Guitar History

"Guitar History - A glorious 5000 year love story..."

Although the history of guitar stretches back into "the mists of time", there has been enough documentation of the journey over the years to give a very clear picture of just why and how it developed. See the guitar time line here...

The main developments of the history of guitar came about because of the composers, players and instrument makers of each generation impacting on one another. They were continuously evolving the instrument right up to the present day. They were all influenced by the times in which they lived. This was duly reflected in the different styles of playing and accompanying, and styles and taste of their craftsmanship.

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In the overall picture of guitar history and its subsequent development, the effect of the rulers and marauders of many great nations and peoples also must be considered e.g. the Moors. They caused the spread of the guitar over a wide area over a long period of time.

The guitar though, was an instrument of pleasure, and as such was there, in all of its forms, to give pleasure and gratification to all within earshot! Indeed, its evocative and sensuous nature has always been able to seduce. Surely, only the most emotionally cold person could resist the charms of a guitar. For centuries past the guitar, or one of its close relatives, have been bewitching all who "inclined their ears".

Imagine the ancients of Egypt, Rome and Greece on balmy nights plucking their instruments and setting the mood. Captivating, with the "siren-like sounds" of a plucked or strummed stringed instrument. The men and women (mostly of the well-to-do classes!) whose only thought was of pleasure both aural and...ahem! (Excuse me! I got a little carried away).

My point is in terms of guitar history you can't consign or restrict it to just a lifeless, emotionless, written recount of its evolution. The guitar, indeed its history, has always been and always will be about passion, beauty and sensuousness. Yes, there is a very intellectual side to the study of the classical guitar and guitar history but that is not (or at least shouldn't be) an end in itself. It should be one of the "keys to set you free". On this point I let the eloquent and indeed romantic, Andres Segovia speak his mind and heart...

"If you look at a tree, the roots are fixed on the land, on the earth, and nevertheless the higher part of tree moves with the wind. That means it is necessary to have a great discipline and to fix this discipline, and then to move with the emotion of the moment".

Did You Know? - Guitar History Sidebar

Benjamin Franklin, the great scientist and diplomat has a place in guitar history as he was a keen player of the guitar...

When studying history of guitar it is interesting to note that... "even kings were partial to the guitar and its distant and near cousins. It is said King Henry 8th of England whiled the time away on a "gittern", a plucked instrument that has similarities to the modern classical guitar."

According to Maurice J. Summerfield in his excellent book on guitar history and evolution since 1800, there is some conjecture as to the guitar's origins.

Former beliefs seemed to suggest that the guitar developed from the Persian Ud, an ancient lute-like instrument (circa 1500 B.C.). Summerfield maintains that the Ud was the precursor of the lute, and, in fact, the Hittite Empire (roughly 1700 B.C. to 1000 B.C. in what is now Turkey) with their Tanbur was the true historical descendant of the modern day guitar.

In a timeline (using little graphics of each instrument) Summerfield details thirteen changes in guitar history and evolution from the ancient Persians and Hittites with their Tanbur's thru the Greeks, Romans and later the Moor's with the guitar morisca and the native Guitarra Latina. From there developed the vihuela and four course (another name for strings) guitar with its double strings on each "course". Then logically, the five course guitar, the six course guitar until, at around 1800 saw the introduction of the six single-string guitars.

Up until this point, they were often very ornate and even delicate where the use of very thin wood and inferior (by today's standards) methods of construction were employed. For example, the frets of these instruments were often tied on in bands that were movable so that music in different keys was possible to play.

What does this ornamentation say about the people of these times and what contribution did they make to the history of guitar? They were totally absorbed in their craft. Totally involved in a labour of love! True passion, a meditation on beauty itself for beauty's sake. When Torres came on the scene with his excellently crafted guitars in the 1880's, the guitar took another step up on the evolutionary guitar history ladder. They were now larger, more robust and with a "fuller" tone.

Indeed, the strength and design of his guitars were so good that little has changed to this day in the design of the six string classical guitar. He made guitars for many of the leading players of the time and even won a medal in an exhibition in Seville. The guitar in the twentieth century has "exploded" into a vast array of styles and sizes according to use and requirement. This varying of styles almost mirrors the schism of music itself last century until now you have virtually a different type of guitar for each type of music be it classical, rock, jazz etc.

Did You Know? - Guitar History Sidebar

The word fret is derived from an old French word ferrite', meaning "banded with iron"...

True to its name though, the classical guitar has remained virtually a constant in a stellar heaven of musical instruments. A shinning example of beauty, taste and craftsmanship! Its place in guitar history totally assured.

Here are some related links which you might find interesting...

Famous Guitar Composers

Famous Classical Guitar Players


Famous Classical Guitar Makers

Read about classical guitar making tradition here first...

Here's more information on the guitar...

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Welcome to LCG! I'm Trevor Maurice, owner of this site. I hope you find inspiration in these pages to help you with  your journey of learning to play the classical guitar. You can read more of my story here...


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