How many years have you played? What do you really know about guitar? Time to find out I guess, and learn some cool facts about guitar in the process!
Origin Guitar Facts
With heaps of cool guitar facts lined up, what better place to start than from the very beginning. Let’s go!
The first guitar came from ancient Egypt
Yup, at least according to plausible speculations from historians. This is as vintage as it gets guys! Upon opening the tomb of Queen Hatshepsut in the Valley of Kings, which dates back to around 1450 BC, they found a 3 stringed instrument that was made out of cedar featuring a leather soundboard. It lay next to a guy called Har-Mose, who they believed was entertaining the Royal Court at the time.
This piece of intriguing history can be viewed today at the Archaeological Museum in Cairo. How cool is that!
The word guitar has ancient Greek origins
Yeah, I know, what they found in Queen Hatshepsut’s tomb might not have been the exact equivalent of a guitar. And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t even called a guitar.
We can’t say for certain which the first known guitar is, or to what extent good old Har-Mose was rocking out in the Valley of Kings. But even though the exact origin of the guitar is a mystery, many are certain that the word guitar comes from the Greek word Khitara.
The word Khitara is then said to have been adopted by the Spanish in the 17th century, and became “guitarra”. This of course translates to guitar in english. But just for the record, a Khitara is more a harp than a guitar.
Guitars are in the Holy Bible
I know what you’re thinking, there are no guitars in the bible, no mentioning of riffing around the desert camp fires. And you’d be right of course. But, Khitara is mentioned four times, and considering its interesting connection to what would eventually become the modern guitar, I’d say we have a case.
The oldest image of a guitar-hero
Whether Har-Mose was the ancient version of Zakk Wylde or not is impossible to know. But I gotta say, back in the day if someone took the time to carve your image into a block of stone, you must have touched some hearts out there. That’s what happened to a Hittite bard in Turkey about 3300 years ago. His immortalized image was found in a piece of rock at Alaca Höyük in Çorum, Turkey, and this relief can now be found at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. Holy smokes, this guy must have been something really special.
The 6-string guitar is a fairly new invention
3 or possibly 4 stringed guit…eh instruments, seemed to be all the rage back in the day. Even as the Spaniards started to replace their lute, the Vihuela with the new cooler looking Guitarra, no one thought 6 strings from E to E was a good idea.
The early guitarras from the 1600’s had instead 5 pairs of strings, which would eventually become 6 pairs by the 1700’s. 6 single strings didn’t make it on to the stage until the 1800’s.
Guitar music first exploded in the late 1800s
So, up until this point in history, the guitar wasn’t exactly on par with all the other musical instruments of the time. It was considered too simple and crude for true professionals, and no way near the territory of high-brow baroque and classical music.
You know the guys I’m talking about right, weird wigs, fluffy shirts, sporting a troubled face as they read the piece of Bach that was laid before them. These guys thought piano, violin and flute was the shit. Yes, even flute.
That all changed in the later part of the 1800’s as virtuosos like Francisco Tárrega and Andrés Segovia took the guitar off the streets and brought it into the orchestra. They made it respectable by adapting it to classical pieces by Bach and Mozart. Awesome dudes those two! They sure deserve an honorary guitar-salute from us all for giving the guitar its well-deserved upswing in popularity and taking guitar music to new heights.
Innovation Guitar Facts
Let’s leave the historical side of things for a bit, and focus a little more on cool facts that deal with innovation.
Antonio Torres developed the first modern guitar
If Francisco Tárrega and Andrés Segovia made the guitar the respectable instrument it is today, they did so because someone had finally invented the modern 6 string guitar we all know and love.
That man was the Spanish luthier Antonio de Torres Jurado, who in the mid 1800’s changed the look and function of the guitar forever. The 6 single strings were already in fashion, but Torres made the body bigger and made the soundboard thinner. He also stabilized the neck, extended the fretboard a bit and coated the bottom three strings in a silk and metal wrap.
And voila, the modern guitar was born!
The first electric guitar
While Torres certainly feels like the grandfather of the modern guitar, and deserves his place in the history books, what about the electrification of this instrument of wonder?
