History of the Guitar

Musical instruments are not just fascinating because of the majestic sounds that they create when played, but also because of the history and craftsmanship that went into making them.

Guitars have a lengthy and interesting history that has been largely debated and disputed and perhaps always will be.

Historians once believed that modern day acoustic guitars evolved from the lute, or ancient Greek “Kithara,” however in the early 1960’s this fact was all but dis-proven by Dr. Michael Kasha’s research. Dr. Kasha suggested that the basic shapes of these ancient squared-framed instruments would have resulted in a completely different sound and therefore it was unlikely that they were as closely related as once thought.

As a result of his research, current beliefs suggest that the modern day guitar likely evolved from Bowl Harps or Tanburs, rounded stringed instruments that produced a similar sound.

These ancient instruments can be dated as far back as the Sumerian and Egyptian civilizations.

The Sumerians were the first humans known to have created populated areas, cities or “civilizations.” A love of art, science and music are just some of the things that we have directly inherited from these historical places.

The shape and craftsmanship of a guitar may have changed a great deal since then, but the distinct sound of a well played guitar remains unmistakable.

At 3500 years young, Har-mose’s (an Egyptian singer) guitar is the ultimate prize in vintage guitars. Crafted from polished cedar wood with a rawhide “soundboard,” this wonderful piece of history is currently housed at the Archaeological Museum in Cairo.

Obviously a guitar can be distinguished from these ancient “bowled” instruments because of its long, fretted neck, flat wooden soundboard, ribs, and flat back, but otherwise they are similar in shape, size and sound.

The 6-string guitar created by George Louis Panormo in 1832 marks the beginning of modern design as is followed closely by
the “classical”style crafted by Spanish guitar maker Antonio Torres.

Torres increased the size of the body, altered its proportions, and introduced the revolutionary “fan” top bracing pattern which radically improved the volume, tone and projection of the guitar.

This design while not perfect is considered to be the accepted standard of guitar basic design, however there are a few variations.

Steel-string and electric guitars were introduced by German immigrants to the USA namely, Christian Fredrich Martin around the same period that Torres began making his. While Martin is famous for his outstanding craftsmanship, these guitars couldn’t necessarily handle the tension needed to produce the louder sounds being demanded at the time.

Perfection came at the end of the 19th century when Orville Gibson began crafting Arch-top guitars with oval sound holes. Gibson combined the steel-string guitar with a cello body allowing the top to vibrate more freely thus producing more volume with less tension.

The “jazz” guitar was introduced in the late 1920’s by designer Lloyd Loar who joined Gibson refining his design with f-holes, a floating bridge and cello-type tailpieces creating the familiar “bluesy” sounds we enjoy today.

The popular electric guitar was born when pickups were added to these “jazz” guitars by Gibson who introduced the ES150 model, made famous by Charlie Christian.

Amplification made it possible to create solid-body guitars but controversy still exists as to whether Les Paul, Leo Fender, Paul Bigsby or O.W. Appleton constructed the very first one. Does it really matter? In the end, they are all amazing guitar makers and each one has its own unique touch, feel and sound that we all know and love.

No matter which type of guitar you prefer to play or listen too, there is nothing more versatile and distinct than the sound produced by this instrument rich in beauty, design and history.