How did the guitar become so dominant?

I recently composed a playlist of 150 songs for a party. I realized that of those 150 songs, only 2 did not contain guitar in any form (both being pure, old school classical pieces.)

It got me to thinking… how and why did the guitar become so dominant as a musical instrument?

It certainly has some practical (if not necessarily musical) advantages over, say, the piano: it’s much less expensive, much more portable, and so on.

However, piano is obviously not it’s only competition. There are thousands upon thousands of musical instruments in existence.

Barring orchestras and such, it’s interesting that you rarely see musical groups that exclude it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the guitar… for sure. But wouldn’t it be interesting if there was more diversity among musical groups? How about a band with just vocals, flute and harmonica?

Or vocals, violin and steelpans only? The potential combinations are endless!

How did the guitar become so dominant?In the USA as a youngster we had Gene Autry,Roy Rogers,Hank Williams,The Grand Ole Opry,Chet Atkins,Sears &Roebuck where you could order cheap guitars(Rural areas did’nt have music stores),Elvis,Buddy Holly,Merle Travis,BB.King.Then the Beatles,the Stones,Cream,The Allman Brothers,Eric Clapton,Lynard Skynard and a bunch of others.These were average,everyday people that "made it"because of the guitar.Not only that but you could play any style with this wonderful instrament.This is my 2cents.

It definitely has a lot of stuff going for it.

The aforementioned affordability allows almost anyone to play it, such that it became the instrument of choice for many talented musicians from humble backgrounds. It is also capable of great variety of sound.

Yet do not other instruments also meet these criterion?

Again I hope I will not be misunderstood. I am very much a fan of the guitar. I just wonder why it is so unchallenged as the instrument of choice today.

Famously, Decca Records refused to sign the Beatles to a recording contract in 1962 because “guitar music is on the way out.”
telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/royal-wedding/8400707/Royal-wedding-Decca-Records-the-music-label-which-turned-down-The-Beatles.html

I think the predominance of guitars in music has a lot to due with the sustained popularity of rock music (and its many variations.) But, of course, there is a lot of pop music which doesn’t feature guitars.

Right on neighbor! (I’m in beautiful Tennessee.) :smiley:

Electric pickups and amplification had a lot to do with it. Way back in the days of the big bands, without amplification, the guitar struggled to be heard.

It also seemed to have a wide acceptance amongs American negros, along with other stringed instruments, possibly because it was easier to make from wood than more expensive brass or metal instruments. And the negros laid the foundations for Blues, and to some extent, rock music. I suppose the same could be said about Country and Western.

It’s a versatile instrument, yet also portable. You can play almost any style of music; they range from bass to classical to acoustic to electric; you can detune the strings; use a slide; use it for percussion by slapping; harmonics; tremolo; slurs and hammer-ons and all the rest; pick or arpeggio or a bit of both. It can be a rhythm instument or a lead.

And of course there’s the imagery on TV. When you see a rock band perform, a lot of the time it’s the guitarists who get the lion’s share of the attention. This in turn impresses impressionable youngsters who then go on to take up the guitar. And a lot of them don’t need learn to read music, but play by ear or learn the chords only.

So I think there’s a number of reasons. I’m hard of hearing, but I’ve managed to learn a bit of basic guitar, and taught myself music theory up to about AMEB Grade 3.

But personally, I still think the best instrument to learn music would be the piano, since it enforces an understanding of music all around. But I’ve never gotten around to it, and possibly never will.

I would much prefer an organ to a guitar. But many people know how to play the guitar. It is also a lot easier to carry and much less expensive.

Now look at the book of Psalms. There is frequent mention of horns and stringed instruments in praise to the Lord. Keyboard instruments?

The ease of playing has to be considered to. You can literally learn 3 or 4 chords and play most any song. That allowed the ‘common folk’ to pick up a guitar and begin playing with their group in a matter of hours, not months of practice.

Because it is a very versatile instrument in almost every musical genre and you can produce many different types of sounds with it.

What everyone else has said.

Also, it is very easy to get two or more people with guitars together and then have an even more complex sound.

The guitar is a great instrument for use by traveling musicians and for locations where it is not practical to have an instrument taking up space on a permanent basis.

But perhaps the most important factor is that the guitar allows a person to easily play and sing at the same time.

Thanks for the interesting topic to ponder, VLM. :slight_smile:

It is interesting how once something becomes so entrenched, no one thinks of doing otherwise. I suppose once it becomes the norm, to step outside of that becomes risky from a business perspective.

One of my current favorite bands has no guitar, though – only drums and vocals: Van Canto. :smiley:

I agree with this, though i don’t think it’s the only factor.

I play both passably well…the piano better. Learning to play the piano even modestly well is much, much harder than learning to play the guitar to the same level.

Now, when it comes to professional-level virtuosity, that might not be true. But at the “level where anyone can stand to listen” it sure is.

I’ll add this, as it might be passably interesting.

My father sired me rather late in his life. He told me that when he was a kid, every barber shop had musical instruments in it. Guitar, mandolin, violin were the usuals. He said there was scarcely a time when one would go in there when someone wouldn’t play. And people often joined in singing. (Thus, one supposes, the “Barbershop Quartet”)

But if one looks back into old diaries and letters and even old social news items from a long time ago, it is evident that a lot more people played the piano, say at the turn of the century, than do now. I was astonished once to read an old newspaper article from “The good old days” to read that some group of people in their late teens or early twenties got together at the home of one of them and sang a polyphonic cantata for their entertainment. And they were just ordinary people.

Perhaps that should not surprise. If people wanted music pre-tv and pre-radio, they had to make it themselves.

But it also makes one mildly embarrassed for our modern era in which we think we’re so much more intellectually advanced because we can turn on the ignition of an automobile and step on the gas. :blush:

One could answer by saying that the guitar has a supremely high cool quotient making it the number one choice of young men from the 1960’s until the era of the dj. But that’s a circular answer, because then one could respond “what makes the guitar so cool?” and we’re back to square one.

That you can stand/dance play and sing (be the front man) at the same time. Also it was new, star musicians of their parents era were horn players and pianist

Take a band like the Commodores on their breakout hit the drummer Walter Orange was the lead singer. however he could not 'front the band from behind the drums. So in concert Lionel Ritchie took over more of the lead duties. While Ritchie could be a second keyboardist he only went to the piano for visual effect and stayed upright dancing for most of the concerts, occasionally playing sax when Orange had the lead singing duties.

Well besides what everyone else has said… the range of the guitar is pretty well suited to accompanying singing (vs, say, the ukelele or the mandolin, or the bass). And it combines bass and treble in a single instrument, so one person can play some neat sounding stuff. The same is of course true of piano and organ, but those are more expensive and not portable.

Also - guitar (and I suppose other fretted instruments, but guitar is currently the most common of these), is not that hard to get a decent sound out of. Well I hear mandolin is pretty hard, but anyway. Neglecting for a minute the ability to sing and play at the same time: Compare playing guitar to say, a violin. I went to a kids’ music recital a few weeks ago; kids who are playing violin for a few years are just getting past the point where they sound like sick cats, and they still needs to be accompanied by someone else on piano or cello or something to actually sound nice. Not that playing guitar is easy or anything, but it’s a bit faster to get to the point where you can play some songs, complete with their own accompaniment. A lot of wind instruments as well lack that basic satisfaction of being able to harmonize. Guitar is something you can play solo, without having to get the band together to play different parts.

As to why the guitar is dominant over, say, the banjo - in the days after Earl Scruggs died, I heard an interview he had recorded a few years back. Among the things that came up is that, until Scruggs and others of his generation came along, the banjo was used primarily as a prop for musical comedy routines… “That Earl Scruggs - he’s not funny one bit!” And by that time (1940s) the guitar was already being electrified, and becoming popular in a wider variety of musical styles. So some musical instruments are perhaps limited by their own history.

It sounds pretty nice.

Probably the same reason cigarettes became popular.

What about Phil Collins? He plays the drums and sings.

(shortened by Tomarin)

Yeah, as far as I know the banjo has always been considered a “character” instrument.

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