A guitar is a stringed musical instrument played with the fingers (and sometimes a plectrum).
The guitar is descended from the lute. Guitars usually have 6 strings, although there are variations on this, the most common being a twelve string guitar. A variety of different tunings are used. The most common by far, known as "standard tuning", is (low to high) E-A-d-g-b-e', which provides a good compromise providing both simple fingering for many chords, and the ability to play common scales with minimal left hand movement. Others such as E-A-d-f#-b-e' (which provides the same intervals as for a lute), D-G-d-g-b-d' ("open G," commonly used for blues or slide guitar) or D-A-d-g-b-e' ("drop D", frequently used by nu metal bands) tend to be restricted to more specialist forms of music.
Broadly speaking, guitars can be divided into 4 categories:
- Classical guitars: These are typically strung with nylon or gut, and amplification is provided by the resonant hollow body. They are normally played in a seated position and used to play classical music. Flamenco guitars are almost equal in construction, have a sharper sound, and are used in flamenco.
- Acoustic guitars: Similar to the Classical guitar, but with a narrower, reinforced neck to sustain the extra tension of steel strings which produce a louder and brighter tone, the acoustic guitar is a staple in folk, traditional and blues music.
- Electric guitars: Electric guitars have a solid body and produce little sound without amplification. Electromagnetic pickups convert the vibration of the steel strings into electric signals which are fed to an amplifier through a cable or radio device. The sound is frequently modified by other electronic devices or natural distortion of valves in the amplifier. The electric guitar is used extensively in blues and rock and roll, and was invented by Les Paul and independently by Leo Fender.
- 12-string guitars usually have steel strings and are widely used in folk music and rock and roll. Rather than having only six strings, the 12-string guitar has (logically enough) twelve. Each pair of strings is tuned either in unison (the two highest) or an octave apart (the others). They are made both in acoustic and electric forms.
Hybrids of acoustic and electric guitars are also common. There are also more exotic varieties, such as "double-headed" electric guitars, all manner of alternate string arrangements, and such.
EVOLUTION OF THE GUITAR
Whether it be a heavy Warlock, a fancy Flying - V, a classic Stratocaster or a plain old acoustic, everyone knows what a guitar is. But not many know where the instrument came from.
It is amazing how we can all be so familiar with something and not know its history or its origin. Let me fill you in and take you on a trip through the evolution and development of the guitar. You will be introduced to the great grandfathers of all stringed instruments and show you how they developed into what we recognize as a guitar today.
Anyone who thinks the guitar is an American or modern invention, is wrong. Anyone who thinks that the guitar is a hundred, two hundred or even a thousand years old is also mistaken. Actually, most musical historians believe that the guitar was born at least 4000 years ago, although no one really knows for sure. The oldest evidence of the existence of the guitar dates back to 1900-1800 B.C. It was found in Babylonia on clay plaques, which depict nude figures playing instruments that bear a general resemblance to the guitar. Of course, this is far too early for us to expect it to look exactly like the guitars of today, but it did have strings and a distinctly differentiated body and neck.
Around the same time in Egypt, the only plucked instrument was a bow-shaped harp. A little later on, however, there was a new development; a necked instrument with carefully marked frets possibly made of gut, wound around the neck. An instrument was also found in an Egyptian tomb dating back to around 30 B.C. - 400 A.D. The sides had deeper curves than the older instruments, the back had become completely flat (instead of curving upward to meet the soundboard) and the two surfaces, back and front, were attached to each other with strips of wood that form the sides of the sound box. Much like today's guitars.
Meanwhile, in Rome, the instrument had been growing and developing more and more into the basic guitar shape. They began to construct the entire instrument out of wood, even the soundboards which were previously made with rawhide. This made the instrument firmer because the materials were stronger.
The first known European stringed instrument dates back to the third century. It had a round sound box that tapers into a wide neck, similar to the lute. A second instrument had also been invented called the Carolingian instrument, getting its name from the era in which it was conceived. It was a rectangular shaped instrument with strings. Finally another instrument develops side by side with the Carolingian and its straight sides were starting to give way to slight curves.
The only evidence man has of the existence of guitars before the sixteenth century is based on artwork. The only real instruments discovered were from the 1700's or later.
Moving into the seventeenth century, the guitar was becoming popular and particularly valued by the nobility. In France, King Louis the XIV played the guitar and apparently regarded it as his favourite instrument. The number of composers, guitarists and guitar makers grew rapidly during that time.
By the eighteenth century, Germany had become increasingly active in this particular music field. It too accumulated an impressive number of guitarists and composers especially as baroque music reached its peak. Meanwhile in France, the guitar had attained the status of an instrument par excellence by the nobility. Soon after, the French revolution caused many nobles to be exiled and surprisingly the guitar actually became more popular as the general public adopted the instrument.
But it wasn't until the nineteenth century that it really reached the peak of its development. Rising in all its glory to shine not only in every part of Europe, but also on the American continent. In the nineteenth century the Industrial Revolution brought about great change. With improved means of transportation, railways for example, musicians were able to travel more widely than before. This led to concert tours, which gave artists the opportunity to play for bigger audiences.
The guitar has been known in the New World from as early as the sixteenth century when Spanish colonists sold guitars to the Aztec Indians. Portuguese artists also helped the guitar's popularity, particularly in South America. Their activities led to the deep involvement of the guitar in the folk music of many countries
It isn't until the 20th century that the guitar fully reaches it's potential. The extraordinary technological progress and the development of mass media communications contribute to the global exposure of the instrument. Consequently, more people are given the opportunity to participate in and around the guitar, such as musicians, composers, listeners and those of us who just enjoy picking out a tune for our own enjoyment.
As we near the end of our journey through the guitar's history, landing in the twenty-first century, there isn't much more to say. You now know where the instrument came from and how it has developed into what it is today. Guitar makers have built on each other's knowledge and experience over the centuries, steadily improving the quality of the instrument. From the Babylonians, through the classical world and into the new world, we have seen the guitar evolve as an instrument revered by millions of people over the course of 4000 years. Indeed the guitar has earned respect from people all over the world and from all walks of life.