Nowadays we have many different types of guitar, however the instrument has a fascinating history, as the guitar’s true origin has never been conclusively proven. Similar stringed instruments evolved over the years, but we do know that the guitar as we know it developed in Spain.
Because the lute was a popular stringed instrument during the Renaissance, many believed that the guitar developed from it, however this now is thought to be incorrect; it is now believed that the true ancestors of the guitar are the oud, and notably the Tanbur, which is ‘a stringed instrument from ancient Mesopotamia described as having a small egg or pear shaped body, with an arched or round back, usually with a soundboard of wood or hide, and a long, straight neck’. Ancient paintings in Egypt depict the existence of the Tanbur approximately 4,000 years ago.
The guitarra latina was a late medieval period instrument that had four strings. This was similar to the vihuela de mano, which was another popular stringed instrument from the Renaissance, which had six or seven double courses of strings. Nowadays, a vihuela is the name of a larger instrument of the modern guitar family, well known for being part of mariachi bands.
The original guitar (guitarra latina) developed from the 16th Century, with the addition of a fifth course of strings, and a sixth was added by the 18th Century. In the late 1700s, the guitar became more familiar to the instrument we know today, as the strings had evolved from the double courses into six single strings, using the same standard tuning we still have today (E A D G B E).
Antonio Torres (Antonio de Torres Jurado) is credited as being fundamental in the 19th Century developments that created the ‘modern’ classical guitar, and he is often referred to as the most important guitar maker because of this. Torres developed the shape of the body, also realising the vital importance of the soundboard; he realised the size, wood quality, weight, shape and strength of the soundboard are integral to producing a good sound.
Torres’ design has been largely unchanged since the 1800s, and was instrumental in the spreading of the new shape worldwide; the European immigrants heading to America with the instrument then ensured it reached the hands of Christian Frederick Martin, a German-American luthier who developed and adapted the design into what we now know as the acoustic guitar. The body of the acoustic guitar needed more bracing in the shape of an X to support the extra tension created by steel strings – these replaced catgut and nylon and were a means of seeking added volume.
After the acoustic guitar, the next design development was the creation of the jazz guitar, which had a body design more like a cello. This development was another attempt to project more volume from the guitar again.
The electric guitar was first created in the late 1920s but was not an immediate success; though pickups were added to jazz guitars, and even Hawaiian guitars, it wasn’t until 1936 that they really took off. Their popularity was largely thanks to the jazz guitarist Charlie Christian endorsing and playing a Gibson ES-150. The ES stands for Electric Spanish, and the 150 refers to the USD price of the ‘bundle’ of guitar, amp and lead. Though the technology and design of electric guitars has changed over the years since, the ES range of Gibson guitars are still going strong today.
The Hawaiian guitar, also known as a lap steel guitar, is a similar instrument musically speaking – it has the same strings and intonation as a normal guitar, but it is designed to be played flat across the performers’ lap or on attachable legs (like a table). This playing technique is subsequently very different, and the instrument has a distinctive tone compared to others in the fretted string family.
With the invention of the electric guitar followed the electric bass guitar, and it is believed the first was designed created by Paul Tutmark in the 1930s in America. In a similar fashion to the electric guitar’s popularity and usage, the success of the bass only really took off with the Fender Precision bass in 1951. The Fender P went onto become the industry standard, and is still the most used model of bass guitar to this day.
Whichever types of guitar you play, the PlayScore 2 app should be in your musical toolkit. The app will read and playback your sheet music, so you can learn and practice pieces interactively, improve your sight reading, and even digitise and convert your music to other formats.
A Brief History of the Guitar
Britannica – Guitar
Wiki – Acoustic Guitar
History of the Guitar
The 10 Best Electric Guitar Brands, Compared and Explained