Guitar as a Cultural Icon

An icon is a beacon that the society attaches a lot of value and reverence to. Most often than not, the society or a culture wants to be identified by it. An icon must have a recognition factor to be worth its salt (Millard 1). Among the American’s long-time icons, there are cheeseburgers, skyscrapers, the electric guitar, a yellow taxi cab, and the liberty statue. Thus, the electric guitar was included among the American icons from as early as the 1960s. There are a number of reasons that have enabled guitar to strike both Americans and foreigners. They include: its ready availability as a consumption item within an affluent society, the key role it plays as the youth culture’s entertainer, as well as a high degree of technological sophistication within a highly industrialized nation (Millard 1).

A number of questions have arisen as to how guitar has come to be arguably among the most popular musical instruments. Today, the instrument has pervaded the globe and is truly informing human experiences. It is evident in its being in the forefront of any given social movement as well as changes taking place in the American society for a good number of decades now. The paper explores how guitar and guitar music are used in societies across the globe as an artistic item for fostering cultural identities. In a world whose dynamics is challenged by globalization, this instrument provides features that give shape to new cultural establishments. Guitar plays an integral role in the community as a source of commercial livelihood and a channel of conveying educative music and making local community atmosphere lively among other significant features (Bennett and Dawe 109).

Why Guitar is Considered as an American Icon

Millard observes that guitar has been among highly regarded machine-made possessions that can be compared with automobiles. It is because of its use by Americans in defining who they are. From the early part of the 19th century, it was evident that, unlike Europeans who were aristocrats, Americans were more into entertainment in line with their cherished democratic pursuits. It partly explains why guitar is largely considered as one of the icons of the American society. Evidently, the electric guitar fitted well with the American characteristics. Moreover, as the society becomes more technological, so is the guitar, which has gone through various stages of advancement, making it appealing to the country’s youth (Millard 1).

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It is also important to note that guitar is one of the most adored instruments in the world. Its manufacturing is diverse across cultures and, hence, meaning attached to it also variable. This cross-cultural fame of the instrument makes it a unique starting point for understanding social interaction and cultural identity, qualifying it as an icon. While guitar music elicits mixed reactions, usually with emotional attachment bordering on sex, soothing, melancholy, or manic, it always unifies people and creates a common ground even if intense social, cultural, economic, and political negotiation and contest emanate from the ground.

Significance of the instrument to the American society can be evident in the country developing its major symposiums like the one held at the Smithsonian Institution to discuss significance of the sound of an electric guitar. It fits well into the American enthusiasm when it comes to technology and the guitar as one of the symbols of masculinity in the country. Guitar has for a long time been seen as one of the country’s artifacts of its innovative processes. In this case, the guitar, together with its amplifier, must be understood as a technological system. It is still attributed to the first technological breakthroughs with regards to the 1960s’ unique psychedelic sounds.

Electric guitars still generate similar sounds through various machines used in entertainment. The sound is heard everywhere across the country in cars, homes, workplaces, as well as public places. The uniquely amplified guitar sound is recognized by almost every American. It has not been easy to forget it since it has remained significant in the entertainment industry as the popular music’s signature, motion picture’s soundtracks, as well as advertisement music through various media channels used in the country.

Today, the sound from electric guitar has become difficult to avoid in the modern day America. It is as common and popular among citizens as their telephone ringtones. Though meanings of these sounds may be different from what they were in the initial years, the sounds are very vital to the today’s American youth who have given various sounds different meanings. In fact, Millard (3) argues that it is the ubiquitous sound of an electric guitar in the American culture that has sustained its success as a consumer product. By the 1980s, those playing guitar in the country had reached 9 million. All these individuals attributed their identity to guitar. The booming business of electric guitar’s manufacturing, especially in the post-World War II period, is closely related to this.

The modern guitar used almost all world over traces its evolution routes to the United States of America. The biggest guitar manufacturer to date is the Martin Family Business, thriving throughout generations. The American guitar owes a lot to the European or the western side of the Atlantic Ocean. It has since developed across evolutions to the post-modern type, resembling artistic creativity and technology, which makes it embraced across cultures.

Guitar: Iconic Power and Trend

Live or recorded, guitar strings stand out and its amplified sound has power that drowns all other sound instruments in any common place. Millard (5) illustrates the rise of electric guitar as an American icon. He notes it as an item with social iconic stature across the US and beyond. To demonstrate the power of the electric guitar in the American society, he compares sound pollution potential of a guitar to youth and excitement. He also exemplifies it by how a pharmaceutical company uses the power guitar to sell headache drugs, demonstrating a thin line between music and noise. That is how guitar stands out and hence cannot miss the identity. Guitar models continue to evolve along with the technology. There is always the latest model of guitar in the market. The youth whose population is sizeable in the society are always keen on the latest trends and fashion. However, the iconic nature of the instrument becomes evident in the fact that the younger generation always seeks to identify with the instrument, which produces the best sound with the help of the latest technology. This is exactly what guitar has evolved to and offers this generation.

