I'm a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Guitars are popular because they are versatile, portable, accessible, and affordable. However, we can say that about a few instruments.
When I was a kid, my introduction to music came in the form of mandatory piano lessons. I did everything I could to get out of them.
Then, when I was in sixth grade, I joined the school band and started learning to play the saxophone. I thought the sax was cool, but it didn’t make me fall in love with music.
That didn’t happen until later that year when I got my first guitar. There was something special about it that I just didn’t find in the piano or the sax. Decades later, I can’t imagine my life without the guitar.
There is nothing wrong with the piano, saxophone or any other instrument that gets you excited about music. However, I think there are good reasons that millions of people like me have enjoyed a lifetime of music thanks to the guitar.
Here ten reasons the guitar is so popular:
1. Guitars Are Affordable
You don't have to drop a lot of cash to get started on the guitar. The best guitar companies offer instruments at every budget level. Some gear companies even have starter packs that include everything you need to get started playing, including picks, a strap, extra strings, and learning materials.
I recommend a budget of around $200, but you can go way lower if you want to. Some beginner guitars cost less than $100. This still may seem a little expensive, but when you compare it to getting started on many other instruments, it is relatively cheap.
Guitars are also widely available in used condition for reduced prices. The affordable cost of starting out on guitar makes it a very popular first musical instrument.
2. Guitar Can Be Self Taught
Even after you get your guitar, you will have to spend a bunch of money on never-ending lessons, right? Not necessarily. Many guitarists, myself included, learned guitar on their own, without a teacher. It still takes a lot of hard work, but you need not invest in guitar lessons if you don’t want to.
Teaching yourself to play guitar easier today than it was when I first picked up the instrument. There is a ton of free information and lessons available online, and you can learn anything you need to know from your computer.
Whether you sign up with a teacher or learn on your own is up to you. There is nothing wrong with either approach. The ability to learn at your own pace is one thing that makes the guitar so popular.
3. Guitar Is Easy to Learn
Don’t misunderstand this one. Mastering an instrument takes a lot of hard work, time, and dedication. Just like anything else in life worth doing, there is no easy road to getting good at guitar.
However, if you just want to learn to play a few chords and strum along with your favorite song, the guitar is super easy to get into. If you will dedicate a little time to it each day, within a week you can play music and even jam with friends.
In fact, learning to play songs they like is one thing I encourage new players to do in my 5 steps to learning guitar. Playing actual music helps a beginner stay motivated and provides a springboard to advanced concepts and music theory.
4. Guitars Are Versatile Instruments
The guitar is both a rhythm instrument and a lead instrument. Some guitar players concentrate on one or the other, but most are skilled as both rhythm and lead players.
Guitars are used in almost every music genre. A jazz musician, a country guitarist, or a heavy metal shredder may play the same guitar model. That means, as a guitar player, you don’t have to concentrate on one style of music. The entire world of music is open to you.
Finally, thanks to the array of effects available for both electric and acoustic instruments, guitars are capable of a wide range of sounds. That makes the guitar one of the most versatile and expressive instruments out there.
5. Rock Music Is Based On the Guitar
Rock n’ roll grew up with the electric guitar and the two are just about inseparable. Rock has evolved a great deal over the years, so much so that it has become engrained in other forms of music.
Modern country music is basically just repackaged rock with a bit of twang thrown in. Heavy metal is rock music with a darker edge. Some forms of blues, and even some jazz, are just different takes on rock music. (Ironically, rock evolved from blues, jazz, and country, and in some ways, it has come back full-circle.)
Rock in its various forms is extremely popular. It only makes sense that guitar is popular well, as many people become inspired to learn the instrument while listening to their favorite bands.
6. Guitars Are Perfect for Songwriting
If you are an aspiring songwriter, the guitar can be one of your most useful tools. If you know a few chords, you can write a song on the guitar. In fact, if you can just put a basic melody together, you will probably find the guitar helpful.
I even encourage vocalists who don’t play guitar in their bands to pick up the instrument so they have a better idea of how their lyrics can fit together with the music.
Advanced guitarists and songwriters find the guitar is like a self-contained orchestra all on its own. Since a great deal of music is guitar-based, you can get a very clear idea of how the finished piece of music will sound. This is especially helpful if you are in a band and trying to convey your vision to the other musicians.
7. Guitars Are Portable
Piano players have a heck of a time carrying their instruments around. Even full-sized keyboards are unwieldy. Don’t even ask what drummers have to go through every time they want to move their kits.
By comparison, a guitar is super easy to tote around. If you play acoustic guitar, you don’t even need to worry about lugging an amp with you. Invest in a good case so your instrument doesn’t get damaged, and you are ready to roll.
People take their guitars to the park, use them for busking on the street, pack them for camping trips, and even stow them on airplanes when they go on vacation. If you can go somewhere, there is a great chance your guitar can go there too.
8. Guitars Are Excellent for Solo Performers
If you wish to sing and perform solo with an instrument, piano and guitar are your two choices. I suppose we can make a case for the ukulele or the banjo, but the guitar is far more popular.
If you intend to perform solo as an instrumentalist you have many more options, but the guitar is still at the top of the list. You can play fingerstyle acoustic instrumentals, perform with an electric guitar in a jazz club, or put on a concert as a classical guitarist.
You can probably think of other ways to perform solo with a guitar, including busking and just showing off at parties. The ability to entertain people with nothing but a guitar is another thing that makes it so popular.
9. You Can Practice Guitar at Low Volumes
Would you rather live in an apartment next to a heavy metal guitarist or a trumpet player? You’d be smart to choose the metal guitarist because they have something the trumpeter doesn’t: a volume knob. (How they choose to use it is a separate issue.)
The point is, you can practice your guitar at low volumes or even using headphones. This is good news for beginners (and their families) as they can make mistakes and fumble around without feeling embarrassed.
It is good for advanced players too because it means they can work on their chops at any hour of the day or night without disturbing the people who live with or near them.
10. What You Learn On Guitar Transfers to Other Instruments
If you learn to play on an acoustic guitar, your skills will transfer to the electric guitar. That’s pretty obvious. Less obvious is that the skills and theory you learn on guitar can also transfer to other related instruments.
If you understand scales, chords, on music theory on guitar, it is easy to switch to bass. The bass and guitar have a lot in common. The four strings of the bass are tuned the same as the lower four strings on the guitar, except one octave apart.
It is a simple transition from guitar to ukulele, as the tuning is similar. It is even easy to understand other stringed instruments such as the banjo or violin.
Knowing the guitar opens the door to learning other instruments.
Why Is the Guitar So Popular?
The guitar is one of the most popular instruments because it is versatile, portable, accessible, and relatively affordable. The popularity of rock music in its various forms has made the guitar visible to music fans of all kinds, and many have taken up the instrument.
Unfortunately, with the increase in popularity of music that relies more on electronics and artificial sounds than real instruments, some say the age of the guitar is ending. I disagree. The guitar has always been the instrument of the rebellious. Awful music seems like a pretty good thing to rebel against.
If you are thinking of learning to play guitar, what are you waiting for? I picked it up over thirty years ago and I have never regretted it. I have a feeling you won’t either. The guitar is one of the most popular instruments for good reasons.