Well, the first electric guitar didn’t look like much of a wonder at all to be honest. The “frying pan”, as it was called, was invented in 1931 by a man called George Beauchamp. It was a lap steel guitar designed to cash in on the popularity of Hawaiian music during the 1930s.
Beauchamp and machinist Adolph Rickenbacker began selling the frying pan in 1932, but Beauchamp was not awarded the patent for it until 1937.
Ibanez popularized 7- and 8-string guitars
The modern 6 string guitar introduced in the 1800’s pretty much stayed the same for a very long time, with the only exceptions of a few classical 7 and 8 string guitars. This tradition of 6 single strings was then carried over to electric guitars in the 1950’s.
However, Ibanez broke the mold and became the first company to ever mass produce 7 string electric guitars when they introduced their 7-string UV7 model in 1990. They continued to show their ability for innovation by also being the first company to mass produce 8 string guitars, the RG2228 model in 2007. Well done Ibanez!
The double guitar
This whacky instrument was invented by the eccentric guitarist from the band Nitro, Michael Angelo Batio. Yeah, you won’t find this thing hanging in any guitar shop near you, that’s for sure. It takes a special someone to come up with an idea like that, and even more so to be able to play it the way he does. Pretty spectacular if you ask me!
He also invented the quad guitar
Are you at all surprised?? “Mom, shredding at the speed of lightning on two guitar necks is getting old. I’m gonna head into the garage for a while and see if I can come up with something a little more challenging”. Well, if life didn’t keep getting in the way, and the concept of time wasn’t a factor, then we all might be able to get those skills!
Guitar World Records
An article about cool and interesting facts wouldn’t be complete without some good old world records, let’s check some of them out.
The biggest electric guitar
The world’s biggest functioning electric guitar was built in 1999 – 2000 by a physics teacher and 11 students as a science project at Conroe ISD’s Academy of Science & Technology.
It measures a whopping 43,5 feet long ( 13,26 meters) and 16 feet wide ( 4,87 meters) and is modeled after Gibson’s Flying V. Oh, and did I mention that it weighs 2244 lbs? That’s what my Toyota weighs…
And where can this monster be found? If you guessed in Texas you’d be bang on the money. At the Bullock Museum in Austin to be precise.
The largest acoustic guitar
Not all super-sized guitars reside in Texas. The acoustic version of the Texan monster can actually be found in Portugal, exhibited at the European Capital of Culture Celebrations in Porto.
It was completed by Paulo Pimental in January of 2001. And how big is it? Try 16.75 m (59 ft 11 in) long, 7.57 m (24 ft 10 in) wide and 2.67 m (8 ft 9 in) deep for size. Big hands anyone?
The smallest guitar
Hold onto your hats folks, the smallest guitar measures just 10 Microns across! Yeah, you read that correctly. 10 Microns. 1 Micron is 1/1000 mm (1/25,000 of an inch), so this thing is not even visible to the naked eye. It’s the size of a red blood cell for crying out loud! And it works too, provided the strings get plucked by an atomic force microscope.
Harold Craighead and Dustin Carr of Cornell University in New York made the “nano-guitar” in 1997, carving it out of crystalline silicon using microelectromechanical devices, or MEMS.
The most expensive guitar ever sold
There are a great many lists of ridiculously expensive guitars out there, but there is one guitar that takes the cake. And a good chunk of your money. And that is the 1959 Martin D18E that was owned and played by none other than Kurt Cobain. It was sold at an auction for the absurd amount of $ 6 million.
But then again, it isn’tjust your average acoustic. It is the 7th guitar out of the 302 ever built D18E’s, that Kurt just so happened to play at Nirvana’s legendary MTV unplugged performance in 1993. So a well deserved “congratulations” goes out to Peter Freedman from Australia, the new lucky owner.
Most luxurious guitar of all time
A guitar having value for its imprint on musical history is one thing, but what about value for the sake of materials used for the build?
