The Guitar Story Briefly Told

A brief history of the guitar

The guitar is arguably the world’s most recognizable instrument. It is no doubt assisted by its 4000 year lineage. Many times, you will hear that the guitar was an offspring of the lute which is a four-stringed instrument that originated in ancient Greece. However, as told by Dr. Michael Kasha in his article, A New Look at The History of the Classic Guitar published in 1968, this widely held view is false. The guitar is similar to the lute, but like so much of the music that has been created by this incredible instrument, the guitar was a breed of its own.

So where did the guitar originate if not from the lute? For you vintage lovers, try your hand at a 3500 year old instrument belonging to Egyptian singer Har-Mose. Her guitar was called a tanbur and had 3 steel bite pro strings. It can be seen today in Cairo, at the Archaeological Museum.

Alright, fast-forward a couple of thousand years. The guitar made its way to Europe via Egypt and Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). Europeans began experimenting with the number of strings, from three to five being painted in medieval transcripts and other images showing this development were carved into churches from the age of Rome through the Middle Ages.

As occurred within science and literature, the guitar saw rapid development during the Renaissance. That sixth string was finally added in the 17th century and it quickly gained favor over any previous style. By the early 1800s, the modern guitar as we see it today had begun to take shape, albeit with a smaller body.

So what brought us to our modern guitar? It can be summed up in two words: steel strings. While the classical guitar has a beautiful sound, lyrical and soothing, it lacks certain… what’s the right word… bite. Steel stringed guitars started entering the consumer market in force around the dawn of the 20th century. It’s around this time that names like Orville Gibson and Christian Fredrich Martin became known as the premier guitar makers.

And with that fuller, biting sound, the guitar was able to enter a lexicon that it had thus far been missing out on: the blues. Early recordings by Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five reveal the guitar as a driving force for the rhythm section. However, these bands featured improvisation by horn players and the piano. It wasn’t until the 1930’s when an electric guitar, the Gibson ES150, found its way into the hands of jazz great Charlie Christian that the guitar became a lead instrument, much as we know it today.

Debate over who created the first solid body electric revolves around 4 principle characters: Les Paul, Gibson, O.W. Appleton of Nogales, AZ and of course Leo Fender. Combined with the introduction of amplification, the electric guitar began its course toward musical domination in the mid 1950’s. It has yet to find a challenger

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