so kind to give me a lot of information and the pictures of this guitar!