Who comes to mind when you think of the guitar? Hendrix? Segovia? Clapton? No doubt those (mostly) modern titans belong on any list of the greatest six-slingers to ever tune up and jam. And we’ll give them their due. But there’s more to guitar than just the players; there’s a fascinating history of an instrument that’s as versatile as any in music — not just in its various forms and amplifications, but in its seamless integration into the canons of song composers the world over. It’s such a good story, and National Today is here to tell the colorful tale on February 11.
National Guitar Day timeline
Guitar-like instruments have been played for thousands of years, but nobody's really sure when — and from where — the modern variant began to take shape. Was it in Europe or the Middle East? Regardless, scholars generally agree that instruments called "guitars" were mentioned in literature at least as far back as the 13th century.
By the tail end of the Middle Ages, people living in Europe were playing guitar-like instruments such as the "vihuela de mano" and the "guitarra morisca."
The five-string "Baroque guitar," which had been played for centuries, made way for the modern six-string classical guitar, standardized and perfected by the Spaniard Antonio de Torres Jurado.
Orville Gibson perfected a more durable mandolin-style guitar and a so-called "archtop" design, and began selling instruments out of his Kalamazoo, Michigan, workshop. Gibson's instruments played louder than competitors' guitars, and his breakthrough designs revolutionized music-making in the U.S.
The electric guitar was invented and became the go-to instrument for jazz and blues players, including Les Paul, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and T-Bone Walker. Their popularity and influence led directly to the guitar gods of the more-modern era: Jimi Hendrix, Andrés Segovia and Bonnie Raitt, to name a few.
National Guitar Day Activities
Take some lessons
If you've always wanted to learn how to play the guitar, there's no better time than now — and no better day than National Guitar Day. Quality six strings can be surprisingly inexpensive, so look for local sales and promotions.
Share what you know
Graduated from lessons to actual, real playing? Then dedicate some time to teaching a novice the basics. It's a good way to introduce someone to the magic of creating guitar music.
Support your local artists
Right now, at this moment, the next great generation's guitar talent is out there somewhere, most likely practicing their chops. Find out where local musicians gather to play in your town, and go see a show! You never know who you might see on their way to the top.
Five Rockin' Facts About Guitars
What's in a name?
The name "guitar" has its origins in the Ancient Greek word "kithára," which was used to denote a kind of harp.
Jimi was experienced
Jimi Hendrix played his guitar upside down because he was left-handed.
Les Paul had a rock-and-roll request
In 1948, guitar great Les Paul was in a terrible car accident, shattering his right arm and elbow. He begged surgeons to set his broken arm at an angle that would allow him to continue playing his favorite instrument.
Space Ace gets a shock
Legendary guitarist Ace Frehley was electrocuted during a KISS concert in December 1976. He lived to tell the tale — and to write the song "Shock Me," which became his guitar god anthem.
Is it still in tune?
According to some sources, the world's oldest surviving guitar is more than 400 years old. It was built in the late 16th century by a Portuguese man named Belchior Dias.
Why We Love National Guitar Day
Music soothes the savage beast
That's as true today as it was when British playwright William Congreve wrote those lines in the late 17th century. (Congreve actually wrote, "Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast," which has a slightly different connotation to modern ears.) In any case, guitar music is especially evocative and wonderful — and, yes, soothing.
Love of guitar music is pretty much universal
Every culture has its own style of guitar music. So while it may not be precisely accurate to say anything is "universal" (who knows what other members of the universe enjoy, eh?), guitar music certainly has its fans that span the globe. It's great to have a day set aside to celebrate the guitar and to remind ourselves of something that we may take for granted.
Guitar music can inspire and encourage
It's just six strings (typically) and a box of wood (also typically), but the variety of sounds and styles that can emanate from a guitar are virtually limitless. That kind of artistic inspiration — and the fact that it's created by our fellow humans from all over the world — can possibly inspire others to dream bigger and to live better (or at least to learn all the guitar parts to "Reelin' In the Years").
National Guitar Day dates