Interesting facts and figures about some of the guitars that changed history.

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Guitars

4 of the Oldest Guitars in the World

Experts seem to disagree on how many years we have to go back to find the earliest guitar in history. For this list, we decided to start off in 1590. Take a look at four of the oldest guitar-like instruments that have survived for centuries.

The Belchior Diaz vihuela

The Belchior Diaz vihuela - 4 of the Oldest Guitars in the World

This historic guitar got the name of its maker and was created circa 1590. Portugal is the country of origin. Vihuelas are widely agreed upon to be the ultimate predecessors of our contemporary guitars.

But this is a very particular vihuela. Since it was crafted in Portugal rather than Spain, which is the birthland of the instrument, the Belchior Diaz vihuela has some differentiating features.

The frets in this vihuela are not made of metal. Instead, they are tied just like those in the ancient lutes. Because of the unparalleled historic value of this guitar-like stringed instrument, it has been the subject of meticulous preservation efforts.

The look and feel remain exactly the same as in the year it was crafted, though. The parchment rosette on the center is also believed to be original. This Portuguese classical guitar is displayed at the Musical Instrument Museum in the American city of Phoenix, Arizona.

The Matteo Sellas guitar

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Just like the Belchior Diaz vihuela, this guitar carries the name of its craftsman, Matteo Sellas. It is believed to have been made in the period between 1630 and 1650 in the Italian city of Venice.

After being hugely popular in Spain, the interest around the latest string instruments started rapidly increasing in Italy and France and its success showed no signs of slowing down over the following centuries.

During that time, Italy became one of the top guitar manufacturing countries.

The Matteo Sellas guitar is at the New York’s Metropolitan Museum with its original peg block, bridge and rosette. Prior to this, though, those fittings were once removed to add five strings that would adapt the sound and playing style of the guitar to the changing musical tastes of the time.

The Sabionari guitar

Like the example above, the Sabionari guitar originates from Italy. It was created by Antonio Stradivari in the year 1679, making it the first instrument of the list to have an official recorded birth year.

You’re most likely aware that Antonio Stradivari and his relatives alike were primarily known for crafting violins. However, Stradivari did make some guitars, the most iconic being the Sabionari.

At some point during the late 1700s, Giovanni Sabionari bought the guitar from Stradivari descendants. That is how it got its name.

There are only four other known Stradivari guitars, although the Sabionari model is the only one that can still be played. Just like the Matteo Sellas, the guitar went through some alterations before being restored to its original form only in 2016.

The Joachim Tielke baroque guitar

post The Joachim Tielke baroque guitar - 4 of the Oldest Guitars in the World

Crafted by Tielke, one of the absolute best instrument manufacturers in history, this guitar dates back to sometime between 1695 and 1699 in the German city of Hamburg. Almost 200 of Tielke’s instruments can still be found today.

Staying true to the baroque style, this guitar has intricate ornamentation with white and black stripes on its back and laterals. The sound hole also features creative decoration.

Up until the second half of the 20th century, guitars had been constantly evolving.

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Guitars History

A Brief Guide on the Early History of the Guitar

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.

Early history

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.

Lute

post lute - A Brief Guide on the Early History of the Guitar

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.

Oud

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

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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.