Who Invented the First Guitar Amplifier?

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As the world of music moved into the modern age with the boom of electricity, it also gave rise to the invention of the guitar amp.

This electronic device gave life to classic rock n’ roll and catapulted the music scene to where it is today.

Have you ever wondered who invented the first guitar amplifier?

It contributed to the success of Brian May, Jimi Hendrix, and Eddie Van Halen, but only a few are curious to know the mastermind behind this technological marvel.

Who Invented the First Guitar Amplifier?

While a handful of inventors contributed to the schematics of the guitar amp, Leo Fender was the first person to put it into fruition.

Fender began his life as a radio repairman and had a basic understanding of how sound amplification works.

He started building guitar amplifiers in 1947 after adjusting an RCA tube application manual’s designs.

What he found was that the sounds he developed were getting increasingly more powerful with each design. 

After perfecting his designs, he then created the Fender Pro, which laid its tracks to other well-known amps such as Bassman, Showman, and Vibrolux.

Since then, other companies copied and improved upon his schematics.

The Amp’s Rich History

Interestingly, amplifiers were around before the start of the electric guitar.

At first, they were used to help boost the sound of acoustic guitars.

Due to a base design from radio and PA system amps, these amplifier systems weren’t near modern-day versions.

In other words, they were not specifically optimized for guitars. Instead, they were used for radio shows and as speakers.

Due to their design, the results were limited frequencies and low acoustic outputs.

Plus, the famous speaker type at the time was cone-shaped speakers and would only be available to people who could afford large batteries to power them.

For this reason, many acoustic guitarists strayed away from using amplifiers.

When engineers decided to develop the AC main powered amps, musicians quickly picked up on their effectiveness.

who invented the first guitar amplifier

Switches to Guitar Amps

In the 1930s, PA systems were then developed from battery-operated systems to being plugged into wall outlets.

While it sounds like a downgrade, this is the opposite. Instead, this enabled amps to hold much more power through electrolytic capacitors and rectifier tubes.

These amplifiers were larger, louder, and produced high-quality sound back then.

The problem was, these amplifiers were large, expensive, and couldn’t be moved around for musical tours. Hence, this rendered them useless in the long run.

With the expansion of the PA systems and movie theatre sound systems, amps became smaller and more portable.

As a result, musicians were then able to use them while on the go.

The only downside is that they had limited volume settings, one input jack, field coil, speakers.

Beauchamp and Rickenbacker

Beauchamp and Rickenbacker altered amplifiers to work with a pickup.

The result was a device closest to modern-day amps and is an essential milestone for the history of amps.

After their discovery, they formed the Electro String Company and created the first production-model electric guitar amplifier in 1932.

Ralph Robertson

The Electro String Company then hired an engineer to help improve the design of their amplifier.

Robertson was the head designer and crafted new circuitry that would help boost the company’s profits.

The design was successful, and due to the amp’s popularity, the competition started to adopt similar designs.

Unfortunately, there was one major flaw with Robertson’s design.

Due to the period, their amp only had 10-watts and severely limited the sound of the guitar. Hence, Reston’s was nowhere near the modern designs.

Britons Dick Denney and Tom Jennings

In the 1960s, Britons Dick Denney and Tom Jennings developed electric guitar technology in the Vox AC15.

It was first introduced in 1957, while its enhanced AC30 model was released only two years after in 1959.

Denney and Jennings upgraded Leo Fender’s classic output circuit design and used a class cathode bias push-pull configuration.

Jim Marshall and Ken Bran

Ken Bran persuaded Jim Marshall, a London roadie, to copy the Fender Bassman using English components.

What this would do is produce better tonal quality than the Fender.

Marshall then hastily worked on his amp designs and crafted the Marshall’s JTM45 combo amp.

Marshall went on to create the closed-back cabinet loaded with four 12-inch speakers.

This amp was much louder than older amps on the market at the time.

The Who’s John Entwistle and his band loved the designs and continued to purchase each model improvement.

MXR and Electro-Harmonix

After Marshall, most improvements in guitar amps were led by major manufacturers.

In the 1970s, amps offered more effects such as phase, chorus, delay, and more. These improvements gave birth to modern rock n’ roll.

Basically, they helped electric guitarists reach the tonal range that classic rock musicians needed. 

Modern Day

After that, there have been more than 35 years of consistently using MXR and Electro-Harmonix’s designs for amps.

Not only is it a winning design, but it also provides a musical movement and style that classical rock musicians seek.

So, what does that mean for the future of guitar amps?

The electric amp most likely will not change in the near future, so you won’t have anything to worry about.

Instead, the designs will only begin to get perfected from here on out.

Everyone who enjoys rock music can relax and rely on the amps that rock guitar legacies used.

A Product of Many Minds

So, who invented the first guitar amplifier?

Like many other modern-day tech, no one person can be tagged as the sole inventor of the guitar amp.

Although Leo Fender is the “official” inventor, amplifiers have been around for more than a few decades.

It’s just that they weren’t initially used for electric guitars.

Many inventors took the time to refine what we know as today’s guitar amp.

The guitar amp went through many technological advancements, but Leo Fender’s original design schematics was the base design.

Even so, we can’t forget that there were plenty of others who helped along the way.