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THE HISTORY OF THE GUITAR


The evidence that supports the history of the guitar dates from 2500BC and takes a journey from ancient Sumer, Mesopotamia and Babylonia, through Egypt and Anatolia where it reaches its destination in Europe to become a worldwide instrument. The early stringed instruments from which the guitar has developed are the harps and lyres. There are two distinct types, the Sumerians developed a vertical harp and the Egyptians at approximately the same time, developed a bow-shaped harp. Over time, the guitar as we know it has transformed many times, beginning with the lyre or harp like instrument known as Queen Shub-Ad's Harp, which had a vertical neck and rectangular sound board. This beautiful instrument was inlaid with mosaic and lapis-lazuli and sported a golden bull's head stock. During this early period the Egyptians were playing a bow-shaped harp which had a bowl-like sound box. By the beginning of the second millennium B.C, the Babylonians were playing stringed instruments that had horizontal necks. By 1900BC the instrument had developed a shorter neck so that the soundbox could be played in a vertical position. As we know the harp survived as an instrument, and therefore the development of the guitar was a divergence from the harp rather than a transformation.

Judging by the various clay reliefs and plaques from the Babylonian and Hittie cultures, these early instruments were very much a part of the religious expression of the time. Priests and priestesses are depicted playing a variety of guitar-like instruments. One example of the emergence of the guitar can be seen in the Sphinx Gate of Alacahuyuk dated 1300BC which depicts a musician playing what could only be described as a guitar. However, the lineage of the guitar does not follow a straight line to our present day modern instrument. By approximately 1600BC the trail from Mesopotamia goes cold, but we can see the influence in Egypt when the Babylonian instrument is imported and influences the construction of the Har-Mose type instrument. This inter-influence sees the development of the signature curves of the guitar. There have been many variations in development along the way, and some of the off shoots include the guitar-like instrument of Susa , Luristan and Assyria . However, it seems that what we can call a guitar, i.e. the curved - long-necked -string instrument, was recognisable by 1300BC.
The Egyptian Har-Mose instrument is so named because it was found in the tomb of Har-Mose who was a favourite singer/musician of the architect to Queen Hat-Shepsut. The instrument was found in his tomb in fairly good condition, which is c.1500BC. It has a cylindrical neck which passes through slits in the hide that is stretched over an oval soundbox. The hide also has 6 small sound holes, with three more slits for the strings that probably passed over two bridges. A sort of cup shaped pocket held the neck. The length of the instrument is about 47inches. A plectrum is attached by a cord.

Descendants of the Babylonian instrument were imported into Egypt and were highly popular as many clay reliefs show. The Har-Mose type instruments were also popular and therefore it seems inevitable that they would become combined into one instrument. It is this combination instrument that is the forerunner of all stringed instruments. Of course this doesn't suggest that instruments of this sort did not develop through slightly different lineage in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, the evidence is fairly scant and there are many missing links. What we do know is that the combination of the Babylonian & Har-Mose instrument, together with the Hittite Guitar find connection in Egypt . The importation of Babylonian influence into Egypt and the cultural interface between Egypt and the Hittites seems to present a reasonable explanation.

Later development c.3 rd Century A.D, we find the Roman period 'guitar' in Egypt, which presents us with depictions of what appears to be a modified version of the Har-Mose and Babylonian instruments, with slightly curved sides. As we know the Hittite Guitar had curved sides, and it seems likely that the Roman instrument is a culmination of all three influences.

Moving into medieval times we find the Guitar has taken shape in Europe . Perhaps the greatest differences, compared to the Babylonian, Hittite and Egyptian instruments, are the number of strings and the shape of the soundhole. If we compare the first known European guitar with the Eastern instruments of the same period we find that the Eastern instruments had no more that 4 strings, whereas the European instrument had 6 or 10 strings. It seems therefore, reasonable to believe that the European and Eastern instruments evolved independently. The indigenous European guitar had no curves, but later this changed as the Egyptian instrument found its way into Europe , where by the 16th century the guitar had developed to show a combination of characteristics from both the Egyptian and European instruments. The guitar continued to develop and eventually had 6 double strings and later the 6 single strings. We are not sure exactly when the single 6 string guitar first appeared, but in all probability it was around the 1700s in Italy . However, before this time, in approximately 1466 the guitar really took off, due in large part to the development of the first music type-face. This meant that music could be printed and therefore was more accessible. Its worth mentioning that the Spanish instrument took a slightly different developmental route. The Spanish were reluctant Lute players because this instrument was regarded as an instrument of the Moors, who had invaded and oppressed the Spanish people. This reluctance gave rise to the development of the Spanish 4 string instrument, into a 6 string instrument known as the Vihuela. This transformation enabled the playing of Lute music on the Vihuela. The Lute, although very popular in Europe , proved to be somewhat inaccessible due to the complexity of the instrument, and therefore a shift towards the single 6 string instrument emerged. The guitar continues to grow in popularity, and at this present time there has been a steady increase in U.K guitar sales of about 11% per year.