Guitar History

Guitar History

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The guitar is a fretted, stringed instrument, and is a member of the lute family. It originated in Persia and reached Spain during the twelth-century, where it¹s versatility as both a solo and accompanying instrument were established. The theory of the guitar was discovered in the early centuries. They found that the sound of a bowstring could be enhanced by attaching a resonating chamber -most like a tortiseshell- to the bow. From the bow came essentially three main types of stringed instruments: the Harp family, which was the sound of plucked strings indirectly transmitted to an attached sound box. The second was the Lyre family, which was strings of a fixed pitch are attached to the directly to a sound chamber. And the third was the Lute family, this was were the pitch of strings was altered by pressing them against a neck that is attached directly to a sound chamber. Within the Lute family came two groups. The lutes proper which had rounded backs and the guitar type instruments with their flat backs.

Guitar-shaped instruments appear in stone bas-relief sculptures of the hittites in northern Syria and Asia Minor from as far back as 1350 B.C.

The word guitar also has origins in the middle and far east, deriving from gut, is the Arabic word for four, and tar, the Sanskrit word for string. The earliest European guitars did have four courses of gut strings. A


course is a pair of strings tuned in unison. These early guitars were distinguished from lutes by body sides that curved inward to form a waist and by four courses of strings. Some but not all early guitars had a flat back, while lutes always had a flat back. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance the lute was the dominant fretted instrument. The lute with was pear-shaped and had five or more courses of strings was generally regarded as a higher class of instrument. By 1546 the guitar had gained enough popularity to merit the publication of a book of guitar music. By this time guitars had added another course, and modern tuning had come into existence. Chord positions were the same as they are today. The frets of the early guitars were made of gut and tied around the neck. This made placement of frets very difficult. The early guitars were also much shorter in length than todays guitars.

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The second most popular instrument during the Middle ages was the cittern. It was more like the modern guitar than any other during that time. It had metal strings, fixed frets, a fingerboard that extended onto the top, a flat back, and a movable bridge with strings anchored by a tailpiece; and it was played with a quill or plectrum(pick). But this modern instrument soon lost its popularity and disappeared by the late 1600¹s. Through the 1600¹s and 1700¹s the guitar design changed very little, although interest increased around luthiers.

In the 1770¹s the first guitars with six single strings appeared,


blowing the evolutionary lid off the instrument. Within the next few decades, numerous innovations followed: body waists became narrower and body bouts changed shape, becoming circular in northern Europe and more oval shaped in southern Europe. Inlaid frets of brass or ivory replaced the tied on gut frets and the neck was extended one full octave(12 frets) clear of the body. Metal tuners with machine heads began to replace friction pegs, and strings were anchored by bridge pins, replacing the method of tying strings to the bridge. By the 1820¹s most of the fingerboard extended all the way to the soundhole. As rapidly as the guitar changed so did it¹s acceptance. By the 1800¹s the Lute had all but disappeared.

One of the best known makers of this new-style of guitar was Johann Georg Staufer of Vienna. Staufer and another maker Johann Ertel in 1822 designed a fingerboard raised off the top of the guitar, and experimented with different fret metals, settling on an alloy of brass,copper,silver, and arsenic.

The first half of the 19th century was a time of great experimentation for the guitar. And many of the innovations that were credited to 20th century makers were actually tried a century earlier. Some of them included: The peghead with all six tuners on one side and scroll shape at the top, which is now common of the fender guitars was tried in the 1800¹s by Staufer. Gibson came out with the raised


fingerboard in 1922. Actually it was done exactly 100 years earlier by Staufer and Ertel. In 1988 Fender introduced a scalloped fingerboard on one of it¹s models. Again this had been done in the first half of the 1800¹s. Artist endorsement models like the Les Paul, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Chet Atkins model¹s, which were of huge success had already been thought of and done like the Luigi Legnani model by Staufer in 1820.

In the early 20th century guitars began to develop into what we know today. In 1903 the first Gibson catalog assured that instruments would be made of woods with the most durable, elastic and sonorous qualities such as maple, mahogany, vermilion, and suitable woods. They settled on maple but only the high-end mandolins were made of maple. It wasn¹t until the mid-to-late1920¹s, when they finally began to make them with maple wood. During the early 1900¹s Gibson and a company out of Chicago, the Larson brothers were the only ones whose instruments were built for steel strings. The others were still made for gut. From the 1850¹s to the 1920¹s , a variety of new guitar designs surfaced, some were outlandish and some were ideas whose time would not arrive until decades later like the Gibson carved top guitar and the Larson Brothers steel-stringed flat top which were both turn-of-the-century innovations.

The guitar rested on an evolutionary plateau from the 1850¹s into the 1920¹s, at least in part to the perfection of C.F Martin¹s design. This was partly because the guitar was secondary instrument, and was not


subject to the competition like the banjo or mandolin. The closest the guitar came to challenging them was in Hawaiian music from 1915 into the 1920¹s.

