Music has the power to convey emotion. Whether it unifies, energizes, calms, or saddens, there is no doubt of how influential it can be. Artists like The Beatles, Elvis, and Jimi Hendrix cross genres and generations, continuing to reach and influence millions of people through their music. These iconic musicians owe their sound to instruments, with one in particular playing a notable role for both rock legends and blues crooners alike — the guitar.
Demonstrating that the sound that guitars produce is often the most unifying aspect of music, Fender brought together 19 musical heavyweights to help with the production of the “Reach Out To Asia” Stratocaster. This coveted guitar ultimately brought in an astounding $2.7 million at auction—making it the most expensive guitar sold to-date. The proceeds benefited the Reach Out to Asia project following the 2004 tsunami, which devastated countries across the Indian Ocean.
With universal appeal seen around the globe, the list below explores notable guitars that played a role in creating rock anthems and country hits like “Stairway to Heaven,” “London Calling,” and “Purple Rain.”
Rock & Roll
Rock relies on guitars for long riffs and energetic solos. This genre took music from a supporting sound to a key voice. Some musicians bond with their guitar, refusing to part with it over the span of their careers. Neil Young is a great example of an artist who was both inspired by and dedicated to his electric guitar, which he referred to as “Old Black.” Young toured with “Old Black” as his primary guitar for over forty years and through nearly all of his studio albums.
Often considered the foundation of old school rock ‘n’ roll, blues musicians are some of the most important and influential household names. Muddy Waters was part of the first wave of electric bluesman and helped define the gritty, growling, and sweet sound of early blues.
Buddy Guy, who worked closely with Muddy Waters and was followed by Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, had several beloved guitars over the course of his career. The first two were stolen and his prized Fender Stratocaster was eventually returned to his possession in 1995 when an unknowing fan asked him to autograph it.
Of all the genres, country music is known to tell a story, evoke a memory, and transport listeners to a different place. A few of the fathers of this genre include Chet Atkins, Elvis Presley, and Willie Nelson. Elvis of course crossed several genres during his career and inspired rock and pop musicians as well as country singers. His famous Gibson Double Bass, seen in the film Spinout, was one of his favorite instruments to play when he was relaxing at Graceland. He particularly enjoyed playing “Baby What You Want Me To Do.”
No list of iconic musical instruments would be complete without the inclusion of something from both The Beatles and Prince. The original builder of Prince’s custom guitar is quoted as saying, “It’s so much more than just part of a costume. It’s a means of expression, power, identity – you name it.” Prince opened the door for music icons like Lady Gaga who blur the lines of fine art, performance, and music to create sounds and imagery that resonate with millions.
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