The history of the acoustic or classical guitar is somewhat elusive. No one really knows when the first guitar was patented or created; all we know is the time period when variations of this amazing instrument were first produced. Some claim the guitar has ancient history; others claim it is only a few hundred years old. The only solid proof we have as to the guitar’s earliest existence is the patents that were requested when the electric guitar came into production.
Many historians believe that the history of the guitar can be traced all the way back 5,000 years. These historians claim to have seen the earliest guitar on sculptures and pictures from the ancient Egyptian time-period. Bowl–like instruments with strings attached to a long piece of wood help represent their claim of the ancient history (although this instrument is actually considered a harp). Also, the lute is credited as an early form of the guitar. This instrument had a soundboard (fretboard) with roughly 8 frets, and a flat face with a rounded back; however lute was hardly close to the size of a Baby Taylor guitar.
The claims of these historians, however, are untrue. The actual “guitar” in its current state was not introduced into society until the early 16th century when the tuning portion of the lute was combined with ideas for a larger soundboard and a completely different body style (flat face and backing, indented sides and a sound hole). This was called a Vihuela, and is also known as the father of the guitar. This Vihuela used 4 courses (pairs) of strings, similar to the six course 12–string guitars of today. Eventually, the string counts came in pairs of 5 (10 strings total). After some time, the paired strings became one string.
The actual acoustic guitar as we know it today did not come into play until the late 1700’s. The word guitar comes from two different Indo–European roots – “guit” (meaning music) and “tar” (meaning string or chord). On this new acoustic guitar, the designer added one string (the bass). Later on, steel and nylon strings replaced the usual gut–strings (we can all celebrate this advancement).
Today, a few minor changes have been made to the acoustic guitar. String counts on acoustic guitars range from 6–12 and there are more variations of this guitar; acoustic-bass, electro–acoustic, resonator, and steel guitars. A cutout behind the fretboard may or may not be on the guitar (allowing for further reach along the fretboard).
So, the next time the question arises about the acoustic guitar’s history, you know the basics. Maybe one day we will know the exact past of the instrument known as the guitar.