what’s a guitar?


And though any instrument-as-object can express this estrangement, there’s something about a silent guitar — especially one that’s beautiful, or precious, or two-dimensional — that particularly aches. When a guitar becomes a symbol, the very thing that makes it a guitar, its immediacy, disappears. For “immediacy” is why a guitar is a folk instrument, i.e. the instrument of folks. The guitar is lightweight, cheap, easy to play. Anyone — and I would like to stress anyone — with two hands and the inclination can spend an afternoon learning three major chords (A D E is a good combo or D A G) and be then well equipped to instantly rock scores of songs from “Back in Black” to “You Are My Sunshine.” (Like the old ‘70s fanzine said: “This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band.”) This is not so with the piano, nor the drums, the flute, the fiddle. Flung over the heart or across the back, the guitar is good for anywhere and any occasion. The guitar is a folk instrument because it is an easy extension of our bodies, and therefore an easy expression of our humanity. The guitar — and all its predecessors and incarnations: the bouzouki, the saz, the oud, the guitarrón — represents the parts of us that are spontaneous, angry, lazy, joyous, raw, unsophisticated and unadorned. The only other instrument that surpasses the guitar in capturing this immediacy is the voice. Which is the final reason why the guitar is not just a folk instrument but the folk instrument — it’s an easy companion to singing.

more from Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set here.