The History Of Guitars

The development of guitars over time have seen the instrument build on early musical instrument designs to become a staple of 20th and 21st century music.

Technological changes have meant that traditional and classical guitar designs have expanded to include electric, and more recently digital guitars, while improvements in amplification and design mean that the choice of guitars for players today is extensive. However, all guitars work on a basic set of principles that have been more or less constant for hundreds of years.

While there is some evidence to suggest that the guitar emerged as part of ancient Greek lute playing, there were many different stringed instruments that could be viewed as a forerunner to what we know now as the guitar. Stringed instruments over a fret board, and incorporating a wooden soundboard, were common across the ancient world, with the guitar having some precedents in the tanbur, and Egyptian soundboxes.

The roots of the word guitar itself can be tied to Sanskrit, and the word ‘tar’ for string, as well as ‘Dotar’ in Sanskrit and Persian. The Indian sitar, while traditionally larger than the five or six stringed guitar, also provided some historical basis for developing instruments, with other influences also coming from Egypt and Mesopotamia. Medieval and 17th century developments saw guitars expand from lute designs to include four to six string models, as well as smaller and narrower guitar bases.

The classical guitar, which represents the basic shape and length of what we would now consider to be an acoustic guitar, was developed by Spanish designer Antonio Torres - greater volume was added to the guitar, while bespoke pieces became more common. The addition of steel strings at the end of the 19th century, and the use of varying types of wood enabled richer sounds and better reverb. Archtop and X braced steel guitars also became common designs.

Electric guitars emerged in the 1920s through the use of pickups and amplifiers that could reproduce and extend the sound quality and volume of guitars. The Gibson ES150 became the first commercially available electric guitar model in 1936, and helped push towards trends for solid body guitars without self contained soundboxes - the popularity of blues, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll, also helped popularise the electric guitar.

During the same period, improvements in electric guitar pickups, and the development of Fender and Les Paul guitars with more contoured bodies, and hollow body effects enabled electric guitars to become more versatile. The use of effects pedals and units during the 1960s and the 1970s similarly led to the electric guitar, and acoustic plug in guitars, becoming closely tied to other forms of music technology.

By 2002, digital guitars that could convert analogue signals into digital sounds were able to provide auto tuning, as well as digital guitar models without strings. Variax guitars and solid body Les Pauls helped to make electric and digital guitars suitable for a range of functions, emulating the versatility of digital pianos and other orchestra instruments. More recently, Misa Kitara digital guitars and MIDI guitars have also helped to make studio and live guitars capable of achieving full orchestral effects through a single instrument.

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A Hitstory of the Guitar

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