Why Is A Guitar Called An Axe?

Have you ever wondered why you call a guitar an axe? Well, you’re about to find out!

In this article, we’ll explore the fascinating origins and significance of the term ‘axe’ for guitars.

From the influence of jazz and blues slang to the visual resemblance between guitars and axes, we’ll uncover the potential reasons behind this intriguing nickname.

So, if you’re curious about the etymology of musical nicknames, join us as we unravel the story behind why a guitar is called an axe.

Key Takeaways

  • The term ‘axe’ for guitars is believed to have originated in the 1950s, possibly among jazz musicians.
  • The term may have been influenced by the transition from saxophone to ‘sax’ to ‘axe’.
  • The exact origin of the term is uncertain, but it gained popularity and became widely used among musicians.
  • The term ‘axe’ for guitars may have been influenced by connections between guitars and axes, as both have a similar physical structure.

Origins and Uncertainty Surrounding the Term ‘Axe

You may often wonder about the origins and uncertainty surrounding the term ‘axe’ for guitars. The cultural significance of this term has had a profound impact on the perception of the instrument.

In the world of music, slang terms have evolved over time, shaping the way musicians talk about their craft. The term ‘axe’ for guitars is believed to have originated in the 1950s, possibly among jazz musicians. The transition from saxophone to ‘sax’ to ‘axe’ may have influenced the use of the term for guitars.

However, the exact origin of the term remains uncertain, with various theories surrounding its development. Tracing the exact origins of slang terms like ‘axe’ for guitars can be challenging, but this uncertainty only adds to the intrigue and mystique surrounding the term.

Connections Between Guitars and Axes

Although guitars and axes may seem like unrelated objects, there are connections between them that have influenced the nickname ‘axe’ for guitars.

One of the connections is the symbolic association between guitars and axes. Both instruments have a similar physical structure, with a long wooden pole and a broad opposite end. This resemblance has led to the nickname ‘axe’ for guitars, highlighting the visual similarities.

Additionally, the cultural impact of rockstars smashing guitars has further strengthened the association between guitars and swinging axes. Famous musicians like Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain have used their guitars like an axe, smashing them on stage. This act of destruction has become a symbol of rebellion and rock and roll, solidifying the connection between guitars and axes.

Early Origins of the Term ‘Axe

The term ‘axe’ for guitars originated in the early 20th century and is believed to have been influenced by the practice of woodshedding among musicians. Woodshedding referred to the act of practicing in peace and quiet, away from others. Musicians would go to the woodshed to work on their art, and this term became popular in blues and jazz circles.

Woodsheds were also associated with chopping and storing firewood, which involved the use of an axe. This connection between woodshedding, musical instruments, and axes contributed to the development of the term.

Additionally, the role of societal contexts can’t be ignored. The influence of blues, jazz, battle slang, and even the association of music with crime during the Great Depression played a part in the adoption and popularization of the nickname ‘axe’ for guitars.

For more curious facts about guitar history, read this article: https://riff-mag.com/the-history-of-the-guitar/

Influence of Blues, Jazz, and Battle Slang

Drawing on the cultural influences of blues, jazz, and battle slang, the nickname ‘axe’ for guitars gained popularity among musicians. The influence of battle slang on guitar terminology can be seen in the use of violent and battle-related language to describe the instrument. The edginess and provocative nature of rock and metal music further contributed to the adoption of this slang.

Jazz language also had a significant impact on guitar slang, with terms like ‘axe’ originally being used to refer to saxophones. As jazz musicians began to use the term more broadly, it gradually extended to other instruments, including guitars.

The incorporation of these linguistic and cultural influences helped cement the term ‘axe’ as a popular nickname for guitars among musicians.

Other Instruments Referred to as Axes and Differences in Spelling

When referring to guitars, you’ll find that ‘axe’ is almost always the default spelling. However, it’s interesting to note that other instruments have also been referred to as axes.

The origins of the term ‘axe’ for other instruments aren’t as clear as they are for guitars. Saxophones were the first instruments to be called axes, followed by trumpets and other brass instruments. In some jazz circles, any instrument in the group can be called an axe.

As for the spelling, both ‘axe’ and ‘ax’ are correct and pronounced the same. ‘Axe’ is the older spelling and more common outside the U.S., while ‘ax’ is mostly popular in the U.S. but has gained traction in other countries.

Origins and Visual Resemblance

From holding a guitar like an axe to highlighting the resemblance between the two, it’s no wonder guitarists call their instruments axes. The shape and construction of a guitar and an axe are remarkably similar. Both have a skinny neck connected to a body, creating a familiar silhouette.

When you hold a guitar in a certain way, with the neck pointing upward, it even looks like you’re wielding an axe. The nickname ‘axe’ for a guitar is based on these obvious visual similarities. It’s no surprise that the word ‘axe’ has been used as a nickname for a guitar throughout history.

The evolution of this nickname is a testament to the enduring connection between guitars and axes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who Was the First Guitarist to Refer to Their Instrument as an “Axe”?

The first guitarist to refer to their instrument as an ‘axe’ is difficult to pinpoint due to the uncertain origins of the term. However, it is believed that jazz and blues musicians in the 1950s popularized its use.

How Did the Term “Axe” for Guitars Gain Popularity Among Musicians?

The term ‘axe’ for guitars gained popularity among musicians due to its connection to the physical structure of both instruments, as well as its association with woodshedding, battle slang, and the visual resemblance between guitars and axes.

Are There Any Other Musical Instruments Besides Saxophones That Have Been Referred to as “Axes”?

Other musical instruments, such as drums and keyboards, have also been referred to as ‘axes’ in certain musical circles. This term is used to highlight the instrument’s power, intensity, and ability to captivate an audience.

Why Is the Term Spelled Both “Axe” and “Ax”?

The term ‘axe’ is spelled both ‘axe’ and ‘ax’ in relation to guitars. This spelling variation reflects the evolution of the term in the guitar industry, influenced by cultural factors and regional dialects.

How Does the Nickname “Axe” for a Guitar Contribute to Its Coolness Factor and Rock and Roll Heritage?

Using the nickname ‘axe’ for a guitar adds to its coolness factor and rock and roll heritage. It emphasizes the guitar’s ability to captivate and impress an audience, contributing to guitarists’ stage persona. Importance of guitar nicknames in the music industry. The influence of guitar nicknames on guitarists’ stage persona.


In conclusion, the origins of why a guitar is called an axe remain uncertain, but various theories suggest connections to blues and jazz slang, as well as the visual resemblance between guitars and axes.

The term ‘axe’ has been used by musicians for decades, adding a certain mystique to the instrument. Whether it’s due to its powerful sound, the way it cuts through a musical arrangement, or simply the way it looks, the nickname ‘axe’ continues to be a fitting and intriguing moniker for the guitar.


Leave a Comment