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Play Acoustic Guitar Newsletter, Issue #002 -- Acoustic Guitar History
May 06, 2013
Welcome to the second newsletter from Play-Acoustic-Guitar.com. We promise to provide valuable information such as acoustic guitar buying tips, guitar reviews, and interesting facts about guitars. Thanks for subscribing!
Music to Live By: History of the Acoustic Guitar
Those of you who are as in love with acoustic guitars as I am will understand what I mean when I say that they enchant me. From the curvy shapes and glossy finishes to the way their tone fills my head and resonates down to my bones, I am in love with them.
The fact that I have collected so much information on the history of the various acoustic guitars and those players who have used them to make an impact on musical history shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to me. But it did.
In fact, when I realized just how much information I have collected over the years it made a weird to share it with other people who, like me, are also fans both of acoustic guitars and those who make such beautiful music with them, which is how this newsletter got its start.
The hard part of course is in deciding where to start. Why not at the beginning? Indeed, what better place to start than with sharing what I’ve gleaned about the history and development of acoustic guitars?
A Short History of Acoustic GuitarsI don’t know about you, but I usually find articles on the “history” of anything to be boring beyond belief. The one exception to this rule for me is when you get me going on the history of the acoustic guitar.
Guitars have been around – in one form or another – for a very long time. And while there is some debate as to where the first guitar prototypes were developed, it is a fact that the oldest reference to a guitar-like stringed instrument is a 3,300 year old stone carving that depicts a Hittite bard playing one.
Central Asia and India have rich cultural histories and their stringed instruments (like tambours, setars and sitars) are similar in many ways to the instrument we know today as an acoustic guitar. There is evidence to suggest that these instruments influenced the creation of our modern six and twelve string models.
A Guitar by Any Other NameThe word “guitar” itself makes tracing the history of the guitar rather interesting. You see, with Latin at the root of many of today’s modern languages, the word for guitar is similar in English (guitar), German (gitarre) and French (guitar). Each of these words were adopted versions of the Spanish word “guitarra” which itself can be traced back to the Andalusia Arabic word “qitara” which came directly from the Latin “cithara,” which was adopted from the Ancient Greek “kithara” and back to Old Persian were it was referred to as “Tar” or “String.”
While the instrument that we know of as the guitar did not descend from the Roman instrument, the Romans were influential in distributing the knowledge, culture and even the musical instruments of the countries they conquered. The legions of Roman soldiers and the merchants who followed closely in their wake also had a great deal to do with distributing ideas from one place to another. And it seems that no matter what country’s history you look at, you’ll find that they had some sort of stringed instrument that was used for music or to accompany storytelling.
Possible Influences for Today’s GuitarsThere are plenty who stick to the theory that it was the introduction of the “oud” by the invading Moors in the 8th century that was the true influence of today’s modern guitar. Of course there are also those who are more inclined to believe that it was the Scandinavian “lut” (or lute) which was very popular all across Europe during medieval times thanks to the Viking’s frequent forays.
Since there are elements of each of these in today’s version, it is far more likely that the instrument we know today as the guitar was the result of a combination of all of these influences. But when it comes to the true “fathers” of the modern guitar, there is no question about Spain being where the modern guitar came into its own during the middle Ages, developing into what we know today as the Classical or Flamenco style guitar.
Coming to AmericaThere is something about music that appeals to all humans. History is full of references to musical instruments of all kinds (drums, wind instruments, stringed instruments) that were created by individuals in order to provide themselves with music. The early conquistadors who came to the New World seeking wealth and adventure were no exception.
When the first Spanish explorers came to the New World in the 1400’s, they brought their guitars with them. By the time the English settlers had expanded into Spanish held territories they found that these enchanting stringed instruments had gotten there before them. In fact, many colonists adapted the guitar to their own needs (the history of the banjo is one that reflects this), until today there are three main styles of acoustic guitars for the true aficionado to choose from.
Today’s Acoustic GuitarsToday’s acoustic guitars come in all shapes and sizes. While most are still made from select types of tone woods, there are some that are made from manmade materials.
Regardless of what they are made of, acoustic guitars themselves come in several main groupings; the classical and flamenco guitars (which are most often used in solo-style playing); the steel-string acoustic guitars (which include folk guitars as well as flat-topped guitars); the archtop guitars and those known as twelve-string guitars.
Each of these types provides a different resonance (as the vibration is amplified by the shape of the guitar’s body as well as the number of strings), and each has become popular for different styles of guitar playing.
While the basic style of the instrument hasn’t changed much since the Spanish perfected it 600 years ago, there have been a number of modern adaptations that have enabled today’s guitars to become far easier to play and far less expensive to make.
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Thanks and Happy Jammin'!
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