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Electric Guitar Design and Technology
In the guitar world, inventor Ted McCarty made his mark as
an innovative instrument designer during the 1950s and early 1960s as President
of Gibson, Inc.
McCarty had always been interested in the music industry. As
a young man in the 1930s, he began a career that combined his degree in commercial
engineering with his love for the music field. He first worked for the Rudolph
Wurlitzer Co., working his way up from accountant to director of purchasing
for the corporation's retail division. In 1949, Gibson became vice president
and general manager at Gibson, Inc. before he was appointed president in 1950.
He held the position for 16 years.
When McCarty first went to work for Gibson, he made it his
priority to revitalize the company's creativity and expand its line of electronics.
His goal was to design the most radical looking guitars ever made. At the
time, solid-body electric guitars had made the shape of a guitar body immaterial
to its sound, but guitar makers still used the traditional guitar shape, with
its rounded lower bout. McCarty decided to draw up three new guitar models
with angular body shapes that would capture the revolutionary spirit of rock
and roll music.
McCarty and his team developed such classic instruments as
the Les Paul, Byrdland, ES-335, Flying V, Explorer, SG and Firebird electrics,
the Hummingbird and Dove acoustics, as well as the Tune-o-matic, stop bar
tailpiece, and the humbucking pickup. Gibson shocked the industry when the
company unveiled the Flying V, Explorer and Moderne at the 1958 NAMM
(National Association of Music Merchants) trade show in 1958. While the
new designs were a bit ahead of their time, the company's next solidbody,
the SG, found easy acceptance. McCarty's and Gibson's best-known design is
the Les Paul model. After its introduction in 1952, the model went through
a variety of modifications that culminated in the classic Standard, or Sunburst,
in 1958. Its maple cap on a solid mahogany body and twin-coil humbucking pickups
produce a sound that is highly suitable for rock music.
McCarty is the sole inventor of the Tune-O-Matic bridge, which
is found on hundreds of guitar models today. He received Patent No. 2,740,313
for the device in 1952. The bridge's design was rather crude, having saddles
that were held in place only by string tension with a wire wrapped over them
in case a string broke. However, the design was a breakthrough that was quickly
embraced by professionals, including fellow guitar designer and performer
McCarty also contributed to the development of a new pickup
attachment that was devised in order to electrify a guitar without losing
acoustic tone. The attachment would also increase the potential number of
Gibson electric guitars available since the attachment could easily and inexpensively
be attached to just about any arch-top acoustic. This concept later became
known as the "McCarty unit," a modified pickguard to which a pickup is permanently
The McCarty unit's rationale was explained in the patent filed
by McCarty in 1948 and secured in 1951. It states the invention was intended
to provide a combined finger rest and magnetic pickup for string musical instruments;
to provide a mounting for a magnetic pickup for a stringed musical instrument
which would not change the natural tone quality of the instrument; and to
provide a combined magnetic pickup and finger rest which does not interfere
with the playing of the instrument. The invention was presented in June 1948
at the NAMM trade convention.
During the 16 years that McCarty ran the Gibson company, its
labor force increased 10 times, profits increased 15 times, and sales went
up 1250%. After retiring from Gibson in 1966, McCarty, along with John Huis,
bought the Bigsby company. McCarty
continued to run Bigsby until his death in April 2001. His work remains a
significant influence on other guitar makers.