why is guitar called an axe?

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nedgray | 12:27 Fri 28th Jan 2005 | Music
6 Answers

just wondered if anybody knows why when people talk about guitar players, the refer to them as axemen.

I wondered if it relates to any one particular guitar player, or to guitar playing in general.

Either way, in our office, we would love to know how this term came around so if anybody knows I'd be grateful  


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The guitar gets its nickname, "Axe", from guitarists breaking thier electric guitars on stage. This is because the most common way to break the guitar would be to swing the guitar in an axe-like motion.

Pick any number of old rockers/metal heads, and they have most likely done it at some point.

I think it more likely it is just from the shape. If you look at a Gibson SG or aTelecaster, the shape is uniform, and with the neck, it vaguely resembles an axe in shape.

Musicians are a comical bunch, in a similar vein, a fret-board on a guitar is known as a 'plank' and playing a solo can be referred to as 'spanking your plank' and a guitarist who is fond of long solos is thus a 'plank spanker'.

Imagine holding the guitar by its head, i.e. the end of the fretboard.  Now it looks like an axe, especially the SG model! :)

I was a member of a band called the Axemen back in the early to mid 60's and we took our name from the traditional jazz / blues reference to the guitar players "axe"....and it had nothing to do with destroying the instruments because this was well before the advent of The Who and besides ...who the heck could afford to destroy good gear back then.

While all of these answers have merit, they all miss the real origin of the term "axe" as it applie sto the guitar. Yes, it is true that rockers have used their guitars to smash equipment, and it is no accident that many modern guitars resemble axes.

This is a tribute to a man known only as Torvill. Torvill was a freed slave who made his way north after the civil war and made his living as a logger. He was also possibly one of the best blues men ever to play.

The story goes that Torvill had taken to playing his guitar in the evenings around the campfire. One night when he came back to the camp, his guirat had been broken. He salvaged what he could of the strings and strung them to the only thing he had handy, his two handed, double bitted axe.

The axe obviously provided no amplification, but anyone sitting close enough could hear the haunting and interesting new notes he was able to wring from this makeshift instrument.

It wasn't until many years later that solid body guitars with amplifers could be built.

The next time you pick up your axe, remember Torvill, an honest man forgotten by history.
Solos and riffs are often referred to as chops, so it's not drawing too long a bow (another interesting metaphor) to suggest a guitarist is using his axe for his chops???

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