Google Guitar: Tunes, Tricks, & Torture

And now! For your Googly Tricky pleasure, one of the most popular Google Doodles ever, in honor of Les Paul’s 96th Birthday, the extremely playable Google Guitar. This is just one of Google’s many interactive doodles that sucked hours of time from our lives, replacing them with joy (or something). Enjoy (or en-something).

When Google engineers put together one of their interactive temporary logos—or Google Doodles — it’s always impressive. They’ve turned the homepage into a navigable submarine and a Pac-Man arcade game, for example.

But on June 9th, 2011, Google transformed its unsuspecting web searchers into Guitar Heroes, and they never turned back. For your pleasure and convenience (or in Google terms, “user experience”) we’ve put the fully-functional, playable and recordable Google Guitar right here, so that all you wannabe rock stars can mouse them strings and git rockin’.


The digital simulation of a Les Paul electric guitar, in honor of what would have been the musician and inventor’s 96th birthday, remains one of the most beloved and revisited of all the site’s doodles. And for good reason, since the guitar is a fast-responding, fully playable guitar roughly in the shape of the Google logo. Add the fact that users can record and share the tunes they create, and it’s downright addicting.

More than just a goof, the Google Guitar Doodle boasts 10 strings, with one note on each, ranging from low G to a high B. You can play each string or combination of strings by plucking or strumming over them with the mouse cursor. But it also gives the option to play individual notes using the numbers on the keyboard, which makes it a bit easier to play or compose songs.

Songs played on the guitar are also recordable and sharable. By hitting the record button below the graphic, users can record up to 30-second-long tracks. Once the recording stops, either by hitting the button again or running out of time, a unique URL is displayed links to the user’s song.

To honor the hall-of-fame inductee, Google designers Kristopher Hom, Joey Hurst and doodle team lead Ryan Germick used a combination of JavaScript, HTML5 Canvas (used in modern browsers to draw the guitar strings), CSS, Flash (for sound) and tools like the Google Font API, and App Engine.

The result was a fitting tribute to the musician and relentless tinkerer himself. Paul is the inventor who created the solid body electric guitar, which revolutionized rock and roll and is still the basis for most rock bands. In addition to his most commonly recognized contribution to music, his guitars, he also did a lot of work developing modern music recording techniques, including the practice of multi-track recording, which allows musicians to layer recorded sounds over each other in the studio.

Many musicians still play Les Paul guitars today, and he’s forever remembered as a devoted musician, artist and quirky maker with a never-ending curiosity. You can see why the Google team found him such an important figure to pay tribute to with such a special doodle.

Almost immediately after the logo was posted on June 9, 2011, the guitar was a hit across the Internet. Users were sharing it relentlessly on social media, sending friends their compositions, and bloggers were publishing how-to guides and YouTube videos of the best songs so far.

Google posted the following update:

“Update Jun 17: Wow—in just 48 hours in the U.S., you recorded 5.1 years worth of music—40 million songs—using our doodle guitar. And those songs were played back 870,000 times!”

In fact, the productivity site RescueTime conducted an analysis of its users’ time spent on the doodle during its 48-hour original posting, and extrapolated that the world spent 5.3 million hours playing the Google Guitar! The site estimated that the average user spent about 26 seconds (not quite a full song recorded) more time at Google than on a usual day. That adds up to the equivalent of an estimated $134 million in lost productivity.

I think most desktop shredders would consider that time well spent. And the results were pretty impressive. Some of the songs mastered by Google Guitar users were:

  • Iron Man, by Black Sabbath
  • Billy Jean, by Michael Jackson
  • Ode To Joy, from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9
  • One, by Metallica
  • Here Comes the Sun and Hey Jude, by the Beatles

And one band, The Knight Owls, recorded an original song in six hours, using and inspired by the Google Doodle.

So how do you play?

1. Each string is a note, not surprisingly. Toward the left side of the doodle, from top to bottom, the notes are:

  • C, E, G
  • (the string across the middle), B, G, B
  • And on the right side: A, D, F#, A

2. The keyboard can be used to play the notes, using the number keys, but also each letter directly below will play the same note as well. For example, 1, Q, A, Z will all play the same string (the G across the center of the doodle). The notes are assigned as follows, starting with the lowest G and moving higher.

  • 1 = G
  • 2 = A
  • 3 = B
  • 4 = C
  • 5 = D
  • 6 = E
  • 7 = F#
  • 8 = G
  • 9 = A
  • 0 = B

3. You can also strike multiple keys at once to play some basic chords. For the musically challenged, playing different combinations of notes together forms a chord. Imagine a chorus of singers, each hitting a different note create one full, warm sound. Here are a few chords:

  • G Major = 1, 3, 5
  • C Major = 4, 6, 8
  • D7 Major = 4, 5, 7, 9 (inverted for Google guitar)

4. Songs! Here are a few number sequences to play some basic songs:

  • Twinkle Twinkle Little star: 1155665 4433221 5544 332 5544332 1155665 4433221
  • The Godfather theme tune: 3-6-8-7-6-8-6-7-6-4-5-3
  • Duelling banjos: 7 8 9 7 8 6 7 5 6 7 8 9 7 8 6 7 5 62 5 5 6 7 5 7 6 5 5 5 8 5
  • Smoke On The Water: 2-4-5 2-4-6-5 2-4-5 4-2

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