History of the Guitar

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Graduation Project
March 9th, 2009

As I dust off the top of my guitar case, to feel the instrument inside hurting to be heard, I unsnap the brass locks, lift open the creaking top and am overcome with an involuntary smurk. My favorite guitar, my baby, a Gibson SJ200 replica that me and my father built. Light brown with the highest gloss, chocolate brown fretboard, with brass strings like falling stars shooting to th head of the guitar. I suddenly wake up to find my dreams still dreams instead of a flashback in history. If only I could build such an acoustic guitar, and capture such a beautiful sound using the technology so easily found today. Maybe if I knew more about the instrument’s history, or the technology’s. The guitar had its primitive origins in the ancient Near East. Clay plaques excavated from Babylonia, dated circa 1850 B.C., show figures playing musical instruments, some bearing a general resemblance to a guitar and having a distinctly differentiated body and neck. Later evidence from ancient Egypt indicates a necked instrument with marked frets about the neck. A stringed instrument from ancient Rome incorporates a wood soundboard with five groups of small sound holes.

During the Middle Ages, guitars with three, four, and five strings co-existed. The Guitarra Latina had curved sides and is thought to have come to Spain from elsewhere in Europe. The Guitarra Morisca, brought to Spain by the Moors, had an oval soundbox and many sound holes on its soundboard. By the fifteenth century, four double-string guitars, similar to lutes, became popular, and by the sixteenth century, a fifth double-string had been added.

In this period of time, composers wrote mostly in tablature notation. Italy was the center of guitar world during the 17th century, and the the Spanish school of guitar making only began to flourish late in the 18th century after the addition of the sixth string. During the 19th century, improved communication and...
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