History of the Guitar

A Guitar Player

Davey Lee Goode:
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The History of the Guitar

In "The Classical Guitar, Its Evolution, Players and Personalities since 1800" by Maurice J. Summerfield (third edition, 1992, Ashley Mark Publishing Company), Summerfield makes an interesting case for the origin of the Spanish guitar. He argues that it must have descended from the Roman tanbur or cithara brought by the Romans to Spain around 400 AD. At least on the face of it, this view is directly opposed to the more conventional assumption that the guitar's ancestor was the ud, brought by the Moors after the invasion of Spain during the 8th century. The following is a short discussion taken from that chapter along with my own comments and supplemental information from "La Guitarra Española", published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Prado in Madrid.

There is evidence that a four string, guitar-like instrument was played by the Hittites (who occupied a region now known as Asia Minor and Syria) around 1400 BC. It had characteristically soft, curved sides--one of the primary features of anything identifiable as a guitar or predecessor. The Greeks also produced a similar instrument which was later modified by the Romans, though both versions appear to have lacked the curved sides. What is interesting here is that it seems this Roman cithara appeared in Hispania (now known as Spain) centuries before the Moorish invasion.

It had long been assumed that it was only after this invasion and the introduction of the Arabic ud in the South that a guitar-like instrument first appeared in Spain. But with the Roman cithara arriving centuries prior, we might say that although the ud influenced the development of the guitar it is not the true ancestor. According to this theory, the Spanish guitar derived from the tanbur of the Hittites, kithara with a "k" of the Greeks and then the cithara with a c of the Romans.

However, I believe that following the arrival of the Moors, the Roman cithara and the Arabic ud must have mixed and exerted mutual influences on one another for many centuries. Although there is no specific documentation that I know of, it is likely that makers of uds and citharas would have seen each other's work, if only through presentation by traveling troubadours. By 1200 AD, the four string guitar had evolved into two types: the guitarra morisca (Moorish guitar) which had a rounded back, wide fingerboard and several soundholes, and the guitarra latina (Latin guitar) which resembled the modern guitar with one soundhole and a narrower neck.

In the late 1400's, the vihuela was born by adding doubled strings and increasing its size. It was a large plucked instrument with a long neck (vibrating string length: 72 to 79 cm) with ten or eleven frets and six courses. It was the vihuela which became the preferred instrument of the Spanish and Portuguese courts and remained so until the late 1600's when orchestral and keyboard instruments became more prominent. Although the guitar existed concurrently during this period, the vihuela and lute had overshadowed it until the end of the 17th century when the lute had acquired too many strings, was too hard to play and tune, and the vihuela was slowly replaced by the four and five course guitars (which had seven and nine strings respectively: one single high string, and three or four remaining courses--or pairs--of strings). It was perhaps the addition of the fifth course in the late 16th century that gave the guitar more flexibility and range and thus improved the potential of the repertoire that led to its ascent.

By the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, some guitars already used six single strings and employed fan struts under the soundboard. These struts were added for structural support to allow thinning of the top for greater resonance and for better distribution of sound across the board. Other contemporaneous developments included the use of a reinforced, raised neck using ebony or rosewood for the fingerboard, and the appearance of machine tuners in place of the wooden pegs. (It is noteworthy that the raised fingerboard had a great impact on the technique of the instrument since the strings were then too far from the soundboard to rest one's finger on the face for support.) These guitars would be unmistakably recognized by us as early classical guitars.

Beginning with the early 19th century, in the works of Agustin Caro, Manuel Gonzalez, Antonio de Lorca, Manuel Guiterrez from Spain and other European makers including Rene Lacote, and Johann Staufer, we find the direct predecessors of the modern classical guitar. By 1850, the guitar was prepared for its most important breakthrough since its inception, the work of Antonio Torres Jurado. With the encouragement of Julian Arcas and his own brilliant intuitions, Torres refined the strutting of the guitar to include as many as seven struts spread out like a fan under the soundboard. He increased the body size and the width of the neck considerably. These improvements allowed for greater volume and bass response as well as the development of a left hand technique for richer repertoire. The guitar was now prepared for the demands of the solo performer and the concert stage.

Although there have been continued developments since the middle 1800's, our modern guitar retains most of what was developed nearly 150 years ago. No one can say if we have reached the end of the evolution of the guitar, but until now, many of the best guitars from the point of view of volume, projection and sheer beauty of tone were made by the great makers, Torres, Ramirez and Arias from the second half of the last century!

Ancient Links to the Guitar

The guitar was made and played long before organs, pianos or violins. Its ancestry stretches far back beyond the musical horizon, and variants of it are found all over the Orient. The Ancient Egyptians played simple stringed instruments, and the Greeks and Romans also made music by plucking strings with their fingers. Among the artifacts excavated from Babylonia, the most relevant were the clay plaques dated (1900-1800 B.C.). These showed nude figures playing musical instruments, some of which bear a general resemblance to the guitar. Close examination of the instrument on the plaque shows it to have a distinctly differentiated body and neck. Its back is undoubtedly flat and the manner in which it rests against the priest's chest precludes the possibility of its being bowl-shaped. It is clear that the right hand is used to pluck the strings. The number of strings is unfortunately not clear but on another plaque, at least two strings are shown on the instrument.

Evidence of guitar-like instruments has been found in Assyria, Susa (an ancient city north of the Persian Gulf which was the capital of the Persian Empire), and Luristan.

The Middle Ages - Europe

Instruments dating from the time of the Carolingian Dynasty could be either French or German. The Carolingian instrument is rectangular, the upper end of which is a wider rounded area containing small pegs for the attachment of strings. In some illustrations, these pegs appear to be four; on others, five. The strings are of a corresponding number and are plucked in two ways: either with a plectrum or with the fingers. The Carolingian instrument retained its form up to the 14th century.

