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The Guitar: Its History and Construction

By: Courtney Pancost

The guitar is one of the most familiar and common instruments the world over. It is descended from other stringed instruments that were common in Greece, in India, in Mexico and in Africa - in fact, throughout the known world. It's descended from such instruments as the sitar, said to be sacred to the Hindo goddess Saraswati, and the lute, which Greek mythology claims was invented by the god Apollo himself.


It's no wonder that the guitar has a history of association with the divine. The range and styles of music that can be played on the classic stringed instrument is incredible.
From the intricate fire and beauty of classical Spanish and flamenco guitar to the down-home country sounds of good finger-pickin', the guitar is a versatile and beautiful instrument.


Modern-day guitars have a hollow or solid body, a neck with frets, and a tuning mechanism that is called the machine head. They may be acoustic, or electric, and are one of the most popular instruments in the world.


Guitar bodies for acoustic guitars are made of wood, often spruce, red cedar or maple. The face of the guitar, or top, is one of the most important factors in its sound quality.
It is carefully engineered to a precise thickness, and braced by a variety of materials.


The most important piece of the guitar is the face, or top.
Its composition, shape and engineering will determine the final sound of the guitar. The back and sides also make a difference, but not so much, and often, luthiers will choose the wood for the sides and back with an eye to appearance rather than sound quality.


Electric guitars are solid, though they are rarely made of a single solid piece of wood. Instead, most are created of many layers of different kinds of wood laminated together.
This gives the guitar both strength and sound quality that wouldn't be possible in a single piece of wood. Often, the electric guitar is made of a 'good sounding' wood like ash or poplar, with a laminated top of a more attractive wood for appearance.


It's hard to believe that the same instrument is capable of creating such wide and varied styles of music. It's even harder to believe that only a few hundred years ago, the guitar was considered the instrument of peasants, lesser than the noble violin and organ. It was considered so much lesser that across the United States, older generations boycotted Catholic churches that used guitars to celebrate faith in folk Masses.


Nowhere else will you find the variety of guitars that you find in a typical Mexican mariachi band. A typical mariachi band will include at least three kinds of guitar - a classical guitar, a vihuela and a guitarron, a large guitar that is nearly the size of a cello.


Mastering the guitar, however, takes years of practice. The difference between a three-chord strummed song and the intricate finger picking and speed of a flamenco guitarist is unmistakable.


From divine beginnings, though its history as the music of peasants to its elevation again as the king of instruments, the guitar has been a beloved instrument of people the world over. If you choose to learn only one instrument, the guitar is the perfect choice.

Courtney Pancost is the owner of

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