When some people look at acoustic and electric guitars, they only see unique instruments. Guitars are definitely that, but they’re also much more. In fact, these popular instruments have resulted in great changes in American society since arriving. These included cultural, political and even economic changes. Once you realize how much of an effect guitars have had on the USA, you’ll have an entirely new appreciation for them.
To fully understand how much of an effect the guitar has had on America, you must first recognize its difficult journey to prominence. When the guitar arrived on the shores of the USA, it was nearly unrecognizable compared to modern versions of the electric guitar and its acoustic counterpart. In reality, it remained a formal European instrument for years and was taught as such.
Ironically, the American social and economic conditions had an effect on the guitar long before the favor was returned. American society, and even the climate, was a harsher environment than European guitars were usually exposed to. Immigrants eventually created x-bracing to make guitars stronger, and the American guitar was then well on its way.
At first, guitars in the USA made their way into the folk music genre. Around the turn of the 20th century, though, steel strings were introduced. It was this that created the instrument that would soon change America.
The societal impacts of the guitar are complex, but the economic impacts are much easier to understand. Again, it was the electric guitar that took precedence over the acoustic. This is because the first truly electrically amplified guitar was created right as the Great Depression was taking hold in the USA.
America needed something new — a new sound — to deal with the heavy mental and financial burden brought on by the Depression. This is likely why the electric guitar got its start and began to flourish during this time. The instrument gave America something new to work with, and due to its popularity, the American economy now sees millions in yearly revenue.
Hollywood was another creation that stemmed from the Depression years. This serendipitous timeline drove the electric guitar into the forefront of a soon-to-be-booming music industry, and that’s where change really hit home.
The 1950s showed just how much an instrument could affect a society. The electric guitar gave musicians like Chuck Berry a way to spread the seeds of revolution. Suddenly, African American musicians in Jim Crow America had an instrument that spoke to youth, and their message was one of anti-conformity.
This rebellious music was relatively mundane compared to today’s, but years later, newer musicians finished what Chuck Berry and others had started. These artists included people like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, both of whom utilized the more extreme sound of the electric guitar to break away from traditional-sounding music. For maybe the first time, musicians were able to send political and cultural messages that youth could get behind.
The emerging political messages weren’t confined to one or two artists. In fact, the electric guitar was prominent at Woodstock, and people were introduced to a form of liberation that had never before been seen. This message has still not died, and bands such as Rage Against the Machine and Rise Against continue to use a purely American evolution to spread political discourse and give youth the voice they need to demand change.
While neither caught on quickly, the acoustic and electric guitar have become forever intertwined in American history. From giving Depression-era Americans something to hope for to spreading entire cultural movements, their effect cannot be ignored. It’s nearly impossible to imagine an America where the guitar didn’t come to prominence, but if you could, it’s certainly not one you’d recognize.
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