In the guitar world, inventor Ted McCarty made his mark as an innovative instrument designer during the 1950s and early 1960s as the 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 National Association of Music Merchant (NAMM) 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 Les Paul.
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 that were 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 fixed.
The McCarty unit's rationale was explained in the patent filed by McCarty in 1948 and secured in 1951. It states that 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 that would not change the natural tone quality of the instrument, and to provide a combined magnetic pickup and finger rest that 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 125%. 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.