George Breed’s electrified guitar

On 2 September 1890 U.S. Navy officer George Breed (1864–1939) was granted a patent for a design for an electrified guitar (Method of and apparatus for producing musical sounds by electricity, patent no. 435,679); it appears to be the first application of electricity to a fretted string instrument.

Like the modern electric guitar and other similar instruments, Breed’s patent was based on a vibrating string in an electromagnetic field; but his design worked on very different musical and electrical principles (in particular the Lorentz force), resulting in a small but extremely heavy guitar with an unconventional playing technique that produced an exceptionally unusual and unguitarlike, continuously sustained sound.

Breed is now almost completely unknown as a musical instrument maker and designer; the significance of this instrument has largely remained underappreciated, and the circuitry unexamined.

This according to “George Breed and his electrified guitar of 1890” by Matthew Hill (The Galpin Society journal LXI [April 2008] pp. 193–203). Hill’s reconstruction of the instrument is documented here.

Related article: Ken Butler’s anxious objects

7 Comments

Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Science

7 responses to “George Breed’s electrified guitar

  1. I thought first electric guitar was made in 20th century. This is a cool fact!

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  2. We were surprised too!

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  3. gail

    I’m his great granddaughter-he also did a keyboard! G

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    • Hi, Gail: My name is Luis Delgado and I am writing you from Spain (Museo de la Música) Do you knw wich kind of keyboard was invented by your grat grandfather?

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      • gail davidson

        I don’t. His company was Americhord, I think, and all I know is what was in the Matthew Hill article. We never saw those instruments. Where is your Museo? Gail D

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  4. George Gordon Hayden

    He also invented kite based aerial photography. One large box kite was flown and then a smaller kite with a trolley attached to the string of the first kite was sent skyward up the string toward the first kite flying in the sky. When the second kite reached the first kite a trip mechanism collapsed the second kite, clicked the shutter of the camera and floated back down the string to the ground. The military used this type of photography before airplanes were invented.

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