Do Musical Instruments Have Souls?

As musicians we are oftentimes considered to be some of the most soulful people on the planet, but do the instruments we love, play and cherish have souls of their own?

Ultimate Guitar

There is no doubt that all music has soul. Whether it's high speed shredding to soul music itself the sounds that we all create contain soul to one degree or another. Sometimes, while practicing I find myself wondering, what about the guitar I have in my hands? After all, without our instrument(s) there's no way we could make music. Instruments by thesaurus definition are a synonym to tools. But is your instrument more than just a hammer that can make pretty sounds with the right set of fingers? Well, that's what I hope to answer in this article.

First before we delve into the spirituality of the materials around us we should take a moment to develop a background on the relationship between materials and spirituality. The vast majority of aboriginal peoples present in North America and around the world believe in Animism. When I searched up the definition of Animism on Google I got two definitions, that Animism is "the attribution of a soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena" and that it is also the "the belief in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe." Considering that our guitars aren't getting up and walking about (I hope) it's safe to say they're definitely inanimate objects. In the traditional Native American beliefs every rock, plant and animal is considered to have a soul. By this belief, the rocks that contained the various ores used to make the metal on a guitar has a soul, the wood of a violin has a soul and the various plastic parts used on many different instruments has the soul of the fossil fuels used to create it. Then there is the question of the supernatural power that brought the parts and materials together to make the instrument you cherish. Whether you believe in God, the all-powerful Spaghetti Monster or nothing at all your instrument was brought together for a reason. For example Carlos Santana said that the guitars Paul Reed Smith first gave him "were an act of god." I personally am not religious, but believe that things happen for reason, though often times you need to make things happen as well if you want to be where you want to be. Regardless of religious views, our instruments are created to accomplish at least this one basic goal: to create music.

Though I somewhat know my way around a bass, enjoy fooling around on percussion and will sometimes try my luck at vocals, guitar is my great passion. To myself and to many other guitarists our instrument is an expressive one. It can sing, it can growl and it can even squeal. But the ability to express oneself on any instrument does not rely only on that instrument, but on that player's ability. Though you may aspire to play astonishing fusion melodies like Al di Meola, you probably won't come close if you've only been playing for a couple of months. This raises the question of whether to play with soul and expression requires technical ability. Personally I believe that it isn't a matter of pure technical ability but rather experience. If you spend hours on end almost everyday practicing one thing you should get pretty good at it. By developing this experience you can find your style and musical voice. If fast paced, sweep heavy shredding is your voice then by all means pursue it, but if simpler folk rock with smooth melodies is more your thing then pursue that instead. Still, this doesn't answer our main question, the soul of the instrument? The reason behind this paragraph is to develop what we truly use our instruments for. More to the point though, why do we end up loving the instruments we chose in the first place?

Consider this situation as a guitarist: you're trying any guitar that isn't yours (at least not yet), you play it and its exactly what you want, the frets, pickups and the wood create the sounds that express your emotions, this is the instrument for you. In this situation, the guitar has a character that matches yours perfectly. It's like you soul mate but it doesn't argue with you about it's parents. I've been in this situation before. I've owned a decent amount of guitars but the only ones that get a permanent place on the rack are those that I connect with, those that I can feel. This is why I believe that instruments have souls. They have character. I hate EMG pickups, but for others they're the best. As in most things in life what is perfect for you may not be perfect for someone else. It is in that first moment that you play the instrument that you feel it is right for you that you know no matter what you're going to walk away it's owner. I've had this experience and it definitely doesn't come with buyer's regret. 

As musicians when we look at a certain instrument, in my case a guitar, we think of what it sounds like, what it feels like and even what it acts like. We create a whole character for an instrument we haven't even played and probably won't ever see again. All humans do this to people too. Have you ever been on the metro (subway for those unfamiliar with Montreal jargon) and seen someone and started imagining what they're like, who they are? I've done this and probably so have you. To us musicians at least, we view our instruments as more than objects, but as an item that has it's own unique character.

For you skeptics who believe that music is more that a bunch of predetermined notes strung together consider this: singers use their vocal cords as instruments . The thing is that you can't just go into a music store and buy a brand new set of vocal cords (at least I hope not). The vocal cords are part of the human body. The vast majority of the world believes that we as humans have a soul in one way or another. Whether you are a devout Christian who feels part of the holy spirit or an atheist who chooses that their defining actions are chosen by oneself, your body in one way or another has a soul. Vocal cords are part of that body and a musical instrument at the same time. So if your body has a soul wouldn't your vocal chords have some of it as well? And if your vocal chords do have soul wouldn't that also make all other musical instruments have some form of soul? As I said earlier, I believe that the guitars I have downstairs do have their own souls, but what do you think? Share your thoughts and two cents in the comment section.

P.S. The silly screen name was automatically given through my email as it's a younger sibling's name for a gaming account.

Thanks for reading!

