Last week, the music world paid tribute to the legendary guitarist Eddie Van Halen, who passed away. Van Halen is considered one of the most influential and talented guitarists of the 20th century. According to Rolling Stones magazine Halen was ranked eighth on the list of the 100 best guitarists of all time, together with Jimmy Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and others.
In the 1970s, Van Halen and his brother formed the Van Halen rock band, which gained worldwide fame. Eddie Van Halen has developed a unique playing style that includes, among other things, the tapping technique, use of various effects, harmonics, and extensive use of the tremolo handle.
Van Halen is considered a musical pioneer and was apparently also an inventor.
Van Halen’s demise reminded Twitter users of his U.S. Patent (4,656,917) on a guitar support device that allows playing while tilting the guitar face up, and the coolest patent drawing in the history of U.S. patents.
Humans have been playing on musical instruments since the dawn of history, and many of the musical instruments (like the drum, flute, harp, guitar, violin, trumpet, piano and other symphonic instruments) were invented long before patents showed up a few hundred years ago.
Patents on technological innovations first appeared in the 14th century in Europe. However, patenting began to gain momentum in the 18th and 19th centuries, with many countries around the world adopting patent laws.
Here is a glance at some of the famous patents granted for musical instruments.
Charles Wheatstone, who was primarily known as a renowned scientist and inventor of the Victorian era (electrical engineers are familiar with the Wheatstone bridge, that is used for calculating the resistance of a resistor), patented in 1829 what became to be known as the English concertina (an accordion-like instrument).
Adolphe Antoine Sax, a Belgian musical instruments maker, patented in France in 1846 a musical instrument family that are made of brass but have woodwind characteristics (mouthpiece with a wooden reed). This instrument became later on the most recognized instrument of jazz – saxophone. During the years in which his patent was valid, Sax sued many of his rival makers of musical instruments, winning some cases and loosing others.
The electric guitar was patented in the U.S. by George Beauchamp in 1937. Instead of using the resonance box of the guitar as a natural amplifier of the guitar sound, Beauchamp used a pickup – a combination of a coil and a magnet, that converts vibrations of the guitar’s metal strings into electric signals and an amplifier to amplify these signals and to convert them into sounds. Electric guitar became the most popular musical instrument worldwide.
Leo Fender, the legendary guitar maker invented and patented in 1951 a combination of a bridge and pickup assembly that is used in many electric guitars.
Ted McCarthy, who was the president of Gibson, the renowned guitar maker, patented a unique guitar design in 1958 that became the Gibson company’s branded symbol – the two-tailed guitar.
D. J. Thompson patented in 1963 a snare drum (the horizontally facing drum in a drum set) with a contraption that allows the drummer to engage or disengage an array of springs that are placed beneath the drum and produce the snare’s unique sound, so that when idle, the snare drum does not resonate and generate unwanted noises, freeing the drummer from the awkward task of placing a hand on the drum to avoid the noise.
Henk van Zalinge patented an electric double bass with small body in 1981 (in fact only a fine outline remained, reminiscent of the classic double bass shape), which allowed bass players greater mobility and easier maneuverability (the instrument is lighter and takes up much less volume than the classic double bass).
Musical software applications can also be the subject of patents. In 1999, Peter Gannon patented a software application he called “Band in a Box” that allowed musicians to play and rehearse with an entire lineup of instruments. This software plays the accompaniment, and allows the user to set the tempo, the musical scale of the piece, select the accompaniment instruments and more. This software has become a main training tool for many musicians around the world.
In 2003, Felix Rohner patented a unique musical instrument in Switzerland – the Pantam drum: a percussion instrument reminiscent of Caribbean tin drums, that consists of a metal dome with protrusions on which the player taps his fingers and produces magical sounds. This percussion instrument caught the attention of many musicians around the world, and the fact that the inventor did not register the patent in countries other than Switzerland, nor did he meet the huge demand for the instrument, opened the door to the introduction of imitations that were sold around the world.
Even today, patents are registered for new musical instruments and for refinements of existing musical instruments. As in any other technological fields, the musical technological world is too busy with innovation.
See Doron’s feature in Calcalist: https://www.calcalist.co.il/local/articles/0,7340,L-3858872,00.html