At the same time, another instrument began to exist side by side with the Carolingian type which affected the soundbox of the instrument, its straight sides now giving way to slight curves. Representatives of this new instrument can be found in a number of English cathedrals. Depictions of guitar-shaped instruments have been found in French and Spanish cathedrals prior to the fourteenth century.

There was a distinction made between Guitarra Latina and Guitarra Morisca. The latter was brought by the Moors, hence, its name. Its soundbox was oval and it had many sound holes on its soundboard. The Arabs, passing through Egypt on their way to complete the great Muslim conquest of North Africa and Spain, may well have transmitted the cardinal features of this design to the instrument makers of Western Europe. However, it is equally possible that the first Spanish guitars were a European development.

The illustration above, starting from left to right, shows the appearance of the Guitarra Morisca, the Guitarra Latina, the Vihuela the Arab Lute. The Guitarra Latina did have curved sides and was thought to have come to Spain from some other European country. It was this type that undoubtedly developed into the modern guitar. The one thing we can be certain of is that the Arabic influence in Spain prepared the ground for the advent of the guitar.

The popularity achieved by the guitar can be attributed to the nomadic nature of the troubadours. The guitar could have arrived in Spain from Provence by way of Catalonia, and the guitar probably crossed Spain in the hands of itinerant Spanish troubadours. In medieval Europe the travels and performances of these troubadours must have given great impetus to the spread of the guitar on the continent.

The 16th Century

Until the Middle Ages significant information about the guitar and its lineage has had to be drawn from paintings, sculptures and bas-reliefs. Heavy reliance on indirect evidence is unavoidable. By the time of the sixteenth century, however, we find much more direct evidence in the form of instruments that exist to the present day. Sixteenth century guitars are described as vihuela in Spain from the time of Luis Milan, Rizzio guitar from France, and the Italian chitarra battente.

The vihuela developed in Spain, and originally it was like a small four or five-string guitarra. At the same time, the sixteenth century saw the lute emerge as the favorite instrument of the aristocracy in nearly all of Europe. Spain was a notable exception. In this country, the lute had become associated with the Moors and their oppressive rule. The Spaniards did not readily take to the instrument. They did, however, appreciate the music that was written for it, hence the search for a means by which the music could be performed on an instrument other than the lute. The aristocrats turned to the popular guitarra with its four double strings. However, a guitar with only four strings did not have resources adequate to meet the requirements of complex, polyphonic music. In addition, the nobles of Spain were disdainful of the guitar as it was then an instrument of the common people. To solve these problems, the four-string guitar was enlarged and given six double strings, tuned the same as the contemporary six-string guitar except for the third string, which was tuned a half tone lower. This was the instrument that came to be known simply as the vihuela

In its final form, the vihuela was a guitar with six double strings made of gut. The large type of vihuela was some four inches longer than the modern guitar. Like the modern guitar, the neck had twelve frets. One of the first vihuela players was Luis Milan. He was born in 1500, and in 1535 published a book called Libro de Musica de Vihuela de Mano Intitulalo "El Maestro". This was probably Milan's most important work. The last known vihuela is dated 1700 and represents the instrument's final stages of development. Its frets are metal, the curves along the sides have deepened and the sound hole is oval in shape. The popularity of the instrument is evident from the large quantity of music still extant written for it. Music for the vihuela was written in tablature: in this system, each line of the staff represents a string of the instrument. In Spanish and Italian tablatures, the top string is represented by the bottom line, while in French and English tablatures, the reverse would be the case. The numbers on the lines indicate the fret to be stopped on that particular string. Note values are indicated by various notes types placed above the staff. These are similar to our present day notes.

The first composers to publich works of Spanish tablature for the vihuela were Luis de Milan in 1535, Luis de Narvaez in 1538, and Alonso de Mudarra in 1546. This collection of tablatures contains the finest instrumental compositions of the Renaissance. The sixteenth century was the golden age of Spanish vihuela music.

The Four String Guitar

In the 15th century, the terms chitarra and chitarino (Italy), guitarra (Spain), quitare, quinterne (France), and gyterne (England) referred to a round-backed instrument that later developed into the mandolin. Only in the 16th century did several of these terms come to be used for members of the guitar family. The first of the Spanish tablatures to include serious music for the four-string guitar were those of Alonso Mudarra. This included four fantasias, a pavana and the romanesca "Gárdame las Vacas". The second work to include the four-string guitar was Miguel de Fuenllana's Orphelina Lyra. The last work containing music for this instrument was Juan Carlos Arnat's Guitarra Española y Vandola de cinco Ordenes y de Quatro, in 1586

In Italy, a collection of guitar music was published in Venice under the title Libro de tabolatura de chitarra, by Paolo Virchi. The growing number of publications was paralleled by the number of noted guitar players. In France, from 1551 to 1555, five books of guitar tablatures were issued in Paris by Adrian Le Roy and Robert Ballard. These books contain fantasias and pieces in dance such as branles, galliards; music for voice and guitar: psalms, chansons. These compositions came from many masters and show that a true school of guitar playing existed in France in the sixteenth century. Solo works by Alonso Mudarra

The Five String Guitar

In the Middle Ages, three, four and five string guitars coexisted. By the fifteenth century, the four-double stringed instrument excelled in popularity, but in the sixteenth century it was gradually replaced in popularity by the five double string guitar. The five-string guitar began in Italy and gained increasing popularity throughout sixteenth century Europe. The five-string guitar had a derivative in Italy known as the chitarra battente which was characterized by a soundbox the back of which curves gently outwards instead of being simply flat. At first, the chitarra battente was primarily a strummed instrument, but by the beginning of the sixteenth century it had become a plucked instrument.

