Where It All Began

By Sarah Haley

Country music is an amalgam of different musical styles from all around the world. Stringed instruments have been an important part of country music from the very beginning. After all, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”  wouldn’t be the same without its iconic fiddle solo. Johnny Cash’s music would have a completely different sound without his rhythmic guitar strumming. Did you know though that guitars, fiddles, banjos, basses, and more go as far back as the 10th Century? Find out more about some of country’s most used stringed instruments below.

Acoustic Guitar – 13th Century

A product of Europe and closely related to the lute, the guitar has been around since the 1200s. With the start of colonization, it quickly spread to various cultures. For a long time, it was considered to be a rhythm instrument, until the recording industry took off in the United States. Early recordings of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family put a spotlight on the acoustic guitar and made it the dominant instrument of the 20th century.

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The Carter Family

Fiddle – 10th Century

Did you know that the fiddle and the violin are the same instrument? People who play folk or traditional music tend to call them fiddles, while classical musicians call them violins. Though the fiddle was the main instrument in early country music in the 1920s, it was gradually replaced by the acoustic guitar and electric guitar. It re-emerged in popularity in the 1940s as Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, and Lester Flatt developed bluegrass. Presently, the fiddle plays a key role in bands like The Avett Brothers, The Dixie Chicks, and Mumford and Sons.

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Mumford and Sons. Photo from Rolling Stone Magazine.

Banjo – 17th Century

Banjos, originally called “banjar,” were first brought over on slave ships from West Africa through the Caribbean to North America. The original banjo was nothing more than a dried out gourd with strings. The sound of this instrument has been described as “distinctive metallic,” which comes from its form – in essence, a drum with a long neck and strings attached to be plucked or strummed. The twangy sound of the banjo became a staple in Southern music through slave songs, where it quickly spread through minstrel shows and performances.

Outlaws and Angels plays in FST’s Goldstein Cabaret through March 29. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.