About the Guitar

The guitar is an incredibly popular instrument known the world over. Its roots are ancient, and early derivatives of the guitar can be found across the globe, from central Asia to Scandinavia. The six-string model is most popular, but you can also find four- and twelve-string guitars, as well as everything in between. Guitars feature prominently in most genres, including blues, country, flamenco, rock, and pop. It's also used as a solo classical instrument.

There are two general types of guitars: acoustic and electric. In acoustic models, the strings' vibrations are echoed and amplified by the guitar's hollow body, creating a resonant tone. Electric models use electronic amps to create sound.

Traditionally, the dominant hand plucks or strums the guitar strings, while the other hand depresses and grips the strings. This is because it takes more mechanical finesse to pluck, similar to how the right hand controls the bow when playing the violin. Of course, this means that most people play right-handed, though guitars can be modified for left-handed players.

History

The guitar likely derives from an instrument known in ancient India and central Asia as the sitara. The origin of the word "guitar" is long and complex: It's believed it was adopted into English from the Spanish word guitarra, which is derived from the Latin word cithara, itself derived from the earlier Greek word kithara, which perhaps derives from Persian sihtar.

Evidence suggests that guitar-like instruments originated over 3000 years ago, but the modern guitar is descended from the Roman cithara, which, once brought to what is now Spain, developed into the oud. The six-string Scandinavian lute may also be an early predecessor.

Starting in the 16th century, you start to see stringed instruments more closely resembling the modern guitar. The Spanish vihuela or "viola da mano," had lute-style tuning and a guitar-like body and was a vital element in the transition from Renaissance-style lutes to modern-day guitars. The vihuela did not last long, though, waning in popularity before the turn of the century. After the vihuela came the five-course Baroque guitar, popular throughout Europe until the 18th century. The six-string guitar we know and love probably originated in the late 18th century with Gaetano Vinaccia, whose Naples, Italy workshop was known for its unique six-string models.

Small changes to the body, strings, and frets happened over the course of the next 200 years, but it wasn't until the 1930's that any drastic changes to the guitar were made: In 1936, George Beauchamp patented the first electric guitar.

Components

There are many, many different pieces to a guitar, through the seven essential components are the body, neck, head, nut, frets, bridge, and strings. The body is the bottom, large part of the instrument, while the neck is the skinnier part. The head is at the top, with the nut connecting the head and neck. The frets are the "ridges" on the guitar that demarcate musical scales. The strings are, well, the strings, and the bridge holds the strings in place.

Of course, there are many more complexities to these parts and to guitars in general. Custom models can take months to make due to the sheer number of components involved. Advanced players often have custom specifications for many different pieces, creating an instrument with a wholly unique sound and personal feel.