Evolution of the Guitar

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Planning to take guitar lessons? Then here is a historical background of the instrument which will help you understand the instrument better and reap maximum benefits out of your guitar lessons.

Guitar is over 4000 years old, and its origin can be traced back to Greeks. The word came from a Greek word ‘Kithara’. According to Greek mythology Hermes was the first one to create the instrument by using a tortoise shell. The instrument had a wooden soundboard and the body was shaped like a box. It also had a resonator and two hollow arms connected by a crossbar, extended from the resonator. Guitar originally has just three strings running from the crossbar to its lower end, passing over a bridge on the soundboard. It was only the later versions which had 8 or even 12 strings. Its strings were played with a plectrum, which was an early version of the pick. The player would sometimes dampen unwanted strings.

By 15th and 16th centuries, musicians from Spain started to favour instruments which had a familiar curved shape we now know as guitars. These guitars were known as Baroque guitars. Further adjustments in this instrument, such as movable frets, made it easier to play the guitar. The Spanish had the standard body type which resembles the modern guitar by the 1790’s. The only flaw in these instruments was that they were pretty small. But this changed in mid-1800’s when Spanish musician and guitar maker Antonio de Torres Jurado created the style of guitar that gave rise to the modern-day guitar style. His guitars had broadened body, thinned belly and increased curve at the waist. He replaced wooden tuning pegs with machined heads. His design gave his classical guitars their distinctive and rich voice. 

German-American guitar maker, Christian Frederick Martin, created the flat top acoustic guitar. He replaced the fan bracing with X-bracing which helped the guitar’s body to handle the stress of modern-day steel strings. These new tight steel strings also required the guitarists to change their playing styles and use picks more often. This changed the music style which was fundamentally played on these instruments. Melodies on a classical guitar are delicate and precise, but the music played on steel strings was more chord driven and bright. 

Many inventors were working towards creating an electric version of the instrument. Les Paul pioneered the solid electronic guitar body which was made by Gibson Guitars. The first patent for the electric guitar was won in 1931 by George Beauchamp and his partner Adolph Rickenbacker. Fender telecaster and Gibson Les Paul together worked to evolve the solid body of an electronic guitar which are used even today.

So, this was a brief history of a guitar. It truly has a rich and long history. Knowing the history of any instrument helps you connect with your instrument more and understand its dynamic. Therefore, go through the above information not only increase your knowledge but also to impress the teacher in your very first guitar lesson!