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The Early History of Guitars

    The guitar is, no doubt, an awesome instrument. With it, musicians have the power to create either soft, gentle music or hard, head-thrashing beats; these instruments sound great doing both! Did you know, though, that the modern guitar did not always exist in its current form? It sort of “evolved” over time to become what it has today.

    The very first guitar-like instrument, and one of the ancestors of the modern guitar that we see commonly used throughout history was the lute. Lutes are characterized by its short neck; much shorter than what you would see on a guitar, and a small, stout body that is shaped like a pear. It was often strummed with a quill feather! The lute was a very popular instrument amongst the ancient Egyptians. It was then passed on through various cultures over the years to Europe, where it remained popular through the 16th century. This instrument was believed to inspire the creation of the modern guitar. Meanwhile, around this time in Spain, instruments that began to slowly appear similar to the modern guitar began popping up.

    The lute declined in popularity around the end of the 17th century, to which the baroque guitar would rein as the most popular instrument of the era. This instrument was starting to take the shape of what modern guitars look like; though it was thinner and smaller. With qualities similar to the lute and viol, it had gut frets tied on a fingerboard. Click here to check out some tunes played on a baroque guitar..


    Spain would continue on with its development of stringed instruments, and the vihuela was soon “born”. This instrument is the final ancestor to the guitar and directly led to its creation. This 6 or 7 stringed instrument has a larger body than the baroque guitar, and it was played in the same manner as the modern guitar. It was, however, tuned in a different key (G–C–F–A–D′–G′), like the lute.


    The 1850s, however, bore the first modern-looking. This can be accredited to one man: Antonio de Torres Jurado. His design involved increasing the size of the guitar body and changing the shape, which dramatically improved the sound and volume of the instrument. This particular design was brought to attention by Andres Segovia, who would go on to create the kind of music that we would consider “classical guitar”.

    This particular design has remained through the years without much change, withstanding the test of time. There are, of course, the altered designs of electric guitars, but that’s for another time.

    Next time you play your guitar, be sure to thank Antonio de Torres Jurado.


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