Paul's Guitar Museum

2. Origins of the word "guitar"

French: Guitare | German: Gitarre | Spanish: Guitarra | Italian: Chitarra | Portuguese: Viol√£o | Ancient Greek: Kithara

guittern from The Coronation of the Virgin British Library

One of my favorite enigmas is where did the word guitar come from???

Maybe from a middle ages instrument called a guittern?

"guittern" taken from "The Coronation of the Virgin" British Library, Arundel


Here is a guittern from "Warrick Castle" (it's been converted into a violin in late 1700's). It is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London


What about a Hellenistic lyra called a Kithara ? (citharis) where the bridge is glued on just like todays guitar? The word KITARA comes from 7th century BC Both Plato & Pollux mention the lyra & kitara. Aristoxeno's statement that the kitaris & kitara are not the same - that the kitaris is a lyra. Aristotle points expressly to the kitara as the instrument witch belongs primarily to the games & virtuosi, & which is not suited to the education of youth.

Here are a couple of Helenistic "Kithara's". Note on the side of "Kithara" there is a ribbon tying the "plectrum" to the "bridge".


The instrument KISSAR is still used by several north African peoples.

<<< front & back view of a "Kissar" a "tortise shell" lyra from N. Africa >>>


"Other connections we know about are Ud / Lute / Luthier.
Also Guitar / Kythara / Kitara Kinawa (Moorish lute or African Gunbri) ?
Kitarra (Basque guitar) / Qitara (Arabic lute of European origin) / Chitarra (It) / Guiterne (Old Fr)"
comment by Phil Read


"Etymologically, the Portuguese word "Guitarra" comes from the Greek "Kythara", later converted by the latins into Cithara. The legend tells us that this name comes from Cyter'n, a mountain somewhere between Boeotia and Attica. Not everyone agrees, however: some believe that this word comes from "Cythara", the ancient name of the Greek island of Cerigo, believed to be a paradise of poetry and love, where a temple to Venus layed."

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