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  • Writer's pictureSimone Rogers

The History of the Guitar

Updated: Nov 23, 2021

The History Of The Guitar

The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that has been used by humans for many centuries now and is used all around the world. Since ancient times, it has gone through many changes, from its origins until it reached its current form.

Some experts believe that the instrument that preceded the guitar first arrived in Spain during the invasions of the Arabs in the 8th century. While others argue that the guitar originated during the time of the Greeks, who used a similar four-stringed instrument but with straight edges.

But, one thing is sure, the exact origins of modern-day guitars due to a lack of detailed records, is somewhat of a mystery.

The Early History Of The Guitar

Images of stringed instruments similar to the guitar appear in carvings that are more than three millennia old, dating from the Babylonian and Mesopotamian Empires.

The modern word “guitar” comes from the ancient Greek word “kithara” which was an old stringed instrument that was similar to a lyre but much longer.

Many experts believe that the two instruments that had the biggest roles to play in the creation of the modern-day guitar were the Arabic “Oud” and the European lute.

The Ancient Ancestors Of Modern Day Guitars

The Lute

This stringed instrument had a curved back and came in many different shapes and sizes. They were 4 or 5-course instruments that were often strummed using a quill feather. The lute was the most commonly used stringed instrument for centuries. It was passed from the Egyptians to the Greeks and finally to the Romans who introduced it to Europe.

The Oud

The Moors, during the invasion of Southern Spain in 711 AD brought along with them the oud. This instrument shared common ancestry with some other stringed instruments of Europe, and similar to the lute, had a round body, though it had a much smaller neck and lacked frets.

Both the oud and the Arabic playing style left a substantial mark on Medieval music and the history of the guitar.

The Evolution Of Modern Guitars

By the time the Renaissance period ended, the lute had evolved into an instrument that had up to 20-30 strings, but the instrument was slowly falling out of popularity. As a result, fretted instruments with curved silhouettes much like the modern guitars started appearing in Spain during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Eventually, the Baroque guitar ended up replacing the lute as the most commonly played instrument, partly because it was much easier to play and tune due to its movable frets and number of strings.

Later in Spain, the “vihuela” was developed, which had an hourglass curved body and was meant to be played with one hand over the hole in the body. This instrument can be considered as one of the final predecessors of modern guitars.

By the end of the 18th century, Spanish guitars had been standardized to have six-course strings, closely resembling modern guitars.

In the mid 19th century, Antonio de Torres Jurado (a Spanish musician) started working on a different style of guitar that would eventually give rise to all modern-day guitars.

His creations featured a broader body, a thin belly, and an increased waist curve. Although he isn’t mentioned as much as he deserves to be, he played a vital role in the history of today’s guitars.

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