Axe Guitars

by | Mar 12, 2021 | Guitars, Musical Instruments

Axe Guitars: What makes them so popular?

While playing guitar, you must have come across the term ” Axe “ either in online store or anywhere else, that is often used to describe electric guitars.

Like me, you must have been confused as to why guitarists would consider electric guitar as an axe guitar.

At first, I thought it was a common nickname for electric guitar, but when I started exploring the reasons, I came across the actual causes.

Although no one can authenticate what is the original reason.



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The Origin of The Term Axe


The Origin of The Term Axe


Basically, the term Axe came into light during the year 1955, and it was initially a jazz slang for saxophone. 

Many jazz players used to call saxophone as sax, and gradually with time, the term sax got replaced by Axe as both the words rhymed the same. 

In the later stage, when saxophone players gradually shifted to electric guitars, it was that time some musicians started calling electric guitars as an axe guitar. 

Although it is an old term, many people still consider electric guitar as an axe guitar.


Why Electric Guitars Are Considered As An Axe

Electric Guitar


Nowadays, when the etymology “Axe” comes into the question, they are always linked to electric guitar. 

The main reason why Axe is used to describe electric guitars is that many guitars look almost similar to an axe with six strings attached to it. 


If you look at guitars used in metal and heavy rock genres, you will find numerous visual similarities to an actual axe. 

The famous Gibson SG guitars look almost similar to the Axe used by executioners, and this design serves as one of the primary reasons behind etymology.

The Axe became more associated with guitars when Gene Simmons from famous rock band KISS designed a bass guitar with a double-headed battle axe.

Back then, Gene Simmons was a big name in the music industry special in the metal scene, so his use of axe guitar gave the Axe etymology a concrete shape in the music industry.  

In the past few years, the axe term became more popular in the community when people started associating the word Axe with guitarists who performed exceptionally well. 

Many users often include “slayed” and “axe” in their social media comments when they see guitarists playing solos remarkably. 


For many years, guitarists have associated guitars with axes because both guitar and Axe come with a long wooden neck along with a large, broad end. 

Some guitarists often consider jamming and practicing with guitar as woodshedding because axes are used for cutting woods.

Guitarists always prefer going out to a quiet place like woodshed for practicing, so this is how the guitars developed a connection with woodshedding. 

Since most of the beginner musicians used to go out in the woods and learn their instruments in peace, the term woodshedding became more associated with jazz and blues musicians.  

Many experts suggest that the term “Axe” might have been picked up from illegal lottery rings in the 30s. 

The mafia or gangsters in those times used to refer to their machine guns as Axe. When they carried it in their bags, it seemed like they were carrying an electric guitar. 

So the musicians tried to replicate the flamboyance by calling their instruments, especially guitar, as “Axe.”  

There was a time when rock and metal enthusiasts were highly influenced by the Viking and Barbarian culture of the old times. These communities mostly utilized “axe” as their primary weapon. 

So for metal and rock communities, guitars were their primary instrument, so they started referring to their guitar as an Axe.  


Back in the 40s and 50s, Jive had a massive influence in the music industry, and they were responsible for devising numerous musical slangs. 

The Jive language gave the birth of popular musical slangs like Gig, Groovy, Noodling, Chops, etc., so experts speculate that Axe also came into existence from Jive. 

Some people even think Axe served as an essential tool during the 50s, so guitarists may have inherited that term as guitars were vital to them.  

Many famous guitarists follow the tradition of smashing their guitar on the ground at the end of their solos or show. 

The way they smashed their electric guitars was quite similar to how an axe is used for chopping woods. 

So this practice serves as one of the reasons that electric guitars are often considered as an Axe. 

When rock music started gaining popularity in society, people started using different terminology for different guitar performances. For example, if some played a solo exceptionally well, they have “murdered” or “killed” the part, or when a guitar has stunned the crowd, then they have “slayed” them. 

All the famous and legendary guitarists were considered as “beasts,” while their great riffs in different songs were regarded as “killer.”  


Axe or Ax? Which Term is Correct?


Axe or Ax? Which Term is Correct?


So Axe is the term that is mostly used by people to describe the guitar, and hardly anyone associates the term Ax with guitars.

Although both Axe and Ax are correct, Ax is primarily popular in the US.

While the term Axe is accessible outside the US, mostly in the European countries, the spelling “Ax” has also become popular outside the US in the past few decades.


Like most etymology in the music community, no one really knows the actual reason that how guitar got associated with Axe. 

  • Some speculate it was the transition of the saxophone to sax, and then Axe could lead to the association of guitars with Axe. 
  • While some feel woodshedding and smashing of the guitar were the main reasons. 
  • Basically, no one could firmly tell you the main reason behind the existence of the term.

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