History Development and Construction of a Classical Guitar

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Carry out study of a Classical Guitar and write a report on its history, development and construction.

The classical guitar, sometimes called the Spanish or nylon strung guitar, consists of a hollow body made with a top, back and sides constructed from thin pieces of wood carved and shaped to give the familiar traditional figure of eight shape. A long narrow piece of wood, called the neck, is attached to the body at one end and has, at the other end, a headstock to which are attached six tuning pegs, each holds one of six nylon strings which it is able to tighten or loosen, for tuning the guitar. The six nylon strings pass over the nut, a piece of bone inserted at the end of the neck to support the strings, along the neck and are attached near the opposite end of the body from the neck, by a piece of wood, known as the bridge. Inserted into the bridge is the saddle, a small piece of bone that supports the strings. On the top-plate of the body is cut a circular sound-hole which allows the sound to emanate. The neck has nineteen metal bars, called frets, slightly raised and attached width-ways along its entire length, at right angles to the direction of the strings. (Figure 1).


Figure 1. A photograph of a Classical guitar with major parts labelled.

The player sits with the instrument on his left thigh, the fingers of the right hand are free to pluck the strings. The fingers of the left hand are positioned along the neck, able to press the strings down onto the frets (This assumes the player is right handed, the position would be reversed if left handed).

There appears to be no real consensus as to the origin of the classical guitar although it is mooted that the first man who noticed a sound when he fired an arrow from his bow may well have triggered the development of the instrument. Antony Dixon, a guitar maker from the UK, in a page from his website entitled A Brief History of the Guitar (http://www.guitar-maker.com/Pages/histCG.html) tells us that around 1400 BC the Hittites, who were a bronze age people and settled in what is now modern Turkey, played a waisted bodied stringed instrument with a long neck, although we can not be sure whether this was a direct ancestor of today’s classical guitar. He goes on to say that what we do know is an instrument that looked like a guitar, called a vihuela, was developed in Spain during the fifteenth century. The original vihuela had eight strings which were tuned as four courses (a course was a pair of strings) to A, D, G and B. José Ramirez III, noted Spanish luthier, believes that the present guitars were conceived by Vincente Espinale a Spaniard born in 1550. Espinale developed a fifth string which was tuned to E, now the modern day first string. This development improved the musical potential of this guitar as it could now be plucked, previously they had only been strummed. Around the end of the eighteenth century a sixth string was added, (Things About The Guitar, pages 11, 13), tuned to E two octaves below the first string, and the four courses were replaced by single strings. It was tuned; 6th String Open – E2

5th String Open – A2
4th String Open – D3
3rd String Open – G3
2nd String Open – B3
1st String Open – E4
and this tuning is still used today.
In an article from his handbook, A Brief History of the Guitar, UK guitar maker Paul Guy makes the point that classical guitars today have remained almost unchanged since the Spanish guitar maker Antonio Torres altered the proportions of the guitar, around 1850 (http://www.guyguitars.com/eng/handbook/BriefHistory.html). He made the body larger and introduced a fan-bracing (explained in part (b)(i) below) pattern for the top-plate (Figure 2). His new designs significantly improved the volume, tone and projection of the guitar and have become the standard accepted construction.


Figure 2. Drawing showing fan-bracing, attached to underside of the top-plate. Also shown is the sound-hole...
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