History of Guitars

Guitars have been around longer than most people realize...

The guitar's roots are in Spain. Realistically, it cannot be traced back further than the 15th Century. It is thought to have been invented by the people of Malaga. This early instrument was a "four course" guitar, from which the ukulele is derived. The first guitars were very small, and were originally strung with four pair of strings. Each pair was call a course.

During the Renaissance, the guitar never had the respect the lute enjoyed. It was not considered a serious instrument. The first publication for guitars is thought to have been Alonso Mudarra's "Tres Libros de Musica en Cifras para Vihuela." Eventually, the guitar began to attract players, more publications and music began to appear.

During the During the Baroque period, A fifth course was added. Even more music became available. It's repertoire and the complexity of the music increased.

Parts of a Guitar


In the Past guitarists often found that they could not be heard over the sound of drums and brass instruments. Microphones and amplifiers had been around for a while, so the obvious thing to do was mike up the acoustic guitar. This worked to some extent but often caused problems with feedback, it also meant the guitarist had to sit right in front of the microphone and could not move around. A well known guitarist called Les Paul devised a way of electrifying his guitar with a needle from an old gramophone plugged into an old radio. This amplified the guitar but still caused feedback problems because of the acoustics hollow body. Les Paul decided to build a solid bodied guitar with a built in magnetic pickup. He approached different companies to make his design and eventually Gibson did (hence the Gibson Les Paul). Leo Fender again revolutionized the electric guitar with the idea of a bolt on neck. This was originally done for practicality as the neck would be easier to change. Leo Fender also took the electric guitar to the production line, first with the Esquire model and then the Telecaster which featured an extra pickup. Fender again revolutionized electric guitar design with the Stratocaster model. After listening to the needs of session musicians Leo Fender designed a guitar with two cutaways, a contoured body, 3 pickups and a 'floating' trem system. The Stratocaster went on to become the most popular and most copied guitar shape of all time. Over 50 years later the Strat design has changed very little.

Because the electric guitar was amplified, guitarists found they could use thinner strings. Artists such as B.B. King found they could bend the strings to add expression to their playing. Chuck Berry took this one stage further by bending double strings in his unique rock 'n' roll style. In the sixties innovative guitarists including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Alvin Lee found that by Turing a valve amp up full they could make it distort and a whole new sound was created. Jimi Hendrix took this to the extreme, using distortion and feedback as part of his playing. Unfortunately this sound could not be achieved at low volumes so the distortion pedal was created. These days most amps have a distortion channel built in and a master volume. This way the guitarist can get distortion without deafening themselves. Throughout the years the level of distortion used has become higher, multi effects are now available with all manner of effects built in, but the basic principle of electrifying the guitar has remained unchanged.






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Steven MacDonald