According to Millard, continuous evolution in the guitar technology is a show of progress. For example, the American electric guitar, according to Millard, is “a symbol of humankind’s technological dominance over the environment”. Many people will hence view the latest technology as modernity and civilization. An industry as busy as the music and entertainment industry with key instruments like guitar will therefore not miss the opportunity to be adored as a part of the culture of the youth and adults alike (Achard 20).

Guitar’s Iconic Influence on Human Growth and Development

Guitar is an iconic global phenomenon defining musical genre worldwide (Bennett and Dawe 1). It is a typical instrument common to any band performance. Each string therefore has a specific sound type that identifies with a particular vocal soothing to a group of people.

Audio-visual researchers have established a nexus between guitar playing and some of the human brain’s workings. Research has linked active music making with improved linguistic and pronunciation development, calculation ability, improved school scores, adjusted social dynamics, and improvements in spatial-temporal reasoning important for problem solving. According to Dawe (89), most young people identify with guitar at a young age in the form of a toy guitar. In accordance with childhood experience, they believe that what they use has a thin line with the real guitar. This, therefore, means that while still being a child, most people already have the experience of the services of a guitar, albeit a toy one. To demonstrate the effect the toy guitar had in his life, Dawe explains how after the toy guitar had broken down and was disposed of in a dustbin, his parents went ahead to buy him the real guitar. This later shaped his mind and body just as those of his peers.

Dawe (89) observes that the instruments, including both toy and real guitars, were agential in introducing him to a certain culture. To him, they were, therefore, ways of enculturation and socialization, transforming him into ways of his peers and brothers. He argues that the exposure to this musical instrument also shapes one’s development of mental capability. Dawe adds that early handling of guitar in the life growth stages has an effect on the physical and cognitive development of an individual, driving out periods of immaturity and maturation. The child, in turn, responds to these culturally designed stimuli, which can be used as a basis of play, fantasy, and social exchanges. Knowledge of the manipulation of strings to produce a desired sound helps develop an artistic mind that is sharp and embracing the power of imagination. Therefore, there is a direct correlation between early exposure to mentally engaging work of manipulating musical strings of a guitar and development of imagination and cognitive ability.

From Dawe’s experience, it can be inferred that music (in which guitar playing is integral) is one of the perfect ways to address numerous essentials of children because it is non-judgmental. He could comfortably fit into the group of his peers and being able to play the toy guitar made him no different from adults who were able to play real guitars. Self-esteem, creativity, self-confidence, and curiosity among other positive qualities can be aroused and nurtured in children by listening to different types of guitar music. It also helps enhance children’s listening and auditory skills. The attribute of the guitar has seen many parents in developing countries buy their young children toy guitars. Children have, in turn, shown tremendous class work ability. This has made this item an adorable early development item among kids.

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Types of Guitar as a Contribution to its Iconic Nature

The fact that there are different types of guitar and each is designed differently with a particular style of stringing has made the instrument attractive to people of vicarious social classes, age groups, and cultures. Particular stringing styles give the guitar a particular set of sounds that are appealing to a given group. The guitar tone is affected by differences between strings types; hence, use of asset of strings not made for the type of guitar is not recommended. These are aspects that have been criticized because of the possibility of robbing the instrument of its iconic nature in various cultures. It is because doing this would give not only a bad sound, but also frustration and difficulty when tempting to play a wrongly stringed guitar. Wikibooks Contributors observe that six-stringed acoustic is the common type of a guitar.

The guitar is an icon in many societies, concerning almost every group of people from secular and religious groups alike. It has not spared either the young or the old. As an icon, it has proved its salt and worth, attracting more reverence and recognition. Due to the rapidly changing environment in the music industry, this instrument has kept the pace by constant evolution since its roots were traced to the USA. Moreover, the research has established correlation between early child development in terms of cognitive function and physical development and the early exposure to guitar. Children with this kind of experience tend to have improved math ability, higher self-esteem, and more self-confidence. They also demonstrate better-adjusted moral behavior and proper listening skills.

Hence, it is safe to conclude that across all cultures and micro-cultural establishments, the guitar and music in general have strong power of influence. People relate with it at different levels irrespective of their groups. Religious or otherwise, the sounds from properly manipulated strings will carry off the hearts of everyone. Music is attached to various attributes of social dynamics such as sex, social gatherings, as well as being a unifying factor. Guitar brings together people of diverse social classes and cultural backgrounds to one dancing floor. Many communities also use music and guitar as an item of identity. In many cases, a particular sound chord is associated with a particular society; thus, the instrument is a cultural icon.

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