How to look at the Guitar

© Copyright 2020 Simon Mancuso Ryerson University.

Shane, Horan, Rory Gallagher’s Guitar, February 8, 2007. Photograph. “Rory Gallagher’s guitar” by ShaneAH is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Six strings, two pickups and a plank of wood. These are the fundamental ingredients of the electric guitar. The combination of human engineering and creativity, art and science. The result is a machine that’s both incredibly complex and fundamentally simple, bound by strict limitations and open to infinite interpretation. 

Each mechanical piece is chosen with purpose. A body made of ash, mahogany or alder. A neck made from maple, ebony or rosewood. Each wood with its own unique tone. The number of times copper wire wraps around the magnets and the thickness of the strings strung across the neck,  all these pieces define a sound. They sit idly waiting to be transformed with the pluck of a string. Its vibrations reverberate through the wood, into the magnets and then amplified. Those vibrations are transformed into notes and the plank transformed into an instrument.  

The instrument then becomes a tool meant to put sound to the thoughts of those who hold it. Notes stacked on top of each other to create chords and chords placed in a row to create music, leaving something where there was nothing before. 

The music is a tool of expression. The thoughts and feelings of an individual amplified to be understood and felt by others. The guitar has become a medium through which emotions are communicated and understanding is formed.

Through collective understanding we form culture. Rock and roll, punk, alternative or country. All movements that impact society. Shaping how we dress and how we think, shaping history and defining decades. 

With time instruments become artifacts, hung in museums and admired as art. Every chip in the fret board and crack in the varnish tied to an event, a show or a place in time. Painstakingly inspected and mythologized amidst the history of music.

The guitar has formed a culture in and of itself. Hordes of collectors obsessed with serial numbers and appreciating value. They own a guitar for the sake of owning and auctioning it for profit. These instruments hang on walls untouched and become conversation pieces. 

Six strings, two pickups and a plank of wood. The guitar is so much more than the sum of its parts. It represents the marriage of art and science as a universal tool of communication. It transcends the barriers of language and unifies people across cultural boundaries. It’s a tool of creation, putting  a voice to thoughts that would otherwise be silent. The guitar offers the opportunity for people to rise above circumstances through music and in turn help others who find solace in that music.

Work Cited 

Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. Routledge, 2000.

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.