The guitar has a long history, going back at least three thousand years to an ancient Middle Eastern tribe called the Hittites. They played a guitar-like instrument that was probably made from a gourd resonator and had only one or two strings.
About eight hundred years ago medieval minstrels played an instrument called a gittern carved from a single piece of wood and with four metals rings. This is the main ancestors of the Spanish guitar which has a characteristic figure-of-eight shape. This in turn is the ancestor of the many different guitar types played today.
The Spanish or Classical Guitar
The present-day Spanish guitar dates from the early 1800s. Before this, guitars were smaller, some having only four strings, with a wide variety of tuning system. The modern instrument has the familiar figure of eight sound box, a round sound hole, nylon strings and machine head tuning keys.
The classical guitar or Spanish guitar has six strings, three nylon treble strings and three bass strings, made from fine wire wound around nylon fibres. For some styles of music, metal strings are used which produce a louder,harsher sound.
The strings are plucked with the nails of the thumb and three fingers. The tone is eve, clear and bell-like; robust in the bass and sweet in the treble. Extremely complex music can be played on this guitar. Like the piano, the melody and the accompaniment can be played at the same time.
The sound of a note can be sustained by plucking the string with the index, middle and ring fingers in quick succession (temolo). Other effects used by the guitarist include vibrato, produced by shaking a finger on a stopped string to give a pulsating tone and playing close to the bridge (sul onticello) which gives a brittle tone.
Parts of the Acoustic Guitar
The acoustic guitar has three basic parts: a head, a neck and a body.
- The Head
The head, sometimes called a headstock holds the tuning pegs also called tuning machines, machine heads or tuning gears) that the strings are attached to. In a six-string guitar there are six tuning pegs. Each tuning peg has a knob you can turn using your fingers. The knob will tighten or loosen the string tension and this put each string into "tune".
- The Neck
The neck is usually fixed to the body by bolts or glue or formed from the body in one piece. It often has a metal truss rod running through it to strengthen it and help against any slight warping or twisiting. The neck has a flat piece of wood called the fingerboard of fretboard.
The fingerboard is divided into sections called frets. These sections are marked off by pieces of wire set into the wood called fretwire. By stopping a string in between the fretwires- that is "in the middle of the fret"- the frets determine the different pitches or notes you can make on each string. The strings run from the bridge, along the neck and across the nut - which is a piece of wood, plastic or metal at the top of the neck with slight gooves for each of the six strings-to the tuning pegs.
- The Body
The body in an acoustic guitar is where the sound comes from. It consists of a top piece, which is sounding board with a sound hole and a back and sides, which contain the sound and make it resonate.
The body has a bridge, made from either wood or metal, which anchors the strings. There are also strap pins or posts which you can use to attach a shoulder strap.
As one of the most popular instruments in the world today the guitar has developed a bewildering numbers of shapes and types. It is used in almost every style of music and instruments builders have invented new sorts of guitar for the particular need of each style.
A lot of music has been written for the guitar as a solo and group instrument. It is sometimes played in the symphony orchestra and in opera. The classical guitar blends well with the flute, recorder or harpsichord and is particularly good for accompanying the voice. The guitar has survived and prospered and no other instrument has the power to bring people together.