In Spain, the most comprehensive work for the five-string guitar was published in 1586 in Barcelona. Written by Juan Carlos Amat, which has a section on the five-string guitar dealing with a new method of playing and contains several compositions for this instrument. The tuning of the five-string instrument was A-D-G-B-E as on the five first strings of the modern guitar. Since the tuning of the four-string guitar was the same as that used on the first four strings of the modern guitar, the low A string was the later addition.

The 17th Century

It is known that king Louis XIV of France himself played the guitar and regarded it as his favorite instrument. He had for his teacher one of the most important French guitarists known to us - Robert de Visée (1650-1725). Jean Baptiste Lully was also a great composer of that time who played the guitar and composed for the instrument.

René Voboam represented the height of French instrument building (illustration - guitar on the right) in the seventeenth century, and he made a guitar dated 1641. It is an example of the more ornate style of instrument making. Alexandre Voboam and his son Jean also made guitars in the seventeenth century. The guitar on the left with inlaid mother-of-pearl was made by Domenico Sellas in Venice, about 1670.

German and Dutch Influence

A considerable number of works containing guitar music were published in seventeenth century Holland, including the work of Isabel van Laughenhove. But it was in Germany that the instrument achieved its greatest popularity in Northern Europe.

Among the number of German guitars still in existence, the first known German-made guitar was built by Jacobus Stadler in 1624. It is typical curved, stripped back and shows strong Italian influence. A seventeenth century guitar of an entirely different type was made by a priest, Father John of Apsom. The back of the instrument is decorated with a crucifixion scene.

The most outstanding guitar maker of all Europe was Joachim Tielke of Hamburg (1641-1719). His striking guitars were made and decorated with materials such as ivory, tortoise shell, ebony, gold and silver, mother-of-pearl, jaracanda wood. The workmanship was consistently of the highest quality. On one of them, the sides are made of ivory with pictures engraved on them. These pictures represent scenes from Genesis. His other guitars are covered with Tielke-type floral decorations surrounding mythological scenes, a characteristic of his handiwork. This tendency toward elaborate decoration, as manifested in Tielke instruments, represents the height of German craftmanship; it is comparable to that of the masters of the Italian Renaissance.

Spain and Portugal

Although the guitar was less popular in Spain than in Italy and was not as popular as the vihuela was in the previous century, some important works were established and a number of fine guitarists became known in that country.

One of the prominent Spanish guitarists of the time, Francisco Corbera, dedicated his work Guitarra Española y sus differencias de sonos to Philip IV, king of Spain from 1621 to 1665. But the most notable Spanish guitarist of the seventeenth century was Gaspar Sanz.

Sanz studied the guitar in Italy and also organ and music theory. He became an organist at the King's Chapel in Naples. Upon his return in Spain, he published three books of guitar music in 1674, 1675 and 1697. The books contain the author's extensive instructions for improvisation and performance, using the two methods of playing: strumming and plucking. He believed the former technique was most suitable for dance music. The tuning he used was A-D-G-B-E.

In addition to being a guitarist and organist, Sanz was also an accomplished composer. Solo music occupies a large part of his book. Also included are many dances and passacaglias. Much of his writing is in tablature but there are several short passages in modern notation.

The next significant publication after that of Sanz appeared in Madrid in 1677. It was written by Lucas de Ribayaz. It contains dances based on folk melodies.

Perhaps the most important Spanish composer of the seventeenth century was Don Francisco Guerau, a priest and musician in the court of Carlos II. His book, Poema harmonico compuesto de varias cifres por el temple de la Guitarra Española, published in 1694, contains fifteen passacaglias and ten dances of various types including a pavana and a galliard. Inside the book, he gives a series of instructions on tablature and ornamentation in addition to some very valuable comments on hand position and guitar technique which are interesting for historic and pedagogic reasons. He showed the utilization of the barré and had a great concern with the right hand position and the position of the thumb of the left hand. He contributed in the development of a considerably advanced technique.

In Portugal, the monarch John IV (1603-1656) founded the most comprehensive music library in seventeenth century Europe. One of Portugal's most outstanding guitarists was Doisi de Velasco. His first book was published in Naples in 1640. A second work appeared five years later. Many Spanish and Portuguese works were published in Italy during the seventeenth century. This indicates that the greater popularity of the guitar in Italy led Spanish and Portuguese masters to feel that they could realize higher profits if their works were printed in Italy rather than at home.


The guitar was of considerable significance in Italian musical life at this time and more instruments of this period have survived there than in any other country. The most important factor which led to the popularity of the guitar in Italy and to the enrichment of its literature was the introduction from Spain of the plucked style of playing the instrument. For that reason, the guitar in Italy came to be called chitaria spagñuola. The plucked style of playing the instrument eventually replaced the strumming of chords that dominated the sixteenth century Italian practice. The plucking technique was in turn derived from the vihuela technique that the Spaniards adapted for their guitar. Once the Italians had adopted the term chitarra spagñuola, they seem to have gradually widened its meaning so that for the rest of the seventeenth century it became a general term. The designation "Spanish guitar" persists to the present day as an extension of the seventeenth century usage.

The two essentially different techniques of guitar playing (strumming and plucking) co-existed in seventeenth century Italy. The plucking technique was expressed in tablature notation. The strumming of chords was indicated by a special notation developed by sixteenth and seventeenth century composers. This consisted of a chart of standard chords, each identified by capital letters.

Seventeenth century Italian composers were numerous, and included Girolamo Montesardo whose work is an illustration of guitar music early in the seventeenth century, and Benedetto Sanseverio, who composed pieces in the form of passacaglias, chaconnes and sarabandes.

