The History of the Guitar

The History of the Guitar

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The History of the Guitar


Four hundred years ago the guitar was invented. Since then, guitar has been a great innovative instrument. It serves as the heart of a song, or sound. From Jazz, and Blues, to Heavy Metal, and punk music guitar has been perhaps the biggest factor in modern music. Between acoustic guitar, and electric guitar there is a lot of history.

When guitar was first invented, it looked nothing like the guitars that we know. The first guitars were lutes. Lutes evolved into vihuelas, and later became the guitar in the fifteenth century. The first guitar was called the four-coarse guitar. It was called the four-course guitar because it only had four strings. It also had a strange tuning rather than the usual D-G-B-E tuning it was tuned to C-F-A-D which is a tone lower. Later, in the sixteenth century the five course guitar. Although the five-course is basically a four-course with an extra string, that string (low E) becomes very important in today’s style of playing. Also it had frets, frets are the lines on the guitar that make the different notes. It was believed to be invented in Spain. Early music sheets were written in tablature, similar to today.

Later, in the eighteenth century the five-course guitar evolved in to the most popular model, the six-string guitar. Eventhough it’s not certain were exactly the six-string originated from it is said to originate from, France, Italy, or Germany. The first classical six-strings were considered to be very beautiful. The new guitar design led to different ways the guitar could be played. The new guitars gave birth to the “Floating arm” technique, which allowed the guitarists right arm to pivot from the elbow, but the strings were still only plucked using the thumb, index, and middle finger. The practice of using the ring finger along with other fingers was introduced in the nineteenth century. The golden age of guitars were considered to be in eighteen hundreds when England adopted the guitar after a visit from Fernando Sor, one of the grates in early guitar, along with Matteo Carcassi, and Dionysio Aquado, all European guitarists who had a big effect on the technique of guitars today. The father of modern guitar is said to be Antonio de Torres Jurado who is known as a classical guitarist who modernized the guitar.

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He modernized the guitar by improving its tone, and increasing the sheer amount of sound that could be produced on it. This enabled guitarists to be heard in concert halls.

The twentieth- century guitar came with the arrival of new non-Spanish guitars, and guitar makers. The new guitars were coming from Germany, Spain, England, and America. The new innovative design used better woods in the body, and neck. With a new kind of soundboard, and new features of volume, that was possible because of the new woods that were being used. Acoustic guitars were the new kind of guitars that revolutionized sounds, and style. These new acoustic guitars had a great sound with the new materials being used, and the sleeker design. New guitar companies started emerging in the early nineteen hundreds that perfected the making of acoustic guitars. Gibson, Martin, and National were some of the new guitar makers. Materials also were very important to the making of the guitar. The wood is probably the most important out of all. The wood has to be allowed to “settle”, which means that it has to loose most of its natural moisture. Many varieties of woods are used to make guitars from cedar to timber, each for a different tone. Acoustic guitars became the main focus in country, and folk music. One famous guitar player that used acoustic guitars was Roy Rogers, a southern county singer.

Later, in the mid-nineteen hundreds the most revolutionary guitar ever came to be. The electric guitar; Solid-body guitars with tone, and volume control, pick-up selector switch, and pick-ups. Some of the first electric guitars were by Gibson, and Fender. One of Fenders first solid-body models was the telecaster. The telecaster had all the features that a solid-body guitar should have with a sleek design. A short while after the telecaster made its debut, the Gibson Les Paul model came on the scene. With a fixed tailpiece, raised pick-guard, two single coil pick-ups, and a position pick-up selector switch. Guitarists such as Slash, and Eric Clapton all used Gibson Les Paul’s. Other Gibson guitars that made a huge impact on guitars were the Gibson double-neck that reached its peak of popularity in the seventies. The double-neck was one six-string guitar on the bottom, and one twelve-string guitar on the top. Guitarists like Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin used this guitar.

Hardware is also very important in your sound. You could have the best guitar there is, but if you amplification is bad so will your sound be. Top of the line amplifiers comes from brands like Marshall, and Mesa Boogie. The early amps were tube amps, which meant that they were powered by tubes in the back of the amp. Later effects came along. The new effects were reverberation, echo, distortion, and the wah-wah. With out these effects modern rock music would be very different. The distortion pedal was invented by Gary Hurst, and made famous by Jeff beck, and Eric Clapton. Distortion allowed for a fuzzy, heavy sound that if used right can create more depth to a guitar. The wah-wah pedal made famous by Jimi Hendrix allowed for a sound that almost sounded like a cry or a “wah”.

By the 1950’s the electric guitar was becoming very popular. With all the guitar companies making guitars, a few guitars became more popular than others did. Some of these guitars were the Fender Telecaster, with a great twang sound. The fender stratocaster, the stratocaster came after the telecaster but had an even bigger effect. With what we now call a “popular” body design the stratocaster is probably the most popular guitar today. Another popular guitar was, and still is, the Gibson Les Paul. Used by guitarists like Neil Young, and Slash. An old Gibson Les Paul today can sell for a whopping fifty eight thousand dollars!

The guitar is a very important part in music today. Without it, music as we know it would be completely different. From B.B. King, to Slash, guitarists became idols to some people. A billion dollar business, guitar is now one the most popular instruments in the world, and in my opinion it will stay that way for a long time.


















B I B L I O G R A P H Y


“30 Players that Changed the Way we Sound.” Guitar One. December 1997

Burrows, Terry. “The Complete Encyclopedia of the Guitar.” Schirmer Books, 1998. New York

The Electric Guitar. Lemelson Center for the study of Invention and Innovation. 12-21-99. http://www.si.edu/organiza/museums/nmah/lemel/guitars/

Gore, Joe “Elements of Cheese: a Crash course in 6-String Tackiness.” Encarta 1996

“Guitar Player Greats.” Guitar Player. March 1997

“Guitar Player Scrapbook.” Guitar Player. January 1997
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