A Short History of Guitars

A guitar is a plucked string musical instrument that originated from Spain.

Back in the early 16th century where it was known as Guitarra Latina: a musical instrument with a waisted body and four strings.

The four strings were divided into three double with the top course single which ran from a violin-like peg box to a tension bridge glued to the soundboard.

The 16th-century guitar was tuned C-F-A-D. With the fifth string being added around the 1600. By the late 18th century, a sixth string was added tuned E-A-D-G-B-E,  which is the standard tuning that is still around today.

Spanish 5 string guitar in history

How the guitar has changed over the centuries

During the years, the guitar faced modifications with every century.

The 16th Century

In the 16th century, the violin-like pegbox on guitars was replaced by a flat reflexed head with rear tuning pegs.

The 18th Century

Then came the 18th. The original frets on the guitar, which were made of gut were replaced with ivory and metal frets.

The 19th Century

In the 19th century, tuning pegs on guitars were substituted by metal screws. The fingerboard was raised slightly above the belly level and extended across the edge of the soundhole.

During this century, the guitar became broader and shallower. Internally, the traverse bars reinforcing the soundbar were replaced by radial bars.

Other evolution of guitars

The guitar has evolved with different forms.

The most common ones being the 12-stringed or double course. The Mexican jarana and the South American charango are designed with only 5 strings on their guitars.

Other forms of the guitar include the metal strung guitar, the cello guitar, the violin-bridge, and tailpiece.

The Hawaiian guitar, the strings are stopped by the pressure of a metal bar, which produced a sweet gliding tone.

And last the electric guitar in which the instrument’s sounds and tone depend completely on the electronic detection and amplification of its vibrating strings.

Evolution of guitar in history

The growing popularity of Guitar

The guitar’s popularity grew in the 17th century following the fall of the lute and the vihuela.

During this time, some few virtuoso guitarists from Europe were credited to the spread of this instrument. They include Gaspar Sanz who flourished in 1674; Robert de Visée, famous during 1650–1725; Fernando Sor popular from 1778 to 1839; and Joseph Kaspar Mertz of 1806 to 1856).

The modern classical-guitar technique was credited to Spaniard Francisco Tárrega. He was prevalent from 1852 to 1909.

His transcriptions of works by Bach and Mozart which formed the basis of the concert repertory.

If you are still deciding what type of guitar to get. Go to our buy a guitar guide to find the right guitar for you to learn guitar on.

Coming into the 20th Century

During the 20th century, the guitar’s popularity had already caught on.

Musicians like Andrés Segovia, Heitor Villa-Lobos and Manuel de Falla wrote serious work for the guitar. And this attracted a large audience.

Short history of guitar, with Andrés Segovia

Andrés Segovia

Today the guitar is widely played in folk and popular music in many countries.

In many genres including jazz, the guitar is played as a part of the rhythm section. And at times played as a solo instrument.

The electric guitar can be amplified. These guitars can be used to play a lead role or rhythm part of an ensemble. With a bass guitar playing the bass lines.

Guitars can also be combined with other musical instruments like the piano and drums to form a band. And even be present in full orchestras, whether it’s a string or brass band.

The modern guitar as we know is actually pretty new. And with modern music developing faster than ever with different genres. This is why the ‘standardised’ ways of learning guitar are not fixed and are still being developed.

At our guitar school in London. We focus on the contemporary styles of playing and teaching guitar. Rethinking how best our students can learn to play the guitar as well.