The guitar is the ultimate musical instrument of our time. It revolutionized the most varied genres during the 20th century. The evolution of what we know as a guitar has stemmed from ancient stringed instruments. Medieval Spain was where the modern guitar started to gain shape.
The history of string instruments goes back to Mesopotamia and Babylon. The word guitar comes from the Greek term kithara. Most experts agree that the two instruments that contributed the most to the development of the modern guitar were the lute and the oud.
The lute was an instrument with a lot of different sizes and shapes. Essentially, it had a curved back and up to five courses. Its origin dates back to the Egyptians. Throughout the centuries, it passed to other civilizations and ended up being introduced in Europe.
The European lute was the version closest to the present-day guitar.
This was an Arabic instrument that the Moors brought to Spain by the time of their invasion. Soon, the Moors noticed that the oud shared common features with European ancient instruments.
The oud had a rounded body, a small neck and no frets. The mark that the instrument and the style of playing it left in Spain was arguably the starting point for modern Western guitar playing.
The next centuries
By the Renaissance, the European lute had evolved and had up to 30 strings. It eventually lost its momentum and was replaced by the Baroque guitar, an advancement that was easier to play and to tune.
In Spain, instruments with frets and shapes that resembled those of the modern guitar started appearing during the 15th century. With time, a curved instrument with a hole in the body in front of which the strings were strummed was developed in the country.
The creation was called vihuela and is one of the closest cousins of the guitar. By the end of the 18th century, vihuelas with six strings finally kicked off the fast evolution from classical to modern guitars.
The first ever modern guitar
By the beginning of the 19th century, guitars were already extremely similar to the ones we play today. However, they were significantly smaller in size. It was Antonio de Torres Jurado, a Spanish Musician, who in the middle of the 1800s started designing and creating the guitar that would come to originate all the other modern guitars in history.
Finally, all the features were lining up, since this time around guitars got bigger in size.
The body was broadened, the curve was increased, the belly was thinned and the wood in the tuning pegs was replaced by machine heads. This new design gave Torres Jurado’s guitar a rich, articulate and resounding tone.
You certainly know this description all too well. That is because this was the very first modern guitar in music history.
Another Spanish musician, Andres Segovia, introduced the new guitar in live concerts and created the compositions which sound we now define as classical guitar music.
European immigrants took the modern guitar to America, and the rest is the astounding history of acoustic and electric guitars.
Follow New Music Fridays as we will continue the history with those two.