Spanish Guitar History

From cultures of historical empires, from la Guitarra Latina to the Spanish Guitar

It is generally assumed that the string instruments emerged about 4000 BC from the hunting bow and the sound it produces while shooting. Around 2000 BC the Babylonians frequently made such string instruments, not only in a simple harp or lyre form, but even with a solid wooden neck and a primitive sound box of stretched animal skins. Just like the bow, the strings ware made of woven plant fibres or aKithara guitar playing by the ancient Greeksnimal materials. Other sources report the ‘tar’ as a primitive stringed instrument originating from India. 'Tar' means string in the Indo-Aryan language, Sanskrit. This would have led to the Indian sitar (literally ‘three strings’). Considering the size of the Babylonian-Assyrian empire, such stringed instruments were distributed over a large area. Also to the Caucasus, where the Hittites further developed the string instrument into a wooden sound box with round shape, a flat top, resonance holes and fret alike bars on the neck. Such instruments appear in rock carving in the Turkish place Alaja Hüyük. Probably the Hittites brought this string instrument to the Greeks whom called it the ‘kithara’, 'kitos' means' hole