American Inventions - Game 7, Memphis

B.B. King playing "Lucille," a modified Gibson ES-350 semi-acoustic guitar. - Tom Beetz - (source)

It's round two of our Memphis inventions, and we got the blues.

To mark the first season of basketball in the American Athletic Conference, we're featuring inventions that symbolize each of the other nine cities in the league, two inventions apiece. Here's the second invention we came up with for today's opponent, the Memphis Tigers.

I thought about doing "ribs" or "grit and grind" or even Memphis' old arena, The Pyramid. But in the end we had to use something that symbolized the blues, which may be what Memphis is known for most of all.

INVENTION #7: THE SEMI-ACOUSTIC GUITAR

Memphis didn't invent the blues, but the city quickly became synonymous with them. The Memphis brand of the blues was created early in the 20th century by musicians like Frank Stokes, Sleepy John Estes, and Memphis Minnie. Acoustic guitars were fine for these uses - they were only being paired with vocals and sometimes jugs. But they weren't loud enough to be used in large jazz groups or in orchestras, and the big band music of the day with its brass sections drowned out acoustic guitars.

Early electric guitars had mixed results. There were solid-body electric guitars, completely hollow models that were basically accostic guitars with electric pickups, even one that was cast aluminum (Rickenbacker's "Frying Pan" of 1932). Gibson may have been the first company to market a semi-acoustic guitar, in 1936. Their ES-150 started out as an experiment to see if the could sell them. It turned out to be the first real success in the electric guitar category and the first well-known semi-acoustic, even though it had its problems - depending on what string you plucked, it might be louder or softer than the others.

So why did we pick a semi-acoustic guitar when guitarists are playing all kinds of gear? Because B.B. King has been playing a semi-acoustic Gibson guitar for years and years and years. He names all of his guitars Lucille, after a woman that two men were fighting over in a club in 1949. They got into a tussle, knocked over a kerosene container that was lit to keep the theater warm, and... well, actually, just listen to B.B. King's song "Lucille" for the story. It's a lot better than me trying to write it out.


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