50+ Fascinating Facts About Guitars That All Music Lovers Should Know
Guitars hold a special place in the hearts of music fans around the world. The iconic instrument has evolved over centuries to become one of the most versatile and expressive tools for making music. From rock gods to folk singers, the guitar conveys human emotion like no other.
How much do you really know about the history and impact of the guitar? Let’s dive into 50 fascinating facts that will give you a deeper appreciation for this beloved instrument.
Table of Contents
A Look Back at the Origins of Guitars
- The earliest guitar-like instruments appeared over 3,500 years ago in ancient Egyptian carvings. They had 3 to 4 strings and were played with a plectrum.
- The word “guitar” comes from the Ancient Greek word “kithara” which evolved into the Spanish “guitarra” in the 17th century.
- Many historians credit the Persians with developing the first true guitars around 1300-1400 AD. Their “tanbur” evolved into the European lute and eventually the guitar.
- Guitar-like instruments called gittern, mandore, and guiterne emerged in Medieval Europe. They typically had 4 courses of double strings.
- Antonio de Torres Jurado revolutionized guitar design in the mid-1800s, introducing fan strutting inside and establishing the modern classical guitar shape.
- American luthier C.F. Martin Sr. pioneered X-bracing for steel-string acoustic guitars in the 1840s. This made them stronger and louder.
- Adolph Rickenbacker and George Beauchamp co-designed the first commercial electric guitar in 1931, called the “Frying Pan” for its long neck and circular body.
- Les Paul built “The Log,” a solid-body electric guitar made from a 4×4 piece of wood in 1941. This minimalist design eliminated feedback issues.
The Iconic Guitar Makers That Shaped Music History
- Fender was founded in 1946 and rose to fame after releasing the first mass-produced solid-body electric guitar, the Broadcaster (later renamed the Telecaster).
- Gibson’s first foray into electric guitars was the ES-150 in 1936. It later released the iconic Les Paul model in 1952.
- Leo Fender didn’t actually know how to play guitar but had a knack for innovation. He founded Fender and also started the companies Music Man and G&L.
- Orville Gibson co-founded the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co, Ltd. in 1902 which was renamed Gibson Brands, Inc. in 2013.
- PRS Guitars was founded in 1985 by Paul Reed Smith who hand-built the first PRS Guitar in his Maryland home.
- Eddie Van Halen and his father hand-built the guitar body for what became known as the Frankenstrat, using spare parts and Van Halen’s technical skills.
- Ibanez launched the first mass-produced 7-string and 8-string electric guitars in 1990 and 2007 respectively.
The Anatomy and Construction of Guitars
- Most modern acoustic guitars have steel strings, though classical and flamenco guitars use nylon strings.
- Electric guitars rely on electromagnetic pickups to convert string vibrations into electrical signals.
- Solid body electric guitars like the Fender Stratocaster transmit string vibrations directly to improve sustain and eliminate feedback.
- Semi-hollow electric guitars have a central wooden block running through the center with hollow wings on each side for a warmer, richer tone.
- The neck joins the guitar body at the 12th fret on most modern electric guitars, compared to the 14th fret on earlier designs.
- Jumbo, dreadnought, orchestra, grand auditorium, and travel refer to different acoustic guitar body shapes.
- The nut is a small strip located where the headstock meets the fretboard that holds the strings in place. Bone, plastic, brass, and graphite are common materials.
- Inlays are visual markers placed at fret positions along the neck. Standard inlays include dot, trapezoid, block, and shark fin designs.
- Many acoustic guitars come equipped with built-in pickups and preamplifiers, allowing them to be plugged into an amplifier.
Fun Facts About Guitars and Guitarists
- Fender manufactures an average of 90,000 guitar strings per day, enough to circle the earth yearly.
- The world’s largest playable guitar, designed as a Flying V, stands over 43 feet tall and weighs 2,000 pounds.
- In 1997, scientists at Cornell University built a fully functional guitar just 10 micrometers long, the size of a single cell. You’d need an electron microscope to see it!
- The most expensive guitar ever sold is a Martin D-18E acoustic that belonged to Kurt Cobain. It was auctioned for $6 million in 2020.
- Jimi Hendrix often played right-handed guitars upside down since quality left-handed instruments were rare in the 1960s.
- Keith Richards and Eric Clapton have repeatedly said “Layla” was named after a book Richards owned called Layla and Majnun.
- Eddie Van Halen popularized finger tapping on electric guitar, showcasing the technique on “Eruption.”
- Les Paul is the only person to be included in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
- Stevie Ray Vaughan’s favorite guitar was Number One, a Stratocaster given to him by his wife in 1980. He played it constantly until his death in 1990.
- The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood frequently swap guitars during concerts, looking to match the tone to Mick Jagger’s song key.
- Thanks to their intricate layers and overdubs, a single Guns N’ Roses song can feature up to 20 guitar tracks mixed together.
Interesting Guitar World Records
- The world’s longest guitar solo lasted 24 hours and was recorded by David DiDonato in 2020.
- Australian Glenn Haworth holds the record for most guitar strings changed in one hour – an impressive 183.
- The largest ensemble of electric guitarists featured 368 musicians. They played “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” together in India to promote peace.
- The record for most people playing air guitar simultaneously is 3,722 set at the Tamworth Country Music Festival in Australia.
- Texas hosts the annual Air Guitar World Championships where contestants pantomime rocking out in a highly theatrical performance.
- In 2012, a Russian guitarist played an entire concert at -30°C (-22°F) outdoors in Siberia, the coldest ever.
- The loudest guitar amp was measured at a staggering 136 decibels during a KISS concert in Canada. Hearing damage occurs at just 85 dB.
- In 2011, Dave Browne set the record for longest guitar marathon at 114 hours. He had to keep playing except for 5-minute breaks each hour.
Key Moments in Guitar History
- Guitar sales skyrocketed in 1950s America after Les Paul and Chet Atkins became stars who inspired young players.
- Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire in protest at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, establishing his place in history.
- Van Halen’s two-handed tapping technique on “Eruption” influenced a generation of rock guitarists in the late 1970s.
- Kurt Cobain’s MTV Unplugged concert highlighted the artistic possibilities of the acoustic guitar in rock music.
- Guitar Hero and Rock Band video games exposed new generations to famous guitar riffs and licks in the 2000s.
- Online guitar tutorials make learning accessible for all. Views of guitar-related YouTube lessons soar into the billions.
- Women are expanding their presence and influence in the male-dominated guitar industry, with artists like St. Vincent leading the way.
The guitar has come a long way since its ancient origins! As this list of facts shows, its evolution and impact on music are quite remarkable. So the next time you pick up a guitar, take a moment to appreciate the rich history behind those six strings.