Classical Guitar History

Kevin Casper
Classical guitar headstock

Enthusiasts of the world music are often fascinated to learn about classical guitar history. While some people consider the guitar as a relatively new instrument in the long history of music, the classical guitar has actually been around for longer than many people realize; its story is a curious and fascinating one.

Learning About Classical Guitar History

Babylonia

While many people associate the birth place of the classical guitar with Spain, there is actually evidence that suggests humans were dabbling in guitar-type instruments as far back as 1800 B.C.E. Clay plaques found in Babylonian excavations show human figures playing instruments that clearly resemble guitars. These instruments perhaps only had two or three strings, but they clearly had a neck and a body, and they were flat and held like a modern guitar.

Rome

Evolving out of an Egyptian harp-styled instrument, the Romans developed the guitar into an instrument with fret marks on the neck around 400 B.C.E. Features like a soundbox body found on examples of these early guitars are still in place today in modern guitars. Other features like five soundholes on the body continued to be used on these instruments until the 1500s.

Sixteenth Century

The instruments that began to appear around this time show the beginning of real connections between earlier guitar-like instruments and guitars that would be recognizable to modern players. As these earlier forms of the guitar made their way to Europe, they began to take different directions in countries like France, Spain and Italy. The four-string guitar - an instrument that eventually became a mandolin - was used in different countries. The four strings were doubled, and different tunings were used on the instrument in different regions, although the most common was, from low to high, G C A E. Early forms of tablature surfaced at this time and were published in books so musicians could play the songs of the time.

Seventeenth Century

In the seventeenth century, the guitar started to explode in popularity in the noble classes, and five string instruments were becoming the norm. Composers and guitar makers grew in numbers, and a good deal of Baroque music was written and performed on the guitar. Louis XIV was a notable guitar player, and some very ornate instruments from this era still survive. German and Eastern European luthiers began to contribute to the evolution of the guitar at this time as well.

Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

The most significant development the guitar undertook in this period was its evolution to a six-string instrument. The instrument was becoming popular in Belgium, Holland, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and all over Eastern Europe and Russia. The six-string instrument was the norm by the end of the eighteenth century, and influential musicians like Mauro Giuliani in Italy and Dionisio Aguado in Spain began to take the instrument to levels that led the international art community to really begin appreciating the potential of this instrument.

Today

The furthering of modern guitar techniques by teachers like Francisco Tarrega and construction improvements by luthiers like Antonio Torres helped the guitar reach its true potential in the twentieth century. Andres Segovia was considered the giant of the guitar in the twentieth century, and his influence has been felt across the globe and has made the guitar an instrument of true virtuosity. Technological innovations like using nylon strings instead of gut and construction techniques that made the instrument affordable to more and more people helped the classical guitar go from an instrument of the wealthy to an instrument of the people.

Classical Guitar History