The most famous guitarist-composer of the 17th century was Francisco Corbetta (Corbetti). Corbetta traveled through Italy as a concert guitarist and toured the rest of Europe with great success, his travels bringing him to many royal courts. He was a great virtuoso and used different types of tablatures to notate his music. The forms of his compositions varied - toccatas, passacailles, sinfonias and so on, but the most significant are his suites, which consisted of the Almanda, Courrente and Sarabande. They were the earliest suites of the Baroque period and Corbetta grouped his pieces and indicated they were to be played as a set.

Giovanni Battista Granata was the most prolific of the seventeenth century masters. His compositions were published in seven volumes each of a substantial size. The pieces for solo guitar include preludes, toccatas, correntes and others, and were complex.

Other important Italian composers were Domenico Pelligrini and Ludovico Roncalli. These composers wrote in tablature systems as the other composers had done previously in the seventeenth century. Many of these composers travelled throughout Europe carrying with them the guitar and its music.

The plethora of Italian seventeenth century manuscripts and published works is matched by a large number of surviving guitars found in museums throughout the world. Unlike the guitars from the north with their rather uniform designs and patterns, the Italian guitars displayed a great variety of ornamentation. Antonio Stradivarius (1644-1737) of Cremona, the most famous Italian instrument maker of the seventeenth century, is best known for his matchless violins, violas and cellos, but he was also known to have built harps, ceteras and guitars, and two of his guitars have survived to the present day.

The 18th Century

In the seventeenth century, Italy was the center of the guitar world and retained this position of leadership until the succeeding century. By this time, however, a challenge began to come from the north. Germany, where the guitar had had a measure of popularity in the 1600s, became increasingly active in this particular musical field, and before long it had accumulated an impressive number of guitarists and composers for the instrument whose achievements rivaled those of the Italians.


This century saw a great revival of interest in the lute. Bach himself, in addition to his numerous cantates, Passions, orchestral suites, concerti and others, composed for the lute. This revival enriched the literature for the lute and caused developments in the instrument that eventually led to the rise in popularity of the guitar. The lute, increasingly, became a complex instrument arriving at a point where it had not less than 24 strings. As it accordingly required more skill and training for performance, and as the problems involved in the technique of playing it increased, it became less and less accessible and more people turned to the guitar instead.

A number of composers wrote for solo guitar: Johann Arnold (1773-1806), Friedrich Baumbach (1753-1813) and Johann Christian Franz (1762-1814) were some of them. But the most important aspect of German guitar music of the eighteenth century is the use of the instrument in a variety of chamber ensemble combinations, for example: guitar and flute; guitar and bassoon; guitar, viola and bass.

An important theoretical publication about the guitar Neu eröffneter theoretischer und praktischer Music-Saal by Joseph Friedrich Bernhardt Kaspar Majer, may be singled out because it contains the earliest known reference to a six-string guitar. Its tuning, according to Majer, was D-A-D-F#-A-D.

The Duchess Amalia von Weimar brought a five-string guitar from Italy to Weimar in 1788. This instrument served as model for some of the early efforts of the celebrated guitar maker Jacob August Otto (1760-1829). The resulting instrument became very popular in southern Germany. In the last decade of the eighteenth century, Otto was ordered by a certain conductor from Dresden (named Naumann) to add to his five-string guitar a sixth string - the bass - in accordance with Italian practice.

The guitar, having gained popularity in Germany, moved to the countries farther north. In Denmark, Peter Schall (1762-1820) cellist, composed songs and choruses with guitar accompaniment.


It was in France that the guitar attained the status of instrument par excellence for the nobility. Here, the tendency to associate the guitar with elegance in sound became especially marked and was subsequently reflected in the many charming works of art which picture the instrument. The most celebrated are the paintings of Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) in which young men and women stroll about in sweeping pastoral settings and are shown playing the guitar. Other French artists who pictured the guitar were Jean Baptiste Pater and Ollivier.

The French also produced art work on their guitars. They continued to develop their art following the same methods of construction used earlier and represented by the sixteenth century René Voboam instrument (see previous illustration). The continuity is demonstrated by a number of eighteenth century instruments. An example of the eighteenth century six-string guitar is an instrument built by Salomon in Paris around 1760.

A more unusual variety of guitar seems to have been developed at this time: the bass guitar. This instrument had a series of extra strings off the neck attached to a separate tuning box. A bass guitar, made by Gérard J. Deleplanque, in 1782, has six single strings on the neck and four bass strings outside the neck. This type of ten-string guitar was later to become extremely popular in the second half of the nineteenth century when it became known as the chitarra decachorda. It survived to the early part of the twentieth century

Performers, composers and luthiers of the 18th century

Perhaps the most outstanding figure in the history of the guitar in eighteenth century France is Charles Doisy. He played both the five and six-string guitars and wrote a treatise, Principes généraux... for both instruments. A prolific composer, he left about two hundred works for solo guitar, guitar and piano, guitar and strings, and guitar and brass instrument.

Folia d'Espagna was a very popular theme known throughout Europe. Doisy wrote not less than fifty variations on it. The Italians Arcangelo Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti wrote variations, too, for this theme.

Probably because in the preceding centuries the guitar had been overshadowed by the vihuela, the Spanish school of guitar making did not begin to flourish until the end of the eighteenth century. By this time, José and Juan Pages' workshops were active from 1790 to 1819 in Cadiz, a center for the construction of musical instruments.

José Benedict and Francisco Sanguino also exerted considerable influence in the evolution of the modern guitar. Juan Matabosch, who worked in Barcelona, counts among the important guitar makers in the late eighteenth century Spain. Fernando Sor's first guitar was built by Matabosch.

