Slingerland Songster Model 401: The First Electric Guitar?

Posted on by Orpheo

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!

Written on March 8, 2013, by Orpheo

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Comments (14)

  • Orpheo 7 years ago


  • Orpheo 7 years ago

    I have a 401 undergoing restoration at Blue Guitar in SD. Seymour needs to restore the pickup. I also have two of the Hawaiian versions, the pickups sound AMAZING. If Les Paul had found one of these in 1938, it would be a very different world today!

  • Orpheo 7 years ago

    Probably the first true all-wood solid body Spanish neck guitar. However it should be pointed out that the Rickenbacher Electro was designed with a scalloped fretboard surface and designed to be playable as a Spanish if fitted with a lowered nut. The very first Rickys were actually solid aluminum but they were too heavy and the hollow-core version followed very shortly. Also, the Volu-Tone lap steel was solid wood, but tiny compared to the Mighty Slingerland. The Dobro All-Electric was on the market by ’33, and recieved the first patent for an electric guitar pickup.

  • Orpheo 7 years ago

    The saxophone was created around 1840. Not on the XX century

  • Orpheo 7 years ago

    yes, you’re right. The first saxophones were made in the 1840s. I mixed up 2 phrases and this missed the mark. I wanted to say something like this: the saxophone was born in the 1840s and it’s development continued until the early 20th century.

    sorry for my mistake 🙂

  • Orpheo 7 years ago

    You can hear the pickup to the 401 in the Smithsonian electric guitar documentary with G.E. Smith and some others. They mention that they found that they had one in their collection that predated other guitars. Then the guy plugs it in and plays it. It sounded surprisingly good for such an early electric. The pickup sounded big and warm. Check it out, if you can.

  • Orpheo 7 years ago

    I have a slingerland “slide” that looks just like this one except the neck? Only marking is 150 on the headstock? Can you tell me anything about this guitar.

    • Orpheo 7 years ago

      Hey, Yes, absolutely. The instrument you are describing was the lapsteel version of this gutiar. Blocky, square neck but essentially the same. Also a unique guitar, but that instrument was in production a while longer than this one. This Songster was just too weird to work at the time.

  • Orpheo 7 years ago

    Nice post! That guitar is awesome, the neck heel, binding, and those PUs were crazy!

  • Orpheo 7 years ago

    Slingerland technically still exists-owned by Gibson. They still produce Slinglerland drums, most notably Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa editions. The company was sold by the Slingerland family in the 1970s.
    The Slingerland Songster guitar is from 1934, if not earlier!

  • Orpheo 7 years ago

    “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!”

    Well, here it is. Surprising, yes?

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