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History of the Acoustic Guitar


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Know everything about the history of the acoustic guitar?  If you're interested in some more have a look at the History of the Electric Guitar.

Return from History of the Acoustic Guitar to History of the Guitar

Here's a brief history of the acoustic guitar.  Our modern day acoustic guitar has a colourful history and developed out of a family of stringed and fretted instruments through the ages.  Let's have a look at some of the family members...


Way long ago
The grandpa and grandma of the guitar can be traced back to Europe and Central Asia where some kind of stringed instrument was used in the countries of central Asia and India.

For this reason the guitar's "cousins" are from these regions and include fretted instruments like the tanbur, setar and sitar.

The oldest guitar pic was made about 3,300 years ago.  It's a stone carving of a Hittite bard playing a stringed instrument.
Vihuela
Vihuela
Antonio Torres Jurado
Cithara
This is what the ancient Roman Cithara looked like. 
Long ago
So around 1400BC, a people-group called the 'Hittites' were already using a 4-string, guitar like instrument.  Around the same time the Greeks satisfied their own musical desires with a similar instrument that was later modified by the Romans and called the cithara.  The Cithara end up playing a big part in the history of the acoustic guitar.  In Europe the Vikings were using another long lost family member of the guitar.  They sang to the tunes of the 6-string lute while conquering new areas across the continent and so introducing them to their instruments.  This is how the world awoke to the wonders of stringed instruments.

Around 40 AD, the Romans brought the cithara to Portugal and Spain and in  the 8th Century the Moors conquered those areas and  introduced their 4-sting Oud, which led to the modification of the cithara.  This is the instrument from which our modern day guitar developed...
About 400 years later the 4-string guitar evolved into two types, the Moorish guitar and the Latin guitar. The Moorish one had a rounded back, wide fingerboard and  several soundholes. His Latin brother, resembled the modern guitar with one soundhole and a narrow neck.

Not so Long ago
In the 14th and 15th centuries these instrument families reunited and these  instruments were just called by their family name, guitar!
That was not the end of the evolution. Around the same time a new guitar came into being. The vihuela was a large instrument with double the amount of strings of previous guitars, a longer neck and 10 or 11 frets. For 200 years the vihuela enjoyed preference over any other instrument. So, till the 1600's the vihuela and the lute were more popular than the guitar. During this time some vihuela's began to be played with a bow, leading to the development of the viol.

The lute's many strings made it difficult to play as well as tune. And so its popularity as well as the vihuela's started a down spiral. The vihuela was replaced by 4 and 5 course baroque guitars. Four course guitars had 7 strings while the five course guitars had 9 strings. It is of opinion that  the addition of the fifth course, which gave the guitar greater flexibility,  was the reason for its rising in fame.
In the 1800's general alterations were administered to the guitar. Some used fan struts under the soundboard, some featured 6 strings, the neck was raised and the fingerboard was made of ebony or rosewood. Also the tuning pegs were replaced with machine tuners. And so the first appearance of the classical guitar was born.
By the end of that century, Antonio Torres Jurado pimped up the guitar completely. He refined the strutting, which allowed for as many as 7 struts to be spread out like a fan under the soundboard. He also increased the size of the body and neck. The result was a greater bass response and volume. And so Jurado's improvements made it possible for the guitar to meet the demands of the solo performer and the concert stage.

What can be said of our modern guitar? Jurado's guitar was so good, we pretty much use the same design on our modern day insturments.

And that's a brief outline of the history of the acoustic guitar.
Thanks Antonio! If it wasn't for you we'd still be playing on that ugly old Cithara!
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