Is Guitar The Most Popular Instrument Today? – Investigated


In modern times guitar has regularly featured as one of the most popular instruments to play, especially since its so easy to pick one up and have a strum on your lounge.

Maybe you already play a bit, or are thinking of playing and you’re wondering if guitar is really worth spending so much time to learn – and are there other more popular instruments?

Is Guitar the Most Popular Instrument?

According to a study the numbers of guitar and piano players are roughly even at around 40% each worldwide. In the US and UK there is a 50/50 split of male and female guitar players. Stats show that guitar now rivals piano for popularity with both men and women.

Piano has long been the most played and loved instrument in the world, and still has a slight stronghold over guitar in some countries.

Guitar has steadily risen in popularity over the last century, and many music schools say they have more guitar students than ever.

Guitarist in spotlight

List of the 9 Most Popular Instruments

Keep in mind that this list is subjective to some degree, as different regions in the world have a focus on different instruments.

If we just look at popular instrument families, then strings, percussion, and woodwind come out as the most popular categories.

  1. Piano/Keyboard
  2. Guitar
  3. Drums
  4. Violin
  5. Flute
  6. Saxophone
  7. Cello
  8. Clarinet
  9. Trumpet

Is Guitar More, Or Less Popular Than It Was?

If we look back in history, piano was always the most popular instrument and was used extensively for writing music of all kinds.

In the 20th century modern guitar, which evolved from the lute, started to become more popular.

Guitar seems to have increased in popularity along with technology, as the advent of amplifiers, radio, and television bought fame to musicians.

Everyone dreams to be like a famous musician, and with an increasing number of them playing guitar, so the popularity of guitars has skyrocketed.

See an article here discussing if people think guitar is overrated.

Did you know?

In Japan there’s a guitar sold every 3 seconds.

The millennial generation has become biased toward the guitar as socially desirable and combined with increased affordability, has driven more people to play guitar than ever before.

Traditionally guitar was a male-dominated interest and had remained that way for many years. In the last 10 years there has been a much greater uptake by women than ever before, with the number of female guitarists now rivaling males.

Some people wrongly believe that the guitar is losing popularity, and this is somewhat due to the news of music giants Gibson and Guitar Center running into financial problems.

Statistics gathered by National Association of Music Merchants(NAMM) actually show that guitar sales have increased over the last few years as a whole, with the trend expected to continue through 2022.

With more female players than ever before due to icons like Taylor Swift influencing popular opinion, what we are really seeing is a shift away from male domination of guitar playing.

How Many People Play Guitar?

It’s estimated that  are over 21 million piano players in the US alone, and a study 20 years back indicated there were around 16 million guitar players, and there are many more now.

One way to track numbers of guitarists is to look at sales of electric and acoustic guitars over the last few years.

For the last 10 years sales of electric guitars slowly declined from about 1.5 million in 2008 to just over 1 million in 2017. Acoustic guitars over the same period rose about 15 percent in sales.

There are roughly 2 million guitar sales in the US each year, and this accounts for around 40% of the global market.

From 2019 onward there have been increased sales of guitars, especially during quarantine lock-downs due to covid19, and many people report they like to play simply for the enjoyment, not to become guitar gods.

Worldwide there are no exact statistics and estimates are around the 50 million mark for guitarist numbers.

Read more here about guitar playing as a hobby, and good reasons to learn.

How Did the Guitar Become So Popular?

Guitar stated as a Spanish version of the lute, and up until the 19th century it was considered an amateur’s instrument.

In the 20th century Andrés Segovia showed the world it was an instrument that could hold its own alongside orchestral instruments, and was capable of far more than just simple songs.

During the 30’s and 40’s big bands became popular, and guitar was part of that movement. Also South American blues was becoming more mainstream finding it’s way into popular music.

In the 60s and 70’s blues became blues rock, and along with improving recording technology guitar stars started to be born like Jimi Hendrix – and everyone wanted to be a guitar player.

Head on into the 80’s and popular guitar music had moved into different styles of blues, rock, goth-rock, metal, and more. Bands like AC/DC, Queen, Kiss, and Van Halen became huge acts featuring amazing guitarists that made everyone dream of playing like them.

Guitar also features prominently in country music, and star guitarists like Chet Atkins, Albert Lee, and more recently Keith Urban have also inspired millions to take up guitar.

There are also plenty of famous classical and flamenco guitar guitarists, such as Andrés Segovia who held high acclaim for his virtuosic guitar skills, and David Williams the Australian modern classical guitarist.

In the world of music there are an endless list of guitarists that have risen to prominence and being human as we are – emulating our idols is built into our nature.

How Did the Acoustic Guitar Became Popular?

Modern flat top acoustic guitars first appeared in the 1830’s when a luthier named Christian Martin made his first guitar in the United States (anyone heard of Martin Guitars?!).

Martin created an X-braced soundboard to handle the extra tension of steel strings, and so a new guitar breed was born.

During the early big band era guitars took a backseat to other instruments, as they were not loud enough to compete with the brass and percussion sections.

Orville Gibson eventually came up with his invention of the archtop guitar which was louder than its flat top cousin. The acoustic guitars’ popularity started to rise and found its way into jazz, swing, and country music performances.

How Did the Electric Guitar Became Popular?

With all acoustics there was still the problem of the guitars sound being drowned out by other instruments, and so the need for volume drove the development of the electric guitar.

  • George Beauchamp, working with Adolph Rickenbacker, eventually came to solve the puzzle of how to amplify string sound in a better way than using a microphone.

From this point on the pickup was further developed by Gibson, Fender, Gretsch, and so on.

Electric guitars were appearing in more and more bands, and with the advent of classics like Fender’s Telecaster and Stratocaster, Gibson’s Les Paul, and the Gibson SG.

Not only did these guitars sound great, they allowed musicians to explore new musical territory, and with the advent of music television the popularity of electric guitars took off.

Why Is Guitar One Of The Most Frequently Played Instruments?

While it’s great to play piano or keyboards you won’t just find one sitting around everywhere like you can with guitars. Almost everywhere you go you will find a guitar, which makes them incredibly accessible.

Violin can be very satisfying to a musician who has put in great effort to becoming a good player, but you’re not going to sit around a campfire and sing along to a violin – period!

Drums are awesome, and hand-drums like bongos or the djembe travel very well and are easy to play simple beats on, but they are quite loud and not good to practice late at night.

Also, you can’t bash out your favorite version of a song with just drums – no one will know what the song is! …you will probably need a guitar to fill out the rhythm.

Guitar is popular for many reasons:

  • Easy to travel with.
  • Easy to learn the basics.
  • Easy to find one almost anywhere.
  • Can be played loud or quiet.
  • Can play rhythm and lead styles.
  • Good for songwriting and transposing.
  • Can play a wide range of musical styles.
  • Vast amounts of free lessons online.
  • Guitar playing is seen as socially desirable.

Wind It Up

Guitar has become extremely popular through the last 150 years, being developed from a Spanish lute version right through to electronically amplified electric guitars.

Along with changes in body style and its capability of expression the guitar has driven great evolution of musical styles, particularly over the last 80 years.

Along with people’s perception of becoming a guitarist as being highly desirable, the popularity of guitar has soared to similar heights to the traditional piano.