Fernando Ferandière enjoyed a high rank as a guitarist in the eighteenth century and was spoken of in glowing terms by Dionisio Aguado. This remarkably prolific composer wrote two hundred and thirty-five works which were published from 1785 to 1799. Ferandière's most important contribution, however, was his Arte de tocar la guitarra española por musica, a method in modern notation for the six-string guitar, published in Madrid in 1799.

Appearing almost simultaneously with the work of by Ferandière was another method entitled Principios para tocar la guitarra de seis ordenes by Don Frederico Moretti, a composer of Italian origin. Moretti's method established the fundamental principles of modern guitar technique and formed the basis for further development. Moretti was highly praised by Sor and Aguado for his work and innovations.

The love of the Spanish for the guitar was made apparent by the frequency of its appearance in the works of artists such as Francisco Goya (1746-1828). Bravissimo, one of Goya's etchings, attracts attention both for its depiction of the guitar and for its backward glance at age-old themes. Other works of art in Spain reflect the emergence of the guitar as Spain's national instrument.

Italy, despite the slight regression in the popularity of the guitar in the eighteenth century, retained its position as guitar center of Europe by virtue of its contributions to the development of the instrument. Italians composers wrote a substantial number of works and, like the guitarists and even guitar makers, traveled widely, bringing to bear on various other countries the influence of their achievements. Of the many Italian composers who wrote for the guitar, the most celebrated was Luigi Boccherini (1746-1805). He traveled extensively, like many of his contemporaries, performing as cellist with the famous violinist Manfredini. These two musicians were invited to Madrid where the King's brother, the Infante Don Luis, engaged Boccherini as composer and performer. Later, Boccherini fulfilled similar functions for the King of Prussia. After this period, Boccherini learned to play the guitar and was invited to write guitar parts. In 1799, Boccherini composed a Symphony Concertante for guitar, violin, oboe, cello and bass.

The strides made in Italy towards the improvement of the guitar had an impact on the instrument throughout other parts of the world, for this century signalled the spread of the instrument in the New World, particularly in South America. Argentina had already produced a number of guitarists. Among them were Manuel Macial and Antonio Guerrero, who became quite famous.

The Italian craftsmen's achievements alone would have earned for their country a lasting place in guitar history. It was through their initiative that the important shift of emphasis - from the elaborately decorative to the more functional and classic style - was effected in guitar construction.

The Six String Guitar

The most important factor in the development of the guitar was the addition of the sixth string, an innovation that belongs to the eighteenth century, just as the five-string guitar was a product of the sixteenth.

The exact date when the six double strings were replaced by six single strings is not known, but the six single-string arrangement probably goes back to the middle of the 18th century. Toward the end of the century, the guitar with six single strings overshadowed all other types and had become the norm. The rosette gave way to an open hole, while the neck was lengthened and fitted with a raised fingerboard extending to the sound hole. Nineteen fixed metal frets eventually became standard. The bridge was raised, the body enlarged, and fan-strutting introduced beneath the table to support higher tension strings. Treble strings were made of gut (superseded by more durable nylon after World War II), bass strings from metal wound on silk (or, more recently, nylon floss). Tablature became obsolete, guitar music being universally written in the treble clef, sounding an octave lower than written.

The 19th Century

We have seen that the various trends taken by the guitar in the preceding centuries led to the six single- string guitar. It was not until the nineteenth century that the instrument was to reach the peak of its development. The acceptance of the six single string guitar became universal, spreading not only to every part of Europe but to the American continent as well. This was the era of great guitar virtuosi whose worldwide concerts helped lay a firm foundation for the instrument's remarkable popularity in the twentieth century.

In the first half of the century enthusiasm for the instrument was centered in Vienna. By this time, Vienna had become a great musical center attracting many musicians from all over Europe, and guitarists were among those who came and their many performances gave the guitar the needed impetus for recognition as a serious medium for artistic expression.

Probably the first important guitarist to settle in Vienna was Simon Molitor (1766-1848). Molitor's numerous compositions include guitar solos and chamber music with guitar parts, among which are trios for violin or flute, viola and guitar. Another performer, Leonhard von Call (1769-1815), wrote a great deal of music for guitar which became popular, and also a method for the guitar.

Mauro Giuliani

The Italian Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829) was one of the most important exponents of the guitar and its music of the nineteenth century. Following an extended stay in Vienna, after 1807 he had a great influence as performer. He initiated the trend toward extensive concert tours for guitarists, thus spreading the guitar's acceptance as a serious instrument throughout Europe. In Vienna, Mauro Giuliani's influence on musical life was profound. He initiated concerts of guitar and orchestra. He frequently performed with some of the most important musical figures of his time because of his outstanding technical and musical accomplishments.

Giuliani's associates included Karl Seidler, Spohr, Loder and Anton Diabelli. Though Diabelli (1781-1858) was both a pianist and a guitarist, of greater importance was the fact that he was a music publisher. It was in this capacity that his association with Giuliani proved particularly profitable. He published many guitar compositions, including those of Giuliani, and his efforts to promote guitar music had a significant effect on the increased popularity of the instrument. Giuliani's daughter Emilia was at one time credited with the discovery of harmonics on the guitar.

Other Composers

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) played and wrote music for the guitar. Too poor to own a piano, he used the guitar while composing. He wrote many beautiful songs with guitar accompaniment, and his most important contribution to guitar literature was the Quartet for flute, guitar, viola and cello.

Many other Italian guitarists followed Giuliani's example by giving concerts and publishing their music in Vienna. One of the most important was Luigi Legnani (1790-1877), who developed a technique and virtuosity that were eventually to surpass Giuliani's. Legnani's interest included guitar construction, and many of his suggestions led to valuable improvements on the instrument. As a composer he was prolific and his works numbered up to opus 250 and included a concerto, duos, trios, variations, 36 Cappricios and a Scherzo.

