The History of the Guitar

by | Guitar

It might not be Thursday, but we’re throwing back 4000 years.

It makes the girls go gaga at concerts. It shines a spotlight on whoever wields its powers. It can change the mood of a room in an instant. The modern guitar is a powerful tool and plays an important part in music. In fact, it has played an important part in music for the last 4000 years. While there are some theories about where the guitar as we know it originated, there seems to be little evidence to substantiate any of them. Some believe the guitar evolved from the lute played in Ancient Greece. Others believe that the guitar evolved from the “quitarra”, a four-string musical instrument played in Spain.

All the evidence seems to point to an amalgamation and evolution of a few string instruments, resulting in the modern-day guitar. Have a look at the evidence below about the history of the guitar, and decide for yourself.

Bowl Harps and Tanburs
Bowl harps and tanburs are the oldest known string instruments. They were made using tortoise shells and calabashes. A bent stick acted as the neck, and one or more strings ran from one end of the neck to the body. Archaeological discoveries place these instruments within ancient Sumerian, Babylonian and Egyptian civilizations.

Tanburs are long, stringed instruments with a pear-shaped body and an arched round back. The soundboard is made from wood or hide. Over time, the neck of the instrument was straightened to create more notes.

photo of a lute for an article about the guitar's history, from MI Online

The Lute
The lute is of Arabic descent and had a small neck with a pear-shaped body. Tamburica (tambourica)- Croatian traditional music instrument on the wall The lute was first introduced to Spain by traders. It was used in a great variety of instrumental music from the Medieval to the late Baroque eras and is said to be the most important instrument for secular music during the Renaissance.

photo of a lute for an article about the guitar's history, from MI Online

Dotar/Sitar
The “tar” in guitar is a Sanskrit word meaning string. One of the primary instruments of the Indian folk music is the dotar or an instrument made from two strings played by strumming. The sitar originated in Persia. Some even say a sitar or electric sitar is closer to sounding like an electric guitar.

Classical Guitar
The five-string guitar was developed in Europe during the Renaissance period. It’s during this time that the tuning of the instrument changed to ADGBE and the size of the neck was increased from 8 frets to 12 frets. In the 19th century, the five-course guitar gave way to the six-course guitar or the classical guitar as it is popularly known. The first known classical guitar was created by Antonio Torres. The design has remained unchallenged to this day.

Stringed instruments can be found throughout history and theorists still debate which one should be credited for the guitar as we know it today. Just ask Mark Cally, international jazz guitarist at MI Online who teaches online music theory courses .

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