Well, Gibson has an SG named “The Eden Coronet” that costs an arm and a leg. It features more than 400 carat of diamonds embedded in 1.6 kg (3.5 lb) of 18 K gold, and was created by jewelry designer Aaron Shum and musician and designer Mark Lui. Valued in 2015 at $ 2 million, this guitar is considered to be the world’s most luxurious guitar. Totally worth it! And I’m not even an big fan of SG’s.
The world’s largest pedalboard
Pedalboards are awesome. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy adding effects to your playing on the fly. But how many pedals could you possibly connect?
In July of 2019, Youtuber Rob Scanlon teamed up with Sweetwater where they set the record straight, using 319 pedals and about 500 feet ( 152,4 m) of cable. If you had $ 90 000 lying around, is this the rig you’d go for?
Largest electric guitar ensemble.
Playing together with other people is wonderful, though I must confess I’ve never played with more than five people at any given time.
The most people to simultaneously play electric guitar is 368. The Indian ensemble Sky Group played ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ at Agri Expo, Dimapur, Nagaland, India on 12 January 2013 to promote unity and peace. So awesome!
Thanks Jimi Festival in Wroclaw
And the biggest ensemble to play acoustic guitar, or just guitar in general? Well, there is an annual event in Poland called Thanks Jimi Festival, that seeks to attract as many guitar players as humanly possible in order to smash world records for simultaneous playing.
According to tradition, the event kicks off 1 May every year, and guitarists from all over the world meet up to play Hey Joe. And in 2019 they amassed an incredible 7423 people.
The most people simultaneously playing air guitar
Eeh…yeah this is for real. It happened in 2020 at an Australian festival (Perth Fest) during an AC/DC gig. A guy called Alex Roberts (who just so happens to be Australia’s reigning air guitar champion) managed to get 3,722 of his fellow Aussies to play air guitar together to the immortal hit “Highway to hell”. God I wish I had been there!
British dude who on 15th September 2020 decided to put his guitar on his chin and balance it there for a while. I reckon he had a bit of practice beforehand, because he kept it on his chin for 1 hour and 7,74 seconds
Well what do you know, James Rawlings’ father, Steve, managed to sneak in a record himself on the same day. He balanced a guitar on his forehead for 1 hour 15 minutes and 4.23 seconds. What’s up with this family? Can’t they just play the guitar like normal folk?
The coldest gig ever
British artist Charlie Simpson performed in Siberia on 24 November 2012. Outdoors (duh). It was a blistering -30 degrees Celsius on that occasion. Like…who in their right mind buys a ticket to an outdoor concert in Siberia on the wrong side of July?
The longest time playing guitar
I’ve certainly had jam sessions, and even mad practice sessions, that went on for 3-4 hours. Feeling bruised and beaten afterwards I used to believe I had somehow stretched the limits beyond comprehension, and that playing longer than that was madness…
Well, there are some people who just aren’t built like the rest of us. Like Dave Brown from Ireland. In a Dublin pub, between June 12th-17th 2011, he played guitar for 114 hours, 6 minutes and 30 seconds. He played 1372 songs with only 30 seconds in between songs. What about your other needs? Like toilet visits or a nap?
The longest guitar solo
If Ireland’s marathon-Dave has impressive stamina, the same can be said about Texan musician David DiDonato.
In 2012, at 7 p.m. in the Red 7 club in Austin, he happily started shredding away and finished 24 hours and 55 minutes later. I can’t even imagine what sort of freaky thoughts were going through his head half way through, but it is pretty damn impressive that’s for sure. Both mentally and physically.
The longest marathon session on Guitar Hero
And to top it all off, here is a guy, Patrick Young, who managed to play Guitar Hero for a whopping 72 hours and 17 minutes. The record was set in 2012. I’m surprised he kept his sanity.
The loudest gig ever recorded
136 db was recorded at a KISS concert in Canada in 2009. To put that in context; 130 db is considered to be the threshold for pain, and is the equivalent of a jet take-off. A gun shot at close range is about 140 db.
And the fastest guitar player?
That would be John Taylor from the USA. In 2012 he was able to perfectly play Flight of The Bumblebee at an astonishing 620 bpm, and that’s according to the Guinness book of records. This beat his old record of 600 bpm from the year before.
