George Breed

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The first documented attempt at the electrification of a fretted stringed instrument was an 1890 guitar patent by U.S. Navy officer George Breed. The Navy had great interest in the rapidly developing electrical technology and by the late 1880s the Navy Academy at Annapolis had begun offering classes in electrical engineering. Breed had been a midshipman at Annapolis, and it was there that he most probably received his electrical training. Although Breed’s design had some superficial similarities to Beauchamp’s “Frying Pan” (both employed a large electromagnet encircling the strings), they functioned in very different ways. This was not an electric, but an electrified guitar. While the Breed guitar was sounded by an electric means, it was still an acoustic instrument, with a rough sound similar to a fast-picked mandolin or a hurdy-gurdy. It should be remembered to that Breed’s design did not produce a louder instrument (which was Beauchamp’s goal) but an instrument theoretically capable of infinite sustain.

recreation

Guitar

As part of his research into George Breed, Matthew has been reconstructing a working model of Breed’s 1890 design in collaboration with John Hall, C.E.O. of Rickenbacker International Corporation. John has been instrumental in the decipherment and re-creation of the circuitry and the electromagnet (12 pounds of solid iron and copper wire) used in Breed’s guitar. Doug Kensrue, president of MK Products, Santa Ana, California, has used his manufacturing expertise and resources to make the intricate and problematical design of Breed’s electromagnet a physical reality. Dr. Brian Flynn of the University of Edinburgh has also given great assistance with regards to the possible configurations of Breed’s circuitry. Read More

Listen to the Sound of Breed's 1890 Electrified Guitar

presentation

Guitar

In 2006 Matthew presented a paper on the American early electrical instrument designer George Breed at the joint Galpin Society / CIMCIM / American Musical Instrument Society meeting at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota.

George Breed and his Electrified Guitar of 1890 "The electrification of musical instruments is almost certainly the most important organological innovation of the last 100 years. In 1890, a United States Naval Officer named George Breed patented a design for an electrified guitar which, although not the very first example of an electrified instrument, predates any other documented American electrical musical instrument and appears to be the very first application of electricity to a fretted string instrument...... "

The complete paper can be accessed from the 'Papers and Publications' page.