People love music, and it seems that we have from the beginning of prehistory. One can imagine ancient caves in which rocks were knocked together and hollow logs were pounded in rhythm with sticks while people danced and sang. At some point, the discovery was made that a length of tightened string or dried sinew or a filament of some sort could be plucked to make a pleasing sound and manipulated in some repeatable way to vary the sounds in a pleasing manner…

The earliest artistic representations found of someone playing a stringed, plucked, or strummed instrument are in Egyptian bas-reliefs dating back to almost 6,000 years ago. A figure playing a lute-type instrument is clearly depicted. The archaeology community and academia are divided as to whether or not the other figures in the background are holding up their lighters and yelling “FREEBIRD!” but further study continues.

I got my first guitar, a Fender Musicmaster Bass – black with a black pick guard, when I was twelve years old. My brother had gotten a guitar about a year earlier, and he set about playing all day, every day, for the next few decades. At one point, there were vague murmurings about my learning the bass to play in his band, but although that motivated me to take up that instrument, it never really worked out. That was for the best. I formed a band of my own with some friends, and we had a lot of fun. This actually was indirectly responsible, in part, for the evolution of one of my childhood friends into a successful musician with his own place in funky jazz history. He even has his own Wikipedia article to prove it.

I also later learned a bit of six string guitar, but I was then and remain now convinced that what usually makes a song is the bass line and the rhythm. The part that most people hum is the bass part. It also just has a bigger role in the heart and the funk of the song. The bass guitarist is usually the more zen member of the band, because it’s more about the music than the glamour. Of course, they like to be rich rock stars as much as the next guy. I, myself, like the feeling of the groove more than the solo. I tend to play the whole song as if it’s my extended bass solo anyway.

Guitars can be great icebreakers for the introverted, too. I know many people who feel like they are protected by their music, which gives them something to talk about (or to use as an excuse not to not talk.) You can make other people happy by playing the guitar. Or you can make people cry. Maybe you’ll give someone an excuse to talk to you, or a reason that they might want to. There’s a fullness to guitar music. Some of your favorite guitar-related memories may be of a school campout or playing a recognizable song while busking behind your open guitar case in a subway station. Other instruments joined with the guitar can give an entirely different completeness to its music, for good or for ill. And although there has been a lengthy evolution in the shape and construction of tenor stringed instruments, from the earliest lutes and harp-like instruments through the dizzying variety of mandolins, balalaikas, ukuleles, guitarrons, and other variations too numerous to count, the standard six-string guitar will always hold a special attraction.

Of course, many of the people who own guitars have them gathering dust in the garage as they sit, woefully out of tune, in a purely aspirational state. These guitars must feel like a hibernating like a bear during an endless winter. Some folks use them play only one song over and over because that is the limit of their playing ability. It strikes me that even the guitar must get weary of this, perhaps hoping beyond hope that this time, we might hear some Bowie, or at least Velvet Underground.

Those who play regularly can form quite an attachment to a particular guitar. Willie Nelson has been playing the same beat up guitar since the mid-fifties, and probably has no plans to swap it out for another. The feel of the guitar neck can haunt a player forever if they’ve sold a favorite axe in what they have later determined to be a grievous error, or if they’ve had their favorite stolen, or tragically broken, or otherwise fatally injured. I imagine the stolen ones never really get over their kidnapping, and they refuse to ever play so well again for their abductors.

The guitars that were sold probably feel a similar sense of abandonment, but since it was a conscious act, it’s possible that they may sound better for their new owner, just out of spite. This may explain some of the hair metal bands of the eighties, who only made it big because their newly-bought guitars felt this anger flowing through them, making them strong in the dark side of the force.

Of the broken ones, the less said, the better. But I will note that when mama guitars want their baby guitars to go to sleep already, they do yell up the stairs that if they hear one more chord up there, they will call Pete Townsend right now, so help me!

In essence, a guitar can be used as a way to express yourself, make people happy, carve out your own place, bring laughter to children, enhance your attractiveness, get people to dance and sing, create a sense of belonging, or to show someone how you feel. They look good on the wall, they can fill idle moments, and they evoke powerful emotions and memories.

Just as a last thought, there’s gotta be something hardwired in us that gives us this affinity for guitars, or we would be celebrating bagpipes or harpsichords as widely, and I have never seen those printed on a calendar in my life. So there.

Tony Moir is a cyborg who holds world records in synchronized luge and panda steeplechase. Or maybe he isn’t. But he lives in San Francisco with his lovely wife and three outstanding sons.

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