Every culture in the world has some form of guitar, but most of us are guilty of knowing very little about its origins. The guitar can be traced back as much as 4000 years. The oldest known iconographic representation of an instrument displaying the essential features of a guitar is a 3,300-year-old stone carving of a Hittite bard.
The modern word, guitar, was adopted into English from Spanish guitarra. The guitar is descended from the Roman cithara brought by the Romans to Hispania around 40 AD.
The guitarrón is a very large, deep-bodied Mexican 6-string acoustic bass played in mariachi bands. It is fretless with heavy gauge nylon strings.
Six, Seven and Twelve String
Guitars come in both 6 and 12 string models. The 12 string guitar usually has steel strings and rather than having only six strings, the 12-string guitar has six courses made up of two strings each. The highest two courses are tuned in unison, while the others are tuned in octaves.
The first guitarist of note to use a seven-string guitar was jazz guitarist George Van Eps. The Solid body seven-string guitars were popularized when Ibanez Guitars released the Ibanez Universe guitar, endorsed by Steve Vai.
Electric guitars can have solid, semi-hollow, or hollow body. They come in acoustic, semi acoustic and electric. A semi acoustic still has pickups so you can plug it into an amp, but has the body of an acoustic. They can be used in conjunction with an effects pedal to create a multitude of sounds.
In 1982 Uli Jon Roth (Original guitarist for the Scorpion’s) developed the “Sky Guitar”, with a vastly extended amount of frets. It was the first guitar to venture into the upper registers of the violin. Roth’s 7-string and 33 fret “Mighty Wing” guitar features an altogether 6-octave range!
The guitar is a transposing instrument. Its pitch sounds one octave lower than it is notated on a score.
A Lot of Money
Eric Clapton’s favorite guitar, named ‘Blackie’ was at one time the most expensive guitar ever sold. It was bought for $950,000 USD in 2004 by a guitar archaeologist.
It became the 2nd most expensive guitar in the world when its predecessor sold at an auction in Doha, Qatar on November 16th, 2005 for $1 million dollars! The Strat was signed by several rock musicians to benefit a tsunami charity, ‘Reach out to Asia’. It was bought by Qatar’s royal family for a million US dollars and donated back to the Asia Program, bringing in $2.7 million US dollars at the more recent auction. In all, the guitar has generated a total of $3.7 million US dollars, making it the most expensive guitar yet.
We have all heard of the market leading manufacturers Fender and Les Paul, but did you know…
- Leo Fender was a saxophonist, not a guitarist, as is the current head of the Corporation.
- The first Fender was made in 1943, made from oak. Leo fender gave it away to Roy Acuff, a country music legend.
- In 1950, Leo Fender devised a strength and durability test for guitar necks which was balancing a neck between two chairs and standing on it.
- The Telecaster was originally called the Broadcaster but this clashed with a drum kit of the same name. While the new name was considered, Fender produced guitars with no name on the headstock, and these ‘Nocasters’ are collector’s items.
- A Fender Stratocaster is carved on Jimi Hendrix’s tombstone.
- Guitar fan Chris Black of London held a wedding ceremony in 2001 and married his Stratocaster
- Fender uses alder, not the more usual ash for guitars. Alder trees don’t grow large enough to make guitars anywhere except Oregon, within an area only 200 miles by 50 miles.
- In a peak year, Fender makes over a quarter of a million guitars. They are the largest manufacturer of electric guitars in the world. Fender also makes banjos, mandolins and violins.
- The Fender factory makes around 90,000 strings per day. This is over 20,000 miles a year, enough to circle the world. They also make around 950 guitar necks a day!
- Les Paul’s original name was Lester William Polfuss. (A “Lester Polfuss” guitar just doesn’t sound as cool.)
- Paul was a semi-professional guitarist at age 13, playing country music and starting to dabble in sound innovations.
- Paul built his first solid-body guitar in 1941 and continued to work on in through that decade.
- Paul’s experiments sometimes put him as risk. He almost electrocuted himself in 1940 during a session in the cellar of his Queens apartment.
- Paul suffered a severe car accident in 1948 in Oklahoma, when he slid off a bridge into a river in the middle of a snowstorm. His right arm and elbow were shattered, and his back, ribs, collarbone and nose were broken. He asked surgeons to set his arm at such an angle that he could still play guitar, and after a year and a half of recovery, could once again play.
- The year 1952 was a big one for Paul. He unleashed the first eight-track tape recorder and also released the Les Paul gold-top solid body electric guitar, forever changing rock ‘n’ roll.
- Paul and his wife Mary Ford performed together as a duo in the 1950s. Paul played the guitar and Mary Ford sang. In just 1951, they sold six million records.
- The final design for the new Les Paul Custom was finished in early 1954, and the guitar made its official debut at the Chicago NAMM show in July of 1954.
- Paul was guitarist Steve Miller’s godfather.
- Jimi Hendrix consulted Paul when building his famed Electric Lady Studios.
- Paul is a member of the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
- Jimmy Page, Slash, Zakk Wylde, Joe Perry, Eric Clapton, Bob Marley, Billie Joe Armstrong and Pete Townshend are all known for strumming Les Paul guitars.
There are many makes and models of guitars available, if you require more information and unbiased reviews on many guitars, click the link.
When buying a new guitar, do some research and ensure you are comfortable with the model you are looking at, this way you will have many years of enjoyment from your new musical instrument.