History of the Guitar


The guitar has its roots in the ancient Near East. In Babylonia and Egypt, examples of art show stringed instruments with necks that resemble the guitar. The Moors (Muslims of Arab and North African descent) brought ancestors of the modern guitar into Spain during the period from the 8th to the 15th centuries. In other parts of the world, relatives of the guitar (China: pipa; Japan: biwa; India: sitar; Russia: balalaika) were developed at about the same time. In 16th-century Spain, the two most popular fretted instruments were the vihuela (which ended up with six double-gut strings and 12 frets) and the lute (the pear-shaped favorite). By the end of the Baroque period (1600-1750), the guitar had become a smaller, narrow-bodied, six-string version of what we know today. During the next hundred years, composer/performers such as Sor, Guilliani, Carcassi, and Carulli wrote both methods and solos for the instrument. The violin virtuoso, Paganini, was also an accomplished guitarist. Around 1850, Antonio de Torres reworked the design and construction of the classical guitar, and his designs are still used today. 

In the United States, three different companies-Martin, Gibson, and Fender-spearheaded the development of steel-string and electric guitars. C.F. Martin & Co., famous for their dreadnought steel-string guitars (1931), was established in 1833 in New York City, moving shortly there-after to Nazareth, PA. Gibson Guitars, famous for their archtop, f-hole models and Les Paul electrics, was started in the 1880s in Kalamazoo, MI. Gibson's Lloyd Loar began experimenting with electric pickups in hollowbody guitars as early as the 1920s. By 1951, Leo Fender had invented the first solidbody electric guitar that would eventually be the Fender Telecaster®, and the electric bass followed shortly. Today, a wide variety of companies are producing new types of guitars such as acoustic-electrics, MIDI guitars, and the silhouette-body Silent Guitar® that are used in conjunction with amplifiers and effects devices.

Copyright Hal Leonard.