Hello and welcome! The history of the guitar has spanned thousands of years and is quite prevalent in today’s culture. From ancient cities to the sold out arenas and concerts of today, the guitar has shaped music history throughout the world. So take a journey through the evolution of this amazingly, diverse instrument of time.
Many believe that the guitar originated from the lute. Though they share some of the same ancestors, this is false. In fact, guitars have more in common with the ancient instruments known as bowl harps and tanburs. Archaeologists have discovered these four thousand year old ancestors in areas where Sumerian, Babylonian, and Egyptian civilizations resided.
Bowl harps were usually created from turtle shells and calabashes for resonation. The neck of the bowl harp was curved. Gut or silk were used for strings. The tanbur had a longer, flat neck. This was so the strings could be pressed down to create more notes. The body of the tanbur was also pear or egg-shaped, closer to the shape of the modern guitars that we see today.
Tanburs began to evolve throughout many countries making their way to Europe. They became known as chartar or chitarras. This is derived from Sanskrit; “char” meaning four and “tar” meaning strings. Italians were the first to add additional strings to their guittarra battente. In fact, the tuning for the guittara was A, D, G, B, and E, which are the same as the top five strings in guitars of today! The sixth string was finally added in the 1600s.
It wasn’t until 1850 that the guitar had finally found its classic shape and overall design. This was all thanks to Antonio Torres from Spain. Torres changed the proportion and increased the size of the body. He also was the creator of the fan-like top bracing pattern. These changes improved the volume, tone, and projection of the guitar. His design has survived for over 165 years with little or no change!
As these changes to the guitar were being made in Spain, other changes were being made in America. A German immigrant, Christian Fredrich Martin, began to develop an x-braced top for the guitars. This was because the steel strings being used in America created too much tension. The use of steel strings had also created a louder sound. Martin is known as the father of the American guitar.
At the turn of the century, Orville Gibson began experimenting with steel guitars. He built an arch top with oval sound holes and created the body more like that of a cello. This allowed the top to vibrate more freely, producing even louder volume. This prototype began the creation of the jazz guitar. Pick-ups were then added to these guitars in the 1920s, but really took off when Gibson created the ES150 in 1936.
Being able to amplify guitars meant that the soundbox was no longer needed. Les Paul experimented with designing solid-bodied guitars in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Of course, the first solid-body electric guitar to go into mass production was Leo Fender’s Telecaster in 1948. This has led to debates among guitar enthusiasts as to who really invented the first electric guitar.
Today guitars have taken over the world by storm. They even have their own category in music known as acoustic. The lyrical play of a six-string guitar has wooed many hearts; there is nothing like hearing a song written just for you. The exploding solos of electric guitar players have concert crowds screaming and chanting for more. It is the instrument of choice for solo artists from outdoor events to open-mic nights. Guitars are one of the few instruments that can not only be classically played, but can also bring forth the great sounds of modern rock-n-roll. So, whether you’re ready to rock or just sit back, relax, and hear a tale or two, the guitar may just be the instrument for you.