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American Instruments / American Music

Fourth of July fireworks behind the Washington Monument, 1986I am writing today’s article on the 4th of July, our Independence Day. Time again to celebrate The United States of America. And for it is time to celebrate America’s contribution to music and musical instruments. Where would music be without us?


Guitar of eddie lang L5The Guitar. The guitar wasn’t invented in the U.S. but you might say it was perfected here.

  • Martin Guitars developed X-bracing for flattop guitars.
  • The whole concept of steel guitar (lap steel, pedal steel and so on) can probably be traced to the invention of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar.
  • The archtop guitar was invented by Gibson. Gibson also invented f-holes in guitars and putting a truss rod into the neck of steel string guitars.
  • All three variations of resonator guitars were invented John Dopyera and brothers. These are the Tricone, the Single Cone “biscuit” bridge guitar and the Dobro style with a single cone having a “spider” bridge.
  • The electric guitar was invented here as well as the solid body electric guitar.
  • Modern popular music wouldn’t be the same without the electric bass, an invention of Leo Fender.

Gibson-mandolin-orchestraThe Mandolin. The mandolin, like the guitar, came to America from Europe. Not invented here. But again, the modern instrument that is popular in so many types of music now, was perfected here by Gibson company. Indeed, Gibson was founded by investors who bought the rights for a patent that improved mandolins from Orville Gibson then named the company for him.

  • Gibson developed the archtop mandolin,
  • added f-holes to the mandolin and finally
  • created the F-style mandolin.

Barnes & Mullins BanjoThe Banjo. The banjo as a concept or type of instrument is very old and was introduced into this country by African slaves. However, the development of the instrument we recognize today as a modern banjo was made here in a America. The details are a bit murky on who did what and when. For example, Joel Walker Sweeney of The Sweeney Minstrels is often given credit for the 5th string on a 5 string banjo, yet we know this isn’t correct. He can take credit perhaps for popularizing the use of a fifth string. But for today the important thing is, it happened in America.

UkuleleThe Ukulele. The ukulele was originally the machete, a Portuguese instrument brought by immigrants to Hawaii. But the modern ukulele that has achieved worldwide popularity evolved and matured on Hawaii, the 50th State of these United States.


There are almost too many musical types that originated here to enumerate. But here’s an attempt to list the basic types of music that began in the United States.

So, here’s to America. Music wouldn’t be the same without us.

3 thoughts on “American Instruments / American Music”

  1. A good list.
    I’d like to also mention American Robert Moog who invented the synthesizer. See N.I.N. ELP prog-rock in general. etc.

    On a lesser note. Benjamin Franklin invented The Glass Harmonica. An incredible sounding instrument which you can find examples of on youtube.

  2. The drum kit was invented in the United States with invention of a bass drum pedal by an African American man who was a New Orleans Second Line Drummer. None of American music as it happened would have without this.

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