Many countries all around the world took inspiration from stuff like the Lute, the Baroque Guitar, and the Classical Guitar to develop new forms of guitars, that deeply shaped the folklore of the regions, both culturally and socially.

One of the most well-known forms of guitar is the Electric Guitar, a relatively new development that keeps carving the sound of music all round the world. But, are there other examples of guitar-like instruments that had successfully permeated musical scenes (in other words, that were/are widely used), that had the United States as their place of origin?

I'm talking about guitar-like instruments (plucked chordophones) like

But with the U.S. as place of birth.

  • 1
    I suppose you include bass and ukulele (Hawaii) as guitars?
    – Bebs
    Feb 24 '20 at 8:55
  • @Bebs Indeed! Plucked chordophones in general, developed and carved by the region.
    – Anton dB
    Feb 24 '20 at 8:57
  • It's an interesting question, but I think you need to rearrange it so it doesn't stay too broad as it seems to require for an endless list of instruments.
    – Bebs
    Feb 24 '20 at 9:00
  • 2
    @Bebs That's why I specified "forms of guitars that deeply shaped the folklore of the regions, both culturally and socially", "successfully permeated musical scenes", "were/are widely used". I'm not asking about every random invention. It's about instruments that have been shaped by years of the folklore of the region. The US is a huge country, but I believe that specific list is reasonably small.
    – Anton dB
    Feb 24 '20 at 9:03
  • 2
    "Plucked chordophone" doesn't neccessarily mean a guitar-like instrument. Harps are also plucked chordophones.
    – PiedPiper
    Feb 24 '20 at 9:19

Surely the Banjo.

Used in various forms in folk, bluegrass, trad jazz/dixieland. Even in some pop tunes (in the US and around the world). And it even found a place in traditional Irish folk music.

The resonator guitar should fit the bill as well.

  • 2
    +1 This is certainly one of the most influential American instruments. But it should be noted that it was based on an African instrument. Feb 24 '20 at 14:29
  • 4
    @ChrisSunami while true, the problem with your comment is that essentially every instrument mentioned on this Q/A is "based on" another instrument.
    – dwizum
    Feb 24 '20 at 20:52
  • @dwizum Yes, and most of the other answers mention what instruments they were based on. Feb 25 '20 at 3:52
  • "resonator guitar" is also commonly called a "dobro" (after a company that specializes in them). The dobro got a callout by that name in Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ballad of Curtis Loew
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 25 '20 at 14:13
  • @T.E.D. Correctly, the name "Dobro" refers only to the "spider bridge" construction of resonator guitars, named after the Dobro company (founded by the Dopyera brothers, hence the name) who originally made them as you say. The other two types of resonator construction are the "biscuit bridge" and the "tricone", both also invented by the Dopyeras whilst working at National Guitars. Non-players may call everything a "Dobro" in the same way as a non-player may call an Ibanez Jem a "Strat"; of course there are similarities, but also significant differences.
    – Graham
    Feb 25 '20 at 17:16

There's the lap steel guitar, developed in about 1935 in Los Angeles by a steel guitar player named George Beauchamp from the Hawaiian steel guitar. This evolved into the modern Pedal Steel Guitar.

There is also the bass guitar which evolved from the electric guitar but is now generally considered to be a different instrument. The first basses were developed by musician and inventor Paul Tutmarc of Seattle, Washington.

  • The development of the electric bass was a huge deal. As near as I can tell they weren't mass-produced until the early 1950's, and the switchover from standup double basses happened by the late 1950's. If you look at old vids, the bassist for Buddy Holly & The Crickets was still using a standup.
    – T.E.D.
    Feb 25 '20 at 14:22

The bass guitar was developed by Leo Fender in America. Riffing off of that, Ernie Ball(working in California) based the acoustic bass guitar off of the Mexican guitarron.

The Appalachian dulcimer, played like a lap guitar, was invented in the eastern US, hence the Appalachian moniker.


Guitar-type instruments

The archtop mandolin is an entirely American innovation. The bowl-back and flat-back versions were European, but the archtop was invented in the US by Orville Gibson.

Similarly, the archtop guitar was also invented by Gibson.

Parlor guitars were invented in the US as a more "family-friendly" version of the larger-bodied guitars in common use.

The Chapman Stick was invented by Emmett Chapman in the 1970s. It hasn't seen widespread use, at least partly due to its cost, but it's had enough use that it's a recognisable instrument in its own right compared to other multineck/wideneck guitars.

Zither-type instruments

The autoharp is a US derivative of the zither, intended as a basic strumming instrument with chords selected by buttons. In the hands of experts, of course it became more than that.


Most people keep throwing around the misconception that the Ukulele was engineered in all its (small) glory in the US.

The Ukulele spawned from the adaptation of the Portuguese instrument "Machete" (brought to the island by portuguese immigrants), which, in itself, is an adaptation/transformation of the Original, the "cavaquinho". If you look at it, it's mostly the same instrument, but with nylon strings...
You can read about both instruments on wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cavaquinho / https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukulele), both articles are pretty correct.

I can attest to the veracity of the article on the "cavaquinho", since my birth city is where the instrument was engineered (along with a more guitar like, "roots" guitar, the "braguesa" - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viola_braguesa).

Both instruments (the cavaquinho and braguesa) are traditionally used in folklore music, but with some more experimental musical acts using them as centre pieces of their music or to add texture to their sound. You can read more on them on the portuguese articles of those pages, just use google translate, the information in the english articles is very basic.

As to instruments, that are clearly of Northern American origin, I would say the already mentioned banjo, but I didn't know that the bass originated there (well, given that the electric guitar as we know it, is, most likely an American invention, it only makes sense).


Harry Partch's various stringed instruments:

  • The adapted guitar, refretted to handle Partch's 43-tone scale
  • The adapted viola: a viola refitted with a cello fingerboard, with bridge modifications to more easily allow triple stops and brads hammered into the fingerboard to make finding the sometimes very close notes in Partch's scale easier
  • The Harmonic Canons, 44-stringed instruments tuned by setting per-string bridges to achieve precise ratios between the two parts of the string.
  • The Kitharas, 72-stringed instruments tuned by sliding pyrex rods under the strings.
  • 1
    The original poster is specifically looking for instruments that "were/are widely used". Partch's instruments don't quite fit that description.
    – PiedPiper
    Feb 25 '20 at 10:51
  • 1
    Agreed that they're not Telecasters or banjos, but they are quintessentially American and worth mentioning from that point of view. Feb 25 '20 at 19:46
  • 1
    @JoeMcMahon The OP hasn't made it 100% explicit, but all his examples are of types of instrument - that is, a significant number of those instruments exist, and those instruments form a type which is distinct from other similar instruments. These are one-off builds which were only used by one individual (and let's be honest, not a well-known individual outside academia).
    – Graham
    Feb 26 '20 at 11:02
  • I'm okay with this answer being deleted, then; I don't have the reputation to do so. Feb 26 '20 at 23:34

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