I often get asked, “Why is a guitar called an axe?” That question has been asked so many times that it has become my favorite thing to answer. But I still don’t know the answer. After spending a lot of time researching, I have yet to find any real connection between guitars and axes.
The Word “Axe”
One of the first things I noticed was that, in addition to guitars, axes are also used to refer to other stringed instruments such as the banjo and mandolin. But then I thought about it and realized that nearly every instrument is called by some sort of tool name. The violin is a fiddle, the cello is a bass fiddle, the bass is a string bass, the oboe is a reed pipe, and so on.
The Axe Guitar Company
Also, the axe in axe guitar is not capitalized, so the name “axe” is really a description and not a brand name. The Axe Guitar Company uses the word “axe” to describe their guitars. At least for this purpose, they are the only ones who use it. The Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t list it as a term used by any company or instrument maker.
Finding A Connection Between Axes and Guitars
I decided to look into the etymology (the history of a word) to see if I could find any connection between axes and guitars. Most people have assumed that a guitar is called an axe because some guitars are made with an axe-like shape. But I could not find any English words that clearly used “axe” to mean anything other than an actual axe.
I did find the word “axen” in Middle English, but it meant “to make a noise like axes.” This could be evidence that the guitar is called an axe because of the sound it makes, but then why aren’t all stringed instruments called axes?
Another possible origin of “axe” is that it comes from the French word “acier,” which means steel. This could have been used to describe the early guitars with steel strings.
Things like this are so interesting that I keep thinking about them even when I’m not doing any research on them. But it still hasn’t made me any closer to the answer.
Why is the word “axe” used to describe a stringed instrument, and not just a musical instrument? And why is it called an axe if it isn’t shaped like one? Is it because of the sound it makes, or because of the materials used to make it? I can’t find any evidence that a guitar is really anything like an axe.
So why is it that the guitar is called an axe, anyway? Is there an explanation?
Why Does It Matter?
While I’m not sure of the answer, it is fascinating to me to think about. This probably makes other people curious as well, so I thought I’d post about it here. And even if you think this isn’t interesting, please feel free to share this article with anyone who might be curious. Maybe one day someone will actually know the answer.