Of the Bohemian guitarists Wenzeslaus Matiegka (1773-1830) was the most important. His music for guitar both solo and for chamber ensemble includes over thirty compositions.

Fernando Sor

The leading exponents of the "expressionist" school were the Spaniards Sor and Aguado, and the Italians Carulli, Carcassi, and Giuliani. The outstanding figure in the group, Fernando Sor, was the greatest guitarist of the romantic era. Son of a Catalan merchant, he was born in Barcelona in 1778 and received a musical education at the choir school of the nearby monastery of Montserrat.

At eighteen, Sor wrote an opera, Telemachus on Calypso's Isle which was produced in Barcelona in 1797. Sor was called into the army during the confused period of French occupation. When the French withdrew, defeated by Wellington and the Spanish guerilla armies, Sor left with them. After 1812, he lived mainly in Paris, where he gave many concerts.

He made his London debut in 1815 where he was the first and only guitarist invited to perform with the London Philharmonic Society. In 1817, he appeared as soloist in his own Concertante for Spanish Guitar and Strings. During the 1820's he went to Germany and then to Russia. He produced three of his ballets in Moscow. At the death of Czar Alexander I in 1825, Sor composed a funeral march at the request of the new Czar Nicholas I. After his return to France, he worked both as a teacher and composer.

His compositions range to more than 250 or 300 works ranging from salon pieces to complete operas. His best-known major scores were ballets - Cendrillon and Gil Blas. Thanks to his dance instincts, he was at his best composing waltzes, minuets, galops, boleros, and so on. For a French encyclopedia he wrote the first authoritative study of such Spanish dances as the bolero, seguidilla, murciana and sevillana. In a more classical vein he wrote sonatas, fantasias, and sets of variations on themes by Mozart, Hummel and Paisiello.

But Sor's crowning achievement is his Méthode pour la guitare of 1830 - easily the most remarkable book on guitar technique ever written. It represents the fruit of forty years experience.

19th Century Luthiers

Challenged by the developments in guitar technique and the demands for finer instruments, more and more luthiers sought to keep pace with the changing requirements and to produce instruments that would satisfy them.

Johann Georg Staufer (1778-1853) was an outstanding guitar maker established in Vienna. Besides being credited with the invention of the guitarre d'amour, he also gained a reputation for fine guitars. Johann Gottfried Scherzer (1843-1870) took over the Staufer workshop. Experimenting extensively to improve the guitar's tone and taking advantage of his contacts with physicists to achieve his aim, he became one of the first guitar makers to have approached his work scientifically, producing as a result fine quality concert guitars.

Fernando Sor mentions several builders in his "Method for the Spanish Guitar" English Translation of 1836, published by Tecla Editions:

"Mr. J. Panormo made some guitars under my direction, as well as Mr. Schroeder at Petersburgh.... In the goodness of the body or box, the Neapolitan guitars in general long surpassed, in my opinion, those of France and Germany; but that is not the case at present, and if I wanted an instrument, I would procure it from M. Joseph Martinez of Malaga, or from M. Lacote, a French maker, the only person who, besides his talents, has proved to me that he possesses the quality of not being inflexible to reasoning... The guitars which I have always given the preference are those of Alonzo of Madrid, Pages and Benediz of Cadiz, Joseph and Manuel Martinez of Malaga, or Rada, successor and scholar of the latter, and those of M. Lacote of Paris. I do not say that others do not exist; but never having tried them, I cannot decide on that of which I have no knowledge."

Luthier Antonio Torres

The work of the celebrated guitar maker Antonio Torres Jurado (1817-1892) led directly to the basic form of the guitar in which it is now known (picture on the left). He placed great emphasis on the importance of the top soundboard in the production of tone, and he perfected the use of fan bracing under the soundboard to enrich the sound.

Panormo had used fan bracing in the Spanish style since the 1820's. He used the string length to 65 cm, the measure still in use today. He happened to make 650, but Stauffer was making 647, Lacote made some 650 depending on the size of the player's hands. It is now a standard because everyone copies what Torres did. He standardized a pattern of tied bridge almost identical to that found on all classical guitars today, although the tie bridge originated with Baroque guitars, and was standard on all Spanish guitars throughout the entire 19th century.

Torres' innovations resulted in the foundation of a true Spanish school of guitar making whose membership eventually included the most important luthiers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In the 19th century, nearly every builder made a different guitar shape, size, and style. Torres picked a combination of existing designs for his guitars.

Guitarists in Spain

Guitar music flourished in nineteenth century Spain, and Spain produced many outstanding virtuosi at this time. However, the Spanish guitar virtuosi and the Spanish exponents of the instrument achieved their great success outside their native country. Fernando Sor exemplified these emigrant guitarists.

Dionisio Aguado - (1784-1849) was an important virtuoso and composer. He was an important pedagogue and his Metodo para guitarra is still considered one of the best methods written in the nineteenth century. It has been translated into other languages and reprinted several times. He initiated the use of a stand to support the instrument while playing it in a sitting position.

Julian Arcas - (1832-1882) was another Spanish guitar virtuoso. After touring Spain, he traveled to England and performed at the Brighton Pavilion before members of the Royal Family. His playing was highly praised. He returned to Spain, continued to give concerts and was professor at the Royal Conservatory. No less than eighty of his compositions have been published.

Francisco Tarrega - Probably the most important contribution to pedagogy and guitar technique from Spain is embodied in the works of Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909). These included his compositions which rank among the best in the late nineteenth century.