29 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I believe that a soul is a concept just as imaginary as dragons and spider man. I believe that everything that makes you you is just a bunch of chemistry and physics happening in your brain. So of course I believe that guitars have no soul. This was nevertheless an inspiring article, and the remark about the vocal cords was a nice idea. And there is nothing wrong with Cowzoid
    why ascribe "soul" to a guitar just because it has details that happen to match your style? it's absolutely fine to romanticize it that way, but if you're also skeptic, you know you're lying to yourself.
    You do realize that "Soul" is like.. Used in the modern age to describe self-conciousness, righto?There's not ACTUAL souls. I completely get what you mean, but the article is so soiled in pseudo-philosohpical and religious babble, that it hardly provides anything of substance.And no, i am not up for a discussion about souls, or the benefits of homeopathy or whatever, so let's not go in that direction. Sorry for being rather harsh, but honestly.. I don't know. The words "Come on" springs to mind.
    I'd say that by itself, a guitar has a "hidden" potential to help you speak with passion, authority, clarity and emotion. What comes out of the instrument, of course, is up to the player. It could be pure cacophony or harmonic nirvana. The instrument is, of course, a work of art and a thing of beauty. You are the one who imbues it with your soul. The better player you are, the better you can pour your emotions, moods, and voice.
    An interesting concept, although I'd be more inclined to say each guitar has it's own individual character rather than an actual soul.
    no doubt that they have personalities of their own. im convinced that my one acoustic guitar has a demon residing within its wood, whom I happily tolerate because I like the evil riffs he causes to appear
    I can grasp this concept easily, but I feel that it really is the artist who gives the instrument its soul. I play many instruments. Drums for example. When I play on my kit it feels natural because I spent 8 years on it. I gave it my soul, because before it was just a wooden tool. Over time, that tool became an extension of me. But I never feel that way on another kit. Now my first guitar was a piece of wood. Nothing more. But the other guitars I got and learned on have so much personality. Mine. Even my used ones. So I think its the muisician who brings life to an instrument. But the instrument itself has the "spark" which allows its soul to show
    I like this interpretation of it a lot, that every instrument is still just a tool that could be used by anyone, but it has to have "something" in there that just connects uniquely to us in some way for it to truly be an extension of ourselves. Rather than instruments having souls of their own it could be that instruments are more receptive to certain people's "souls" and take them into themselves to become one with their owners.
    I think that the musical instruments have the potential of having a soul, but they are more like a tool, as you said in the first paragraph. The musician gives the instrument their soul, through their music, and the instrument amplifies that feeling from the musician through the instrument. Hard to put what I mean into words... Good article as well, thorough and interesting
    I'd like to say I don't believe anything has a soul, be it a human or an inanimate object. I think that's the case with most atheists but the way as well. The way thing I want to point out is that I don't see the logical connection here: body has soul, vocal chords part of body => vocal chords have soul, vocal chords are an instrument => any instrument has soul. The logical connection there fails a bit multiple times, even assuming the body has soul.
    "So if your body has a soul wouldn't your vocal chords have some of it as well? And if your vocal chords do have soul wouldn't that also make all other musical instruments have some form of soul?" If A=B then B=C?Nah.Other than that I thought you did a fine job of explaining your message and intent.
    Is mayonnaise an instrument...?
    it can be if you slap it around some, or if it's in a squirt bottle if to making farting noises...but does it have a soul? maybe that of the unborn chicken fetuses if it contains eggs...otherwise, i think it's just mayo.
    In my humble opinion they do have a soul but are less like soul mates and more like brothers/sisters. This is because you can have multiple instruments that you love and get along with perfectly. As soon as I played my Strat I knew i had to have it and its been by my side ever since. I visited a guitar show just out of interest to look at and try many guitars without any intention of buying one. That was 1.5 years ago and i played a '69 telecaster reissue that i loved from the first note and is the only guitar i have thought about buying ever since, if i had the money i would go out and get it right now. As guitar is my passion - i believe they do have souls. I also play a little bass, mandolin and rarely drums. I see them all to have their own personality, therefore, soul. Playing other peoples guitars is weird: they don't feel like they belong in my hands, its just no right. I can also see how people can look at them as tools only though.
    Yes, they do. And their souls are much more beatiful than most human beings' souls on this planet.
    I believe the guitar can be an extension of u some of the time,when things click and happen so naturally,kinda like we have our 1 fave instrument etc
    Ok this isn't a Guitar story BUT!! As a Saxophone player (as well as a guitarist) I remember one of the old horns I used to own and play used to have what I dubbed @mood swings@ during one point it would be an absolute nightmare and take loads of effort to get a good sound from it, then suddenly it would become an absolute dream to play and would deliver such a beautiful sound and tone. It kinda was frustrating at first, but even my band mates got used to it in the end, they even gave her the nick-name of @Mona Lisa Sax@ cuz of these mood swings that she had
    ben leonardo
    Can u send formula Yngwie Malmsteen's Scale Fingering Patterns to my email. I hope ....
    an instrument, much like the writer of this article, is nothing more than a tool. the "soul" is within the bearer of their instrument. without the player, it's just a chunk of wood and/or metal and/or plastic...that is all.