A Brief History of the Guitar

  • Period: Jan 1, 700 to Dec 31, 1499

    The Ancestors of the Guitar

  • Jan 1, 711

    An Ancient Ancestor The Oud

    An Ancient Ancestor The Oud
    This is one of the oldest possible precursors to the guitar, and was introduced to Western Europe by the Arabs in the early parts of the 8th century. It is characterized by a pear-shaped body, a tapering neck, and a lack of frets. Some famous players are Ahmed Abdul-Malik and Farid al-Atrash.
  • Jan 1, 1140

    Here Comes the Lute!

    Here Comes the Lute!
    Historic evidence of lute-playing is found in Sicily, indicating a transfer of the instrument from Arabic to Western European culture. As it grew in popularity it also grew in size, as the number of strings eventually grew to over twenty-five in some cases. By the sixteenth century it had become the premier solo instrument in Europe. Here is an example of a famous lute song, Greensleeves.
  • Jan 1, 1400

    The Vihuela Arrives!

    The Vihuela Arrives!
    The Vihuela is yet another distant relative of the guitar as we know it today. It was popular in Spain, Italy, and Portugal during the 15th and 16th centuries, a time when the lute was thriving in the other parts of Europe. In Italy and Portugal it was known as the viola da mano, and in construction and sound, the vihuela is essentially a flat-backed lute. Here is a sound clip
  • Period: Jan 1, 1500 to

    Baroque and Renaissance Guitars

  • Jan 1, 1550

    Renaissance Guitar

    Renaissance Guitar
    The Renaissance guitar and Baroque guitar are very similar, with the latter having many more ornate features. The guitar at this point was primariy a rhythmic instrument and served a supporting role within their given ensemble.
  • Baroque Guitar

    Baroque Guitar
    Both these and Renaissance guitars are smaller and more delicate than their successors. It has gut strings that are also double coursed, but in sets of four or five (the modern day guitar has six single strings that are single coursed). The frets are also made of gut and are often tied around the instrument. Here is a sound clip.
  • Period: to

    The Advent of the Classical Guitar

    The first part of the 19th century brought about many lasting developments in the guitar. A wide, flat neck allowed for chordal and melodic playing and the nylon strings lent themselves to playing without a plectrum (or pick).
  • The Classical Guitar: Built to Last

    The Classical Guitar: Built to Last
    The first part of the 19th century brought about many lasting developments in the guitar. A wide, flat neck allowed for chordal and melodic playing and the nylon strings lent themselves to playing without a plectrum (or pick). The musical literature for Classical Guitar was developed by composers like Matteo Carcassi and Francisco Tarrega and carried through the 20th century by people like Andres Segovia.
  • Period: to

    The Dawn of the Steel String Guitar

  • Heavy Metal: Steel Strings Arrive on the Scene

    Heavy Metal: Steel Strings Arrive on the Scene
    With the help of an "X-brace system" developed by German luthiers like Christian Friedrich Martin, guitars were able to withstand the greater tension found in new string materials such as Catgut, and later steel, strings. These new materials accomodated different timbres and techniques, and the steel-string guitar is still a very popular instrument.
  • Period: to

    The Electric Guitar: plug it in and turn it up!

  • Plug it in: the Electric Guitar

    Plug it in: the Electric Guitar
    The innovations of builders like Adolph Rickenbacker, Les Paul, and Leo Fender during the 1930s and 40s brought about a guitar revolution. Working independent of each other they developed a solid-body guitar with a slim neck and tapered body, allowing for unprecedented speed and precision. They also found a way to electronically manipulate the string's vibrations, allowing the guitar to step in front of even the largest ensembles.