Where Did The Guitar Originate? The guitar had become such an integral part of the music scene that most guitarists will not think about where and when it began. It’s an instrument that can make the heart sing in jazz. Tears flow in blues, and the body dance in rock and roll. It’s the instrument that has defined and continues to define music as we know it.
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Most of the guitar’s early history isn’t clearly established among historians. But there are images of stringed instruments on stone carvings and tomb paintings dating back to more than 3,500 to 4,000 years ago. These early iconographical representations of the guitar are from the Mesopotamian and Babylonian civilizations.
The Early Predecessors Of Guitars
While there are debates about the origin of the word “guitar,” it probably comes from kithara, the ancient Greek word for a stringed instrument. The evidence lies in the similarity between Guitarra, a Spanish word, and kithara.
But many experts suggest otherwise. The kithara, a square-framed lap harp with seven strings known as a lyre, is a different instrument from the Guitarra, a four-stringed instrument. The name kithara itself may have been the Hellenified version of “chartar,” the Old Persian name for a four-stringed instrument.
Beyond the name, the modern guitar was primarily influenced by the lute and the oud.
The lute, a European instrument, was characterized by a curved back with four or five courses. It was strummed using either the fingers or a quill feather. It originated in Egypt and was passed to the Greeks and Romans before it was introduced throughout Europe.
The oud, an Arabic instrument, was introduced by the Moors during their invasion of Southern Spain in 711 A.D. It was similar to the lute. But its rounded body, smaller neck, and absence of frets made it a distinctive Arabian instrument.
By the 15th and 16th centuries, the fretted instruments with the modern guitar’s curved silhouette started appearing in Spain and eventually in Europe. The baroque guitar and vihuela, which had an hourglass curve, became popular, too. By the late 18th century, the six-stringed Spanish guitars were the most commonly used guitars.
The First Modern Guitar
From these six-stringed guitars came the innovations that would result in the guitar as we know it today. The 19th-century guitars, for example, were smaller in size but were similar in appearance to the 20th-century guitars. Also, historians credit Antonio de Torres Jurado, a Spanish luthier, and musician, for creating the predecessor of the modern guitar.
European immigrants brought the steel-stringed version of Jurado’s guitar to the United States. With the innovative spirit of luthiers, the guitar’s evolution continued, and the archtop, flat top, and electric guitar started to take shape.
Did you know that you, too, can become a guitar innovator? You can start by reading this useful book, Robert Benedetto’s Making an Archtop Guitar. Afterward, you can build your archtop guitar, beginning with the Golden Age Archtop Guitar Bridge. You never know the innovations that you can make when you’re building a guitar!
To summarize, being appreciative of the history of guitars is a must for understanding how it works and how you can make it work better. The guitar’s history isn’t finished yet, and you can contribute to its development.