Tarrega received his first guitar instruction at the age of eight. This was followed by studies at the Conservatory of Music in Madrid where he later taught guitar. He also taught in the Conservatory of Barcelona and made over 100 transcriptions of works by Bach, Handel, Mozart and Schubert. In addition, he wrote many compositions of his own: preludes, studies, waltzes and so on that exhibit the increased complexity of harmony and technique made possible by his new approach to guitar playing.

This new approach involved a major change: the holding of the right hand perpendicularly to the strings instead of being held obliquely to them.

Tarrega's technique made more convenient the use of the so-called "supported stroke" or "hammer stroke". At any rate, Tarrega's accomplishments were definite and significant aids toward the formulation of modern guitar technique. They helped revitalize the popularity of the guitar, which had declined in previous years. Suddenly, there was a new generation of composers who could interpret Spain to the outside world in its own idiom: Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909), Enrique Granados (1967-1916), and Manuel de Falla (1876-1946). All of them admired the guitar as aficionados, but only Albéniz grew up playing the guitar as well as the piano. Albéniz went on to become one of the great pianists of the century but he wrote for the keyboard as thought it were a guitar. Many of his works are eminently well suited to guitar transcriptions.

After Tarrega's death in 1909, his work was carried on by a circle of gifted pupils, including Emilio Pujol, Miguel Llobet, Daniel Fortea, and Alberto Obregón.

The Guitar and America

The guitar was known in the New World as early as the sixteenth century when the Spanish colonizers sold vihuelas to the Aztec Indians. The coming of Spanish and Portuguese artists undoubtedly did much to encourage this instrument's popularity, and in South America their activities led not only to the promotion of the guitar but also to its entrenchment in the folk music of many South American countries. These developments resulted in an increasing number of guitarists and guitar makers in both South and North America.

The rising popularity of the guitar created a greater demand for instruments. Later in the 19th century, the increased demand was met by using machines and factory methods in addition to the traditional handicraft.

To some extent, the events of the nineteenth century - the changes in the instrument, the greater opportunities for performers to travel, the wider distribution of the instrument - may be regarded as natural and predictable parts of an evolutionary process. The age old practice of making instruments entirely by hand has been replaced for the first time by machinery capable of mass production. Many of these changes led to the events that were to take place in the twentieth century.

The 20th Century

The 20th century saw an unprecedented surge in the acceptance of the guitar as an instrument for serious artistic expression.

There are two basic reasons for the tremendous popularity of the guitar today. The first and more obvious one is rooted in phenomena that belong exclusively to the twentieth century. The revolutionary technological progress and the development of mass media communications and faster, more efficient modes of transportation are its more notable aspects. Radio, television, the recording industry, communications satellites, jet travel and so on have contributed to rapid global exposure of the instrument. Musicians are now able to give concerts all over the world in the course of one concert season. They are able to reach huge audiences - not only those actually present at a performance but those who view television, listen to broadcasts and to recordings of music, and now even reaching those using computers to access the internet. More people are, therefore, drawn into the circle of participants whether as composers, performers or listeners, and more opportunities are created to arouse interest in the guitar.

The second reason, though less dramatic, is not less significant. It is an extension, a natural consequence of the developments that have taken place in past centuries. We have seen that by the end of the nineteenth century, guitar technique had been brought by Tarrega to the point where it was truly fine art, ready for the next step into what we know as modern technique. The great guitar makers, most notably Torres, had developed an instrument which, with slight variations, retains to this day the classic form of the guitar. These crucial events simply had to lead to the full realization of the guitar's potential of the twentieth century.

Tarrega had many outstanding pupils but by far the most important was Miguel Llobet (1878-1937). Llobet was acknowledged a master and a supreme virtuoso of the guitar and gave concerts throughout Spain as well as in Paris, England, the United States, South America, Berlin, Vienna - in fact almost all the important cities of the Western World.

Andres Segovia

The giant of the twentieth century was Andres Segovia (1893-1987) a close friend of Miguel Llobet. Segovia felt compelled to teach himself the guitar. The technique he eventually developed was an improvement on Tarrega's and one of its most important aspects is precision in all matters particularly in regards to the right hand. Each year, for over half a century, he played concerts throughout the world as well as innumerable radio and television performances. He has recorded practically his entire repertoire. Segovia's involvement with the guitar went beyond performance, and he inspired many 20th century composers to write for the instrument. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco composed the first guitar concerto in 1939, and at the instigation of Segovia, Manuel Ponce of Mexico, Joaquim Rodrigo of Spain and Alexander Tansman of Poland have written for the guitar.

Segovia has directly taught generations of guitarists. Alirio Diaz was Segovia's outstanding pupil and become one of the world's leading players being particularly successful at interpreting Latin American music.

Narciso Yepes

Segovia's fellow Spaniard Narciso Yepes (1927-1997) was another player with impeccable technique. He gave his first public concert at the age of twenty and became a player with international reputation. He was noted for his use of the 10 string guitar.

In addition to inspiring many composers to write for him, Yepes has also edited and annotated much music for the guitar.

Julian Bream

Julian Bream learned by listening to the radio and by watching other players. His formal training at the Royal College of Music was in piano, cello and composition. Bream's first London concert took place at the Wigmore Hall in 1951. Since then he has led the life of a busy and successful musician, dividing his time between his country residence, the recording studio, and concert hall. His musical tastes are varied and his fame as a lute player is as great as his reputation as a guitarist. His repertoire on the guitar ranges from the Bach Chaconne to works by contemporary composers. He has done a great deal towards promoting contemporary music on the guitar.

John Williams

Born in Australia in 1941, John Williams began learning the guitar from his father, founder of the Spanish Guitar Centre in London. In 1952, he was introduced to Segovia who took him on as a pupil. On Segovia's advice he entered the Academia Musicale Chigiana at Siena. Back in England, he studied piano and musical theory from 1956 to 1959. His London debut at the Wigmore Hall took place in 1958 and it his name soon became a byword in England and abroad.

