Fact Check

Does Pic Show Albert Einstein Playing an Electric Guitar?

Digital editing strikes again.

Published Oct. 6, 2015

Updated Oct. 7, 2022
Did Albert Einstein play the electric guitar, or is this picture a fake?
Did Albert Einstein play the electric guitar, or is this picture a fake?
A photograph shows Albert Einstein playing an electric guitar.

For years, a photo supposedly showing Albert Einstein playing an electric guitar has circulated online.

We tend to think of Einstein purely as a man of science, the towering genius of the 20th century who spent most of his life steeped in mathematics and physics while he probed the mysteries of the universe.

But a less well-known facet of Einstein’s life is that he was also a gifted and enthusiastic violinist and pianist who often sought solace in music, both as a performer and a listener. Indeed, he once asserted that had he not been a scientist, he would have been a musician:

“Life without playing music is inconceivable for me,” he declared. “I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music. I get most joy in life out of music.”

Einstein’s mother, Pauline, was a talented pianist who brought music to life in the family home. Albert began to learn the violin at the age of six, while his family was still living in Munich. However, he toiled under unimaginative tuition until discovering the joys of Mozart’s sonatas at the age of 13. From that point on, although he had no further lessons, his violin remained his constant companion.

When Einstein moved to Aarau in Switzerland in 1895 to complete his schooling, he seemed to have devoted a good deal of his time to music. It is recorded that he worked hard on the Brahms G-major violin sonata in order to get the full benefit from a visit to Aarau of the great violinist Joseph Joachim, on whose program it appeared.

Just before his 17th birthday, Einstein played at a music examination in the cantonal school. The inspector reported that “a student called Einstein shone in a deeply felt
performance of an adagio from one of the Beethoven sonatas." In addition to his prowess on the violin, he also played the piano and, in particular, loved to improvise.

So although it’s not inconceivable that Einstein might have been photographed noodling around on a musical instrument, it is extremely unlikely that that instrument would have been an electric guitar. Einstein was a violinist and sometime pianist; there is no record of his ever giving the guitar a try.

Moreover, Einstein’s musical tastes were decidedly conservative, favoring Bach and Mozart while eschewing contemporary composers such as Wagner, so he almost certainly would not have favored any form of music that one would be likely to play on the type of instrument he’s pictured holding here.

In any case, we don’t have to speculate about Einstein’s musical interests because this picture is clearly a photograph of the Mississippi guitar legend and bluesman known as T-Model Ford, into which someone has inserted an image of the famed scientist’s head:


This article was updated to meet Snopes' current formatting standards on Oct. 7, 2022.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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