History Of The Guitar

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Guitar history is extremely rich and interesting at the same time. What are its ancestors? The main actors? Everything’s answered here.

As it’s a vast subject, I will make several articles on it. The first part will concentrate on ancestors, the second on classical guitar, and the third on electric guitar.

1. A great family.

Lyre Saint Romain En Gal
Mosaic found in a Roman archeologic site in Saint-Romain-En-Gal (France)

Before the guitar was even born, some unknown genius(es?) got the idea to create a stringed instrument. Its name was the lyre. It was not really resembling the guitar but it had several strings and a hollow body. Could you believe that it was more than 4000 years ago? It’s even possible that stringed instruments existed before that. We don’t know yet.

But we still know many other things from the past. Especially from a more recent past. We can say for sure that Egyptians and Moors had lyres, for example. Paintings, statues and even some examples remain as proofs…

The lyre could be the oldest guitar’s ancestor. But there are others. Modern tanbur, lute, oud… among the early stringed instruments. I will not cover everything as it would take an entire book. There are some links at the end of this page, if you want to take a look.

2. The classical guitar.

You won’t be surprised if I say that the classical guitar was invented before the electric one. Logically, it came first. As we mentioned its ancestors in the first part, we will concentrate on the instrument we know: the modern classical guitar.

To say that all the credit goes to Antonio de Torres Jurado is a bit wrong. Yes, he clearly brought all the features together in the instrument. But he got them from its many ancestors.

However, he was probably the most important luthier of the 19th century. The way he modernized the guitar was remarkable. He adjusted the strings height, and thanks to him, the instrument could now be played in front of large audiences.

3. Electric guitar.

Lap Steel Diagram
Rickenbacker Lap Steel Diagram (1934) Design by Georges Beauchamps

The youngest member of the family. Hey! This little one has come a long way though. Who’s got the idea first? Hard to tell. But it’s believed that the first one to really design the product was George Breed, a young naval officer. It was clearly close to the guitar we know, though there were no pickup system integrated. Only an electromagnet to transmit electricity. But it was genuine.

Back in the 1920’s, the Hawaiian music in the United States was really popular. George Beauchamp and Rickenbacker came up with an idea of using an electromagnetic pickup on a guitar. And the first electric guitar was born.

4. Guitar history: a few words…

It’s always interesting to learn more about the things we love. And I must admit, I could get lost sometimes. Here are two free books you can enjoy:

Please note that I’m currently working on articles to make this section more complete. Stay tuned 😉

4 comments

  1. What an informative post! Thank you so much for taking the time to share all of this valuable information with us. My daughter just recently got a guitar. She is studying piano now, but picks it up and is just teaching herself. So fun! What do you recommend is the best way to get rolling in learning to play?

    1. Hi Shelli, thanks for your comment! There are some beginner guitar lessons on this website if she wants to get started. The best way to start is just to play everyday. At least 5 mins or more. If she’s committed, she’ll improve ;).

  2. Hmm.. interesting! I didn’t even know that – the classical guitar was invented before the electric one.
    I have been into music for about 15years now. My major areas are – Vocals and Keyboards {Pianos}.
    I may need to enroll for the beginner’s guitar lesson on your site – no one is an island.

    I just have passion for music naturally.
    Interesting article, Ben.

    Best of success!
    WealthyBen!

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