Today, John Williams is one of the most skilled classical guitar players with an outstanding fluent technique. His repertoire varies from transcriptions of early lute music to works of South American composers and contemporaries, and has played works of Bach, Scarlatti, Villa-Lobos and Albéniz. He has also ventured into the electric guitar and pop fields.

Oscar Moore, country pickers Noel Boggs and Merle Travis, and blues masters T-Bone Walker and Muddy Waters. All experimented with the instrument's tonal and harmonic possibilities. In the process, other musicians, makers, and audiences started to pay attention to the new electric sound.

A Louder Guitar - The Resonator

C. F. Martin, Sr.

The history of the electric guitar's development comprises a legacy of invention and innovation dating back well before the 20th century. Particularly since the introduction of the modern six-string Spanish-style guitar around 1800, there has been continuous interaction among guitar players and makers seeking ever-greater volume for their instruments.

By the 1850s, C. F. Martin had developed "X-bracing" to reinforce the guitar's body, as well as other innovationsleading to a new American flattop guitar design. In the 1890s, Orville Gibson's carved-body guitar not only increased its volume, it also set standards for instrument makers in the early 20th century and blazed the trail for the archtop guitar.

The quest for a louder guitar intensified during the 1920s with the advent of big band music, phonograph recordings, and commercial radio. To compete in these new markets, guitar makers began not only building larger flat top and archtop guitars, but increasingly experimenting with different materials and designs.

John Dopyera of the National String Instrument Corporation took the idea of acoustic amplification to its limit, designing a steel-body guitar with banjo-type resonator- amplifiers built into the top.

Another Article

The development of the electric solid body guitar owes a great deal to the popularity of Hawaiian music in the 1920s and 1930s. Hawaiian guitars were solo instruments played with a metal slide. Electric Hawaiian guitars were the first instruments that depended entirely on their sound being amplified electrically not just acoustically.

A key figure was Adolph Rickenbacker who originally he was to make metal components for Dopera Brothers' National Resonator Guitars. While at National, Rickenbacker met George Beauchamp and Paul Barth who had been working together on the principle of the magnetic pick-up. Together they formed the Electro String Company and in 1931 produced their first Hawaiian guitars. Their success prompted Gibson and others to start producing electric guitars.

In the 1940s Gibson new electric models became firmly established. People began to work on ways of applying the solid body of the Hawaiian and steel guitars to regular instruments. In 1944, Leo Fender, who ran a radio repair shop, teamed up with Doc Kaufman, a former Rickenbacker employee, started K & F Company and produced a series of steel guitars and amplifiers. Fender felt the large pick-up magnets in use at the time need not be so large. He incorporated a new pick-up which he wanted to try out into a solid body guitar based on the shape Hawaiian but, with a regular properly fretted fingerboard. Though only meant to demonstrate the pick-up the guitar was soon in demand. 1946 saw the formation of Fender Electric Instrument Company and the introduction of the Broadcaster.

At the same time Les Paul was working in the same direction. Paul experimented with pick ups throughout the 1930s but, had experienced feedback and resonance problems and began to think about a solid body guitar after hearing about a solid body violin by Thomas Edison.. Paul was convinced the only way to avoid body feedback was to reduce pick up movement and the only way to do that was to mount it in a solid body.

Paul persuaded Epiphone to let him use workshop on Sundays, where in 1941 he built the historic "log" guitar.

In 1947 Paul Bigsby in consultation with Merle Travis built a solid body electric guitar that shared certain design features with the Broadcaster that Fender introduced in 1948. Bigsby wasn't far from Fender operation in Fullerton and there is some question who was looking over whose shoulder Fender was more concerned with utility and practicality rather then looks and wanted a regular guitar with the clear sound of a electric Hawaiian but, without the feedback problems. The result was the the Broadcaster which he began producing in 1948 later renamed the Telecaster.

In 1954, Fender began producing the Stratocaster. Along with the Telecaster and the guitars Les Paul was designing for Gibson, they set the standard for solid body guitars.

The Electrified Guitar

The idea of using electricity to create louder string instruments already existed by the end of the 19th century. But it was only during the 1920s and 1930s that engineers, makers, and musicians began to solve some of the challenges of electronic amplification.

Engineer and innovator Lloyd Loar experimented with electrification as early as 1923, developing an electrostatic pickup that sensed vibrations in the soundboard of stringed instruments. His guitars incorporating these unconventional pickups were not successful, though, in the marketplace.

Around 1931 George Beauchamp, working with Adolph Rickenbacker, produced an electromagnetic pickup in which a current passed through a coil of wire wrapped around a magnet, creating a field which amplified the strings' vibrations. Introduced on a lap-steel known as the Frying Pan, the pickup made this guitar the first commercially viable electric.

By the late 1930s other makers and players adapted the new technology to the more traditional Spanish-style hollow-body wooden guitars, but were troubled with distortions, overtones, and feedback--the amplification of vibrations in the body of the instrument as well as in the strings. Guitarist and inventor Les Paul was among the first to address these sound difficulties. Around 1940, on an instrument dubbed the Log, Paul mounted strings and pickups on a solid block of pine to minimize body vibrations. During the 1940s, Paul Bigsby and Leo Fender also began experimenting with Spanish-style solid-body guitar design.

During the early years of its existence, the electric guitar's viability as a "true" instrument was frequently debated. The instrument's detractors often claimed it did not produce a pure, "authentic" musical sound. Country and jazz musicians, most notably Charlie Christian, were among its first defenders, championing the electric guitar's louder sound and ability to compete with other melody instruments in ensemble performances.