There was a time when it was difficult to imagine that this simple, and easy to play instrument, could become the symbol of freedom it is today. The great majority of today´s popular music makes extensive use of the guitar. It was the instrument of choice in the golden age of Jazz, Blues and Big Bands. It later became the cornerstone of Rock and Roll, and in the later part of the twentieth century it was used to play almost any kind of popular music from Ballads to Reggae. Today, the most widely known instrument setting is the basic Guitar-Piano-Drums, commonly seen in many musical contexts.
The guitar gained its place in the musical scene due to its playability and versatility, allowing professionals and aficionados alike to deliver impressive performances. The electric guitar offers an almost infinite array of sounds, textures and effects. Players are only limited by the complexity of their own musical preference. But no one could have guessed this enormous power by just looking at its humble beginnings.
Guitars are actually a product of the contact of two very distinctive societies: the Spaniards and the Arabic Muslims. These extremely rich cultures gave birth to the classic iconic guitar with its long, fretted neck, its wooden and curved soundboard, and its flat back. Its design and popularity have of course varied with time, but its actual shape and acceptance had been already achieved by the nineteenth century.
While there have been stringed instruments for millennia, the guitar is the direct descendant, both structurally and etymologically, of the Muslim Cithara. During the Moors invasion in Spain, there were two kinds of chord-ed instruments. Their origins are still debated. Their entirely Muslim origins are being challenged by the fact that Spaniards could have inherited their lutes and Citharas directly from their Roman conquerors centuries before the Arabs arrived.
The guitar played by the Christian-Spaniards was an 8 stringed instrument more akin to the Vihuela. Its Moorish counterpart was a 6 stringed instrument that actually looked very similar to the modern classical guitar.
During the 16th century, the guitar was used by the lower classes as a counterpart of the aristocratic vihuela. However, this 5 stringed instrument became widely used in many parts of Europe, such as Italy, Germany and France where it was known as Gittern. The most important addition to the guitar was made during the 17th century. The double strings were eliminated and Jacob Otto de Jena added a sixth string, widening its versatility. This played a major role in its acceptance as a popular instrument.
The industrial revolution of the 19th century brought railways that crossed the continent and allowed guitar masters to make their works widely known, and giving the guitar a boost of popularity. By the late 1800s, master luthier Antonio Torres Jurado perfected the structural design of the guitar, giving it its actual and definite shape.
The Electric Guitar
After the invention and widespread adoption of the telephonic technology, many people started toying with the idea of amplifying stringed instruments by using tungsten pickups. In 1931, George Beauchamp, the general manager of the National Guitar Corporation, designed a hollowed-body aluminum stringed instrument with magnetic pickups that captured the vibration of the strings and transformed them into electrical signals. Its value was instantly recognized by guitarists that played with big bands and had to acoustically compete with wind instruments and percussion.
This opened infinite possibilities and options for both musicians and inventors. The world of music was forever changed by this new symbol of freedom and power. All music styles are now permeated by this instrument, or by the genres that appeared with it, thanks to the freedom the electric guitar allows to players and composers alike. It is now difficult to imagine a world where the guitar is not one of the most important parts of the musical scene.