Electric guitar

How Automotive Design Has Influenced the Electric Guitar for Seven Decades | Guitare.com

Electric guitars exploded into public consciousness between the 1940s and 1960s, so it makes sense that many people designing instruments during this era were heavily inspired by the design of automobiles from this period.

After all, there are many parallels and crossovers between the attitude and style of rock ‘n’ roll and the brash rebellion of hot rod car culture at that time. And it surely didn’t detract from the fact that automotive design, particularly in the United States, was experiencing perhaps its boldest, most varied and timeless era – giving guitar designers the and now plenty of work with.


Although this article focuses primarily on modern design, since the birth of the solid-body electric guitar, it would be remiss not to mention that automotive design has influenced instrument design since the 1700s, as even some features of Stradivarius the instruments would perhaps have been influenced by the cars of the time.
But the 1950s after World War II marked a boom in innovative automotive engineering, particularly in the United States, as on the heels of companies like Fender and Gibson blazed the trail in the new market for electric guitars in solid body. Many great songs have been written about Rocket 88s, Hot Rod Lincolns and Deuce Coups. But hot rod culture has also inspired rock ‘n’ roll on deeper levels.

Hot Rodding: function over fashion

The idea of ​​”function over fashion” has ruled the hot rod industry ever since people discovered that going fast is fun. People didn’t remove the fenders from their vehicles because it looked cool, they did it to reduce weight and help cool the ever-modified engines used for racing. Various modifications were made to increase performance but then took on a life of their own and started to be a modification that people would do because the culture decided that it did cool look actually, and gave the vehicle a fashionable racing attitude.

An easy comparison in the guitar world would be Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstrat – a highly modified guitar that embodied the “function over fashion” mindset. It was both gross and ugly and cool as hell. What followed was a flurry of people mimicking the paint job and various modifications we see on this guitar. In this way, “function over fashion” inspired a whole generation of fashionable Super-Strats with wild paintwork.

Automotive designs on guitars


Any artist who embodies the spirit of rock and roll owes all of their style to the world of classic cars, whether it’s look, attitude, sound or soul. Artists like James Hetfield, Brian Setzer, Social Distortion, ZZ Top and the whole rockabilly genre are great examples.

Automobiles have long been an icon of the freedom to move around and explore all the world has to offer. A musical instrument, like a guitar, represents for many of us a tool to navigate the deepest chasms of our creative minds. The two objects are inseparably linked by their most basic function.

Automotive designs on guitars

Colors & curves

The Fender Jazzmaster was released in 1958 and featured curves and lugs evoking the lines of Buicks and Cadillacs of earlier years. In 1952, solid body guitars could be defined by the bulbous designs of the Telecaster and Les Paul models. These began to give way to the cleaner, sleeker Stratocaster shape in 1954, following the all-new automobile models of 1953, which included the Chevrolet Corvette, Cadillac Eldorado and Buick Skylark – all featuring a design sleeker with cleaner bodywork. lines. In 1958, Gibson introduced the Explorer and Flying V models, which also featured features reminiscent of the increasingly common fender fins in the automotive industry, particularly those from Chrysler and Cadillac.

Automotive designs on guitars

The colors featured on Fender guitars in the late 1950s and early 1960s were taken directly from car manufacturers’ color catalogs in the late 1950s. Fiesta Red, for example, is also known as DuPont code 2219-H, which was the same color code used on 1956 Ford Thunderbird and Fairlane models. “Surf Green” was used by Chevy in 1957 and “Foam Green” was a color used by Buick in 1956. Colors like Lake Placid Blue (Metallic), Daphne Blue, Sonic Blue, Olympic White, Dakota Red and Metallic Firemist Gold and Silver were all Cadillac colors.

Interestingly enough, we still don’t know what color code Fender used for their black guitars at the time. Most people think it closely matches the black Corvettes used in 1954 and 1958 or the Cadillac in 1958. One of Fender’s most popular custom colors was Candy Apple Red, which was not a production color for automakers, but rather the idea of ​​a hot-rodder and car customizer named Joe Bailon.

Automotive designs on guitars

T-birds and Firebirds

Gibson was also no stranger to borrowing colors and curves from the automotive industry. Their Golden Mist color is a ’59 Oldsmobile color. The Goldtops used nitro polish with bronze crescent powder mixed in (Color ID #256 in case you were wondering…). When Gibson designed the Firebird, they brought in a consultant named Ray Dietrich, who was, by trade, an automotive designer who had designed automobiles for Packard and Lincoln, among others.

The continuous flowing lines of the neck through the guitar are reminiscent of the running boards that go up into the front fenders on his older models. He also later co-founded LeBaron Inc., which would install custom bodywork on a running chassis—some of the best pre-WWII custom cars came from LeBaron. Custom Firebirds between 1963-1969 took their colors directly from Oldsmobile and Cadillac catalogs [there was also Kerry Green, which was from the Buick catalogue and Ember Red, which was from Edsel].

Tyler Bryant's Flying V Banker

70 years of inspiration

The curves found on guitar designs, especially Fender models like the Stratocaster and Jazzmaster, were influenced not only by major automotive designers, but also by the futuristic fin work of designers like Virgil Exner’s “Forward Look.” which made the cars sleeker, smoother and more aggressive. An important element of his designs were fender fins, which are probably the most obvious contribution to Fender designs. These curves and features continue to inspire builders.

Automotive designs on guitars
Virgil Exner

A recent example is Echopark Guitars by Gabriel Currie, who recently created a line of guitars called the Exner series – you won’t be surprised to learn that these instruments are directly inspired by the innovative features Exner brought to the design world. automobile. These guitars are currently in the arsenals of Troy Van Leeuwen and Joe Perry, proving that the automotive designs of yesteryear still influence the design of musical instruments today.

Automotive designs on guitars
Exner Natas by Richard Fortus

To all the great automotive designers, the guitar industry owes a debt of homage and gratitude, for the inspiration, the color and the curves, the attitude, the function and the fashion that define our industry.

For more features, click here. Learn about the history of other guitar makers here.