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History of the Guitar

Musical instruments similar to the modern guitar have been used throughout much of history and by many different cultures and peoples. Instruments like the guitar may have been played as far back as 3,000 years ago.

The Name Guitar

The English word "guitar" comes from the Spanish word guitarra. Prior to that, it likely was formed from the Latin word "cithara" and an ancient Sanskrit "tar", which meant string.

Woman Playing a Lute
Author: Bartolomeo da Veneto
Ancient Guitars

The oldest surviving guitar-like instrument comes from Ancient Egypt. It was used by a singer to the Egyptian queen Hatshepsut named Har-Mose. You can see this guitar today in Cairo, Egypt at the Archaeological Museum.

The Lute came to Europe between the 6th and the 9th century in many forms. It was brought to the Byzantine Empire as the Barbat. Later it showed up in Spain from the Moors who brought the Oud. These instruments became the Lute which was a popular instrument in the European Middle Ages.

Baroque Guitar

One of the predecessors to the modern day classical guitar was the Baroque guitar. It was played during the European Renaissance in the 1600s. The Baroque guitar had 9 or 10 strings with 2 strings generally tuned to the same course or note. A lower E string was added later as the form moved toward the modern guitar.

Antonio Torres Jurado

In the 1800s Antonio Torres Jurado started building guitars in a similar fashion to the modern classical and acoustic guitars. Most of today's guitars are derivatives, or alterations, of guitars that Torres designed and built. He is often called the Stradivari of guitars (Antonio Stradivari being the world famous violin maker).

Electric Guitar

The electric guitar was invented in the United States in the 1930s. The first patent for the electric guitar was awarded to George Beauchamp for a guitar he made with partner Adolph Rickenbacker in 1931. A lot of other inventors and guitar makers were working on electric guitars at the same time. Famous electric guitar makers included Les Paul who pioneered the solid body guitar made by Gibson Guitars.

Electric guitar maker Les Paul
Author: William P. Gottlieb

In 1951 Leo Fender invented the Fender Telecaster. This guitar, together with the Gibson Les Paul, the Fender Telecaster, and the Gibson SG would make solid-body electric guitars hugely popular. These are still the most popular styles and models made today.

More on the guitar: Other musical instruments:

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