Guitars are derived from ancient instruments that can be traced through history over forty centuries. The name ‘guitar’ is derived from the ancient language Sanskrit word of “tar” meaning string. The ancestry of this instrument has been debated for years, but the most widely accepted theory dates back to Sumerian harps and Indian Setars in the 24th Century BCE. This instrument has adapted and changed in countless cultures over thousands of years to become the style and sound we know today.
Guitars are classified into three main types: classical, acoustic and arch top guitars. The classical guitar utilizes nylon strings while the acoustic and arch top guitars employ steel strings. The arch top guitar was introduced toward the end of the 19th century by Orville Gibson who married the construction of the classical guitar with that of a cello which revolutionized music forever. Later, using the principle of electromagnetic induction, the electric guitar was introduced to the modern world.
The electric guitar is certainly one of the most recognizable and iconic musical instruments in the world; with versatile sounds and styles across different genres. The developmental phase of electric guitars can be traced back to 1920s when Les Paul and Leo Fender streamlined the production and manufacturing process of electrifying the arch top. This newly developed modern marvel uses a system of electromagnetic “pickups” to create sound allowing for further amplification and modification.
Modern day electric guitars come in various shapes and sizes, but most common varieties contain the following identifiable features: the headstock, the nut, the fret board (also called the neck), the body, and the bridge. There are folk guitars with a single string, four string tenor guitars, seven string rock guitars, and every other variation you can imagine. The strings can be tuned to different pitches, but the most common is called standard tuning where the strings are E-A-D-G-B-E from lowest to highest. Modern guitars are designed using a combination of “tone woods” to create unique sounds with ash, maple, poplar, basswood, rosewood, mahogany, and spruce being the most common.
The acoustic guitar, followed shortly by its electrification, has changed the landscape of popular music since the early 1900s. Its reach has popularized political movements, created social identities, and touched every genre in every culture. Music will continue to change, but the guitar will forever been remembered as the tool that changed with it.