History of the Acoustic Guitar

The melancholic sound of an acoustic guitar has fascinated individuals everywhere throughout the world. This instrument involves an indispensable position in the combination of music, and has a critical past.

An acoustic guitar produces a dynamic sound through the vibration of strings, which are played with a plectrum or with fingers. The guitar body is hollow, and it resonates the sound after the tension that is applied on the strings is released. The sound intensity and amplitude depends on the exertion of pressure on the strings.

An acoustic guitar’s body varies depending upon its size and make. Hollow bodies produce a deep and thick sound, which is not possible with the ones that have a relatively flat soundboard. The type and quality of strings that are used also determines the sound quality and crispness of this instrument. Although they are used without any amplification, you can amplify them by using microphones or pick-ups. Some companies also manufacture them with inbuilt plug-in jacks, to connect them to electric amplifiers. Some of the most commonly used guitar types are the steel string, the nylon string (classical guitar), and the lap-steel string guitars.

The classical guitar is basically played with finger-style plucking, and it has been there since the 1700’s. Earlier, catgut strings were used for this guitar, but now, nylon strings are used. The steel string guitars are the most common and modern type of acoustic guitars. They are mostly played with the help of a plectrum/pick, and these instruments can produce a loud and vibrant sound. The lap-steel string guitar is played by pressing a glass or metal slider/bar against the strings instead of pressing them with fingers. This instrument has two types: Lap slide guitars and Resonator guitars.

Origin and History

The word “guitar” has been derived from the name “chartar” in Old Persian, which means “four strings”. The oldest existing guitar-like instrument, which was discovered in Egypt, is now kept in the Archeological museum in Cairo. It belonged to the Egyptian singer called Har-Mose. This instrument had three strings, and a plectrum was attached to the neck with the help of a cord. Polished cedar wood was used to make the guitar’s body, and it could possibly be one of the most ancient string instruments to be preserved.

Although the exact dates about the existence of the acoustic guitar is inconclusive and controversial, its history dates back to 1200 AD, when two versions of a four-stringed guitar evolved. The first one was the Moorish Guitar, which consisted of several sound holes, and had an oval-shaped rounded body along with a very wide fretboard. The other version was the Guitarra Latina (which means Latin Guitar), which had one sound hole, and a relatively narrower neck. The depiction of an instrument, which displayed the characteristics of a guitar can be found on the stone carving of a Hittite bard, which dates around 3,300 years old. Several Egyptian wall paintings also show people who are playing guitar-like instruments.

The origin of the guitar can be traced back to thousands of years to central Asia and India, where the use of stringed instruments such as Persian setar and tanbur, and even bowl harps led to the evolution of similar and advanced guitar types. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Spanish vihuela, a guitar-like instrument with twelve paired strings that are tuned like a lute, led to a transitional development of the modern guitar types.

During the Baroque era, a guitar that was much smaller than the modern type was used extensively. This lightweight instrument made the use of gut strings, which were also used as fret marks that were tied to the guitar’s neck. In parts of Europe, the Scandinavian lut (indigenous six string lute) that is similar to a guitar, gained much prominence and demand. This instrument was introduced to the central European regions by the “Moors”, especially in Spain. It has many strings and a short neck, with a pear-shaped body.

Gaetano Vinaccia, who came from a family of luthiers, was accomplished at constructing mandolins. He is believed to have made the first six-string guitar in 1779 in Naples, Italy. The renaissance and baroque guitars, which are considered as the ancestors of the classical guitars, generated much delicate sounds as compared to the modern classical counterparts. They were used as rhythm accompaniments, unlike the modern classical guitar, which is used as an accompaniment and solo instrument. The credit for establishing the design and construction of the first modern classical guitar goes to Antonio Torres Jurado in the 1850s. The superior quality of his instruments and tone that they produced, made him one of the most revered luthiers among the musicians of his time. The tuning pegs of this instrument in the 18th and 19th centuries were made from bone and wood.

Gradually, after the 16th century, this four-stringed instrument evolved to a five string one, and ultimately to a modern six-stringed instrument. The five string guitar was extensively worked upon by Antonio Stradivarius in the late 1600s, and at the start of the 1700s, this instrument started being available with six strings, with the Italians being the primary developers. By early 1900s, steel strings came into the picture and guitars with X-braced tops were made by Christian Fredrich Martin. Around the 1920s, Orville Gibson started making archtop guitars that has oval sound holes, and around the same time jazz guitars were being developed by Lloyd Loar in collaboration with Gibson. After some years, when electric pickups were invented, the first electric guitar was made around 1950s, and some of the biggest names in the guitar manufacturing industry like Paul Bigsby, Les Paul, and Leo Fender, played a major role in this scenario. Today, Les Paul, Gibson, and Fender are some of the largest guitar manufacturing companies in the world.

The craftsmanship of acoustic guitars has evolved over the years, and guitar luthiers are building custom-made guitars for musicians all over the world. The tradition and style of various acoustic guitar players is encompassed beautifully in the strains of their music. The roots and history of acoustic guitars has contributed significantly in the construction and design ideas of modern guitars, which created and still continue to have a magnetic effect on people all over the world.