A quick guide to the classical guitar

We explain the origins and history of the classical guitar

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Family: String (chordophone).

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Origins: The earliest guitar-like instrument we have evidence of belonged to the singer Har-Mose, who lived c1500 BC Egypt. Debate over the exact origin of the modern instrument is mainly divided over whether the guitar derives from the Latin lute or the Moorish oud, though the only difference between the two is that a lute (shown below) has frets – raised markings that show principle intervals of western harmonic structure – while the oud does not. The word ‘gittern’ first came into use in the 13th century, though the instruments bore little relation to today’s guitar. The large modern instrument in use today is attributed to the Spanish guitar maker called Antonio Torres, who built the first guitar in this style in 1850.

Four facts:

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  • The tablature notation used by modern guitarists can be traced back as far as the 16th century when it was used in a collection of music for the Spanish vihuela, a predecessor to the guitar.
  • In 2014, the guitar overtook the violin as the instrument most likely to be played by children in the UK.
  • Guitar makers are called ‘luthiers.’ The word comes from the french for Lute – ‘luth.’
  • Hector Berlioz initially made his living as a guitarist. He also composed on and for the guitar, as unusually for a composer he could not play the piano.