History of the Guitar


via Rawpixel

An image of a guitar.

 The guitar is one of the most popular, widely used instruments in the world. Known by many, this stringed instrument is commonly equipped by multiple composers in their songs. Since this stringed instrument is easy to play, portable, and compatible with almost all songs, people tend to gravitate towards learning how to play it. Like many other instruments, the guitar has an interesting history behind it. 

The guitar is a six-stringed instrument, played by strumming the strings with one’s fingers or a pick. Though the instrument’s origin is unclear, it is thought to have been invented by Christian Frederick Martin, an immigrant who relocated from Germany to the US. Historians suggest that Martin most likely based his invention on the guitarra latina, a four-stringed instrument with a waisted body from the late medieval period of Europe. The guitar originally sported four strings, unlike the six strings found on modern guitars. However, different variations of the guitar might have different numbers of strings. The four original strings were tuned to the notes C, F, A, and D, which were also the four base notes of the lute and the vihuela. The guitar also used to boast a violin-like pegbox, a tension bridge pasted to the belly, and a circular sound hole, located on the belly of the instrument as well. The soundhole was often decorated with a wooden rose, usually carved into it. 

Major changes to the guitar were made during the 16th through 19th centuries. The fifth string was added before the 1600s and the sixth around the late 1800s. The tuning of the guitar’s strings also changed, now playing E, A, D, G, B, and E instead. The violin-like pegbox of the old instrument was also altered to a slightly reflexed, flathead, which was equipped with rear tuning pegs. During the 19th century, though, the rear turning pegs were replaced by metal screws. The early guitar’s frets were formed from strings of gut tied onto the fingerboard. These, too, were replaced by built-in metal or ivory frets during the 1800s. Besides the addition of new frets to the fingerboard, the piece itself was changed, with its elevation above belly level and extension to the center of the instrument taking place in the 1900s. Most of the 1900s changes were made by Antonio Torres, a Spanish guitarist whose designs greatly influenced modern guitars. 

The guitar also underwent changes affecting the sound quality. Its body shape was broadened and rebuilt shallower. The soundboard was thinned as well. Inside the instrument, the transverse bars – which supported the soundboard – were replaced by radial bars, those of which were placed splayed out below the soundhole. The neck, formerly placed in a wood block, was changed to form a brace that extended a small distance from the body of the instrument. It was glued to the back of the guitar and provided more stability against the force of the strings’ pull. Nylon or plastic was later used in place of the gut and spun-metal strings. 

The history of the guitar is one of many prototypes and changes. Had its inventors not created this instrument, the music industry would be very different than it is today, and the history of the guitar would be naught.