Five things that you may not know about the guitar and its history
The guitar, as we know it today, is perhaps the most popular modern instrument. It is perhaps the versatility, and range of available today that has seen it become the central instrument in the vast majority of popular music. You may be far less familiar with its history, however. It’s far longer, and far more interesting than you might think.
Here are five interesting facts about the guitar, which you may not know…
The oldest guitar-like instrument is 3500 years old
Forget ‘50s Telecasters and Les Pauls– this is a truly vintage instrument. It was found in Egypt, and is believed to have belonged to a singer known as Har-Mose. He was employed by Architect to Queen Hatshepsut, and buried, with his instrument, close to his employer.
It was constructed of cedar, featured 3 strings and had a plectrum, of sorts, attached by a cord to the neck. *adopts guitar-nerd voice* ‘The guitars were always better, pre-roman invasion…’
The first instruments to bear the name ‘Guitar’ appeared in the 13th century
The name ‘guitar’ has its origins in the Latin word Cithara. It wasn’t until the 1200s that an instrument began to use the name. The Guitarra Moresca (Moorish Guitar) and Guitarra Latina (Latin Guitar). The Spanish Vialo do Mano was perhaps the modern guitar’s closest ancestor, however. Appearing in the 15th century, it usually had 6 strings, and a familiar body shape, resembling a modern acoustic.
Tablature notation dates back to the 14th Century
Whilst in some, slightly snobby musical circles, Tablature (the means of notating guitar parts with each string represented, and fret numbers for each note) is looked down upon a little, as being ‘for those who can’t read real music’, it actually has a history as long as that of traditional notation. Originally used by organists and lute players, the first recorded uses of Tablature occurred in the 1300s.
Before we rock, first we must, erm… ‘Baroque’
The predecessor to the, now common, Classical guitar (also known as the Spanish, or nylon string), was the Baroque guitar. This was smaller bodied, lighter and more ornate than a classical, and still had 5 pairs of gut strings.
Not all classical composers used a piano to compose…
Whilst the typical image of a classical composer is one of a musician hunched over a piano, with sheets of manuscript scattered across it, several of the most famous went against this ‘tradition’. Franz Schubert reputedly used a guitar that was strung over his bed (he couldn’t afford a piano), as did Berlioz, as it was his most proficient instrument.
So, there we are, five historical nuggets of trivia. Now, to the pub quiz!
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Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.