But in the 1920¹s a demand for greater volume began to revolutionize the banjo and continued to be the strongest driving force for new fretted instrument design for the next three decades. At the same time two new innovations in related fields were changing the musical instrument dramatically. The first advance the phonograph, actually dates back to the late 1800¹s, but did not gather full force until after World War I. Recordings made all kinds of music available to people who had no access to any other music except for local and touring bands. The second advance was the radio. From 1920 to 1925 the two were in heated competition, with radio forbidding it¹s artists to make records and vice versa. The music industry began and many different styles became popular, such as popular music from Broadway and ³Tin Pan Alley² in New York. Such styles as ³race² or ³blues², and early jazz later revived as ³Dixieland², and country music gained footholds in the music marketplace. In the 1920¹s the guitar began to emerge as the common denominator- the most versatile and portable instrument, best able to fill a role in an ensemble or accompany a solo performance. Players with different styles on every type of music appeared, among them Eddie Lang in jazz, Lonnie Johnson in blues and Jimmie Rodgers and Maybelle Carter in country.


The 1930¹s would be the most important decade in the history of the guitar, with more successful innovations than any other period of time. The Impending rise was signaled by the appearance of the first tenor guitars. Just as the tenor banjo, or mandolin-banjo as it was called earlier, owed part of its initial popularity to the ease with which a mandolin player could switch to it. It offered a shortcut for the tenor banjo players to switch to the increasingly popular guitar.

Popular music of the 1920¹s was becoming louder and louder. The invention of the electronic amplification raised the volume of radios and record players. The little parlor guitar from the previous century just could not cut it in the popular music of the day. In 1928 Andres Segovia first performed in the United Stated, turning the world of classical and semi-classical music on its ear. He brought a practically new style of music. As with many later guitar stars, Segovia had a guitar as influential as the music he played on it. It was made in Spain. in 1850 when C.F Martin was perfecting his x-bracing pattern and developing the American flat top guitar, Antonio de Torres in Spain was perfecting fan bracing and other designs that would characterize the modern classical guitar. The muted resonance of a typical American parlor guitar was no match for the hardy, robust sound of Segovia¹s guitar. The new guitar left the American parlor guitar with no protection from the onslaught of new designs.


The importance of volume cannot be overstated. The quest for a louder guitar would be the driving force behind all the innovations of the 1920¹s and 30¹s: the resonator guitars of National and Dobro, Martins dreadnought-sise flat tops, and Gibsons ³advanced² wider archtops and large bodied flat tops. When the limits of the acoustic guitar were reached the quest for volume would spark the invention and evolution of the electric guitar. Although the experimentation on the acoustic guitars continues, the standard acoustic guitars of today were all well developed by the end of the 1930¹s.

The sign of the electric guitar was in the 1930¹s. People such as Les Paul and Eddie Durham were experimenting with the actual products. Durham carved out the inside of an acoustic guitar and put a resonator that he had cut out of a tin pan and placed it inside the guitar. He found that when he struck the strings the sound was greatly increased. By 1932 the Embryonic Rickenbacker company persuaded several of its acquaintance publicize their new lap, steel electric guitar. Eddie Durhams ŒHitting The Bottle¹ played on this instrument was cited as the first amplified guitar on record. By 1936 he was using a guitar with an electric pickup and had tried converting radio and phonograph amps. That same year the most reputable guitar company, Gibson, would introduce the ES150. Although it was almost identical to the existing L50 acoustic, the presence of an integral bar pickup close to the fingerboard meant this


guitar was evolutionary. This Gibson model made the electric guitar acceptable.

Pickup technology was primitive, Rickenbacker¹s pickup was of a horseshoe design, where-by the magnets actually surrounded the strings. Walter Fuller and Gibson combined and designed a more practical pickup using two solid nickel magnets below the strings and a one piece steel bar was surrounded by the pickup coil. This directed the magnetic field toward the strings. After a few years a man by the name of Leo Fender showed up on the scene and improved the electric guitar. His improvements greatly increased its acceptance and popularity with both the musicians and listeners. In 1950 the Fender Company introduced the broadcaster, shortly after to become the telecaster. It pioneered the latest design of bolt on neck and a solid body, electric design. This began a new type of music called Rock and Roll. And so the birth of the electric guitar changed music, but what the people didn¹t know is that it would only get better. In 1954,in addition to the telecaster, which was still being produced and is still being produced, Fender introduced the most copied body style of the guitar ever. The introduction to the stratocaster brought forth some of the greatest guitarists ever known. It featured the first double cut away, making it easier to reach all of the high strings and also had a third pickup added to it. Then in 1960, one man came along and changed the sound of the guitar forever, Jimmi Hendrix. With his


explosive riffs and incredible volume he turned the guitar world upside

down. He began experimenting with ideas to get his guitar to make different sounds and came up with the infamous fuzz face and wah wah pedals which he used to make the guitar almost speak to the audience. Many other legendary guitarists made a name for their selfs with this guitar such as Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Eddie Van Halen, all with similar but greatly different styles of playing. The last major invention of the electric guitar was in 1964 when Rickenbacker introduced the first twelve string electric guitar.

From the beginning of its existence to the present day the guitar has taken on more forms and changes than any other instrument to date. Changing in size, shape, material and every other way imaginable. But one thing that hasn¹t changed is the impact of a well played guitar riff on ones attitude and emotions.
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