Miscellaneous Guitar Facts
If facts aren’t part of history, innovations or world records but are still interesting to read, then there’s always the good old miscellaneous category. Let’s go!
These guys married their guitars
I love my guitars just as much as any guitarist, and my wife sometimes complains about the competition they present. But there are limits folks, at least for me.
Chris Black from London married his Stratocaster in 1995. Chris’s real wife, clearly noticing that he much preferred the company of his 6 string mistress, jokingly said “why don’t you marry the thing”. So he did. And the three of them lived happily ever after. Oh, and he called his strat Brenda the Fenda.
Nigerian singer Harri Best married his acoustic guitar in 2018, stating that “I married my first love, music. Music has been the biggest love of my life, even before I could speak. I would literally die without it in my life”.
Leo Fender couldn’t play guitar
I think it’s safe to say that Fender is one of, if not the most prolific guitar manufacturer in the world, with Telecasters and Stratocasters topping the lists of the most popular and most sold guitar models while also pumping out more than 90 000 strings every day.
So it’s therefore a bit weird, to say the least, that its founder Leo Fender couldn’t even tune a guitar let alone play one. Even though able to play other instruments, he actually had to hire guitarists to try his prototypes. Somehow I don’t think Leo saw that as much of a problem though.
It’s the world’s second most popular instrument
I know, I’m just as disappointed and surpised as you. Of course guitar should be number one! This is outrageous.
There are an estimated 50 million guitar players around the globe. And the guitar manufacturers of the world who cater to this formidable crowd are spitting out millions of guitars every year. This, and the hordes of screaming rockstar wannabees looking for the next axe to be their best friend ought to have done the trick.
But in spite of this, we are forced to see ourselves beaten by the undisputed heavyweight champion of popularity, the piano.
Jimi Hendrix the most influential guitarist of all time?
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to any of you that Jimi Hendrix seems to always top the lists of the most influential guitarists of all time. And the reason for that is quite simple; He was one of a kind.
But not only beacause of his virtuoso skills, or playing guitar behind his back. Or using his teeth. Or his unique use of fuzz and wah pedals. Nope, there was another thing that made him even more rare.
As a left-handed player he had to flip his right-handed Stratocaster and restring it. This completely changed the dynamic between the strings and the pickups, and of course the tension. If you want a unique sound, that’s how you do it! That and of course skills from outer space and showmanship to match.
The only person inducted in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Inventors Hall of Fame. Nuff said!
There is a guitar-shaped forest in Argentina
Crazy but true. In the lowland plains of Argentina (the Pampas), a guitar-shaped forest can be found. It’s visible only from above and extends for more than ½ mile in length and is filled with more than 7,000 cypress trees and eucalyptus. It was planted by Pedro Martin Ureta and his four children as an homage to his deceased wife.
Other Fun Facts
Fender developed a 7-string guitar in the 1980s but never released it. Why I do not know, but they could have beaten Ibanez.
The name ‘Stratocaster’ came from Fender’s marketing wizard Don Randall, who was a big aviation fan. He wanted guitarists to feel like they had been “put into the stratosphere”.
The movie Back To The Future takes Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) back to the year 1955. However, the Gibson ES-345 that he plays in that movie wasn’t introduced until 1959. Perhaps the guitar also took a trip back in time?
In his book “Scar Tissue” Red Hot Chili Pepper frontman Anthony Kiedis describes how he once traded a white guitar which had been signed by all the members of the Rolling Stones for $10 worth of drugs. I’ve heard that heroin addiction makes people do horrendous stuff, but this act of madness hurts my soul the very core. Wtf!
Before nylon strings, acoustic guitars used strings made from animal intestines.
Playing guitar releases dopamine into your body, which makes you feel very good. Don’t believe me? Check out our article 17 amazing benefits of playing guitar.
And finally…A man from Arizona once sold an air guitar on eBay for $5.50, claiming it was used at a Bon Jovi gig. The item description read “you are bidding on an original Air Guitar from the 80’s. This one was used once at a Bon Jovi concert in 89 for about 3 hours. I have taken it out a few times since, generally after about six beers and a couple of fruity shots”.
That’s all for now folks, take care!