The Birth of the Electric Guitar

Essential Question

How did the electric guitar transform Blues music from the 1940s forward?


The electrification of the guitar had an enormous impact on American popular music. As the Country Blues traveled to the industrial North in the 1930s and 40s, pioneers such as T-Bone Walker and Muddy Waters began plugging in their instruments. In the process, they redefined the sound of the Blues. The electric or “urban” Blues in turn helped popular music inch ever closer to the Rock and Roll revolution.

In this lesson, students will trace some of the technological developments that made the electric guitar possible. Using a variety of Internet sources, students will conduct research into some of the early models, including the hollow-bodied Gibson ES-150, introduced in 1936, and the Fender Telecaster, the first mass-marketed solid-body electric guitar, introduced in 1952, at the dawn of the Rock and Roll era. They will explore not only how these instruments transformed the Blues sound, but how they laid the groundwork for the development of the electric guitar as an essential Rock and Roll instrument.

In addition, this lesson will also help students identify and evaluate the reliability of Internet resources, which they will use to conduct original research about early electric guitar models.

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Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1.     Know (knowledge):
    • Key developments in the invention and development of the electric guitar in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s
    • The impact of the electric guitar on the Blues in the 1940s and after
  2.     Be able to (skills):
    • Evaluate the effects of technology on history and culture
    • Common Core: Students will conduct research and gather evidence to create a timeline on the invention and innovations of the electric guitar (CCSS Reading 1; CCSS Writing 7; CCSS Speaking and Listening 5)
    • Common Core: Students will identify research sources on the Internet and evaluate their credibility and relevance for their research task (CCSS Writing 8; CCSS Speaking and Listening 2)