Thomas Edison quipped that invention was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. To fuel those legendary moments of insight, would-be Edisons expend some of that perspiration learning about the inventors and inventions that preceded them.
Take Paul Reed Smith, for example. He knew he wanted to make electric guitars when he was a teenager and built his first one as a high school shop project. After college, he opened a guitar repair shop and started making instruments, about one a month. He often took his creations backstage at concerts, persuading musicians to try his them and listening to their comments. Smith says he changed his designs "guitar by guitar, until I came up with something the players really liked."
But Smith also researched electric guitar patents. And he came across two names over and over-Leo Fender and Ted McCarty. Smith contacted McCarty, the creative force behind the Gibson company's Les Paul and Flying V guitars, and McCarty became a mentor, advisor, and friend as Smith's business blossomed. Today, Smith's company, PRS Guitars, is known for its innovations.
Paul Reed Smith brought his personal story of innovation and entrepreneurship to middle-school students at the Museum, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and in schools in Indiana during an "electronic field trip" in November 1996. Through videoconference technology, the students were able to question Smith about invention and music.
Want to learn more about the invention of the electric guitar? Visit our virtual exhibit!
Teachers, explore the history of electric guitar further with
your students with our "Electric Guitar: Its Makers and Its Players"
All text and images © Smithsonian Institution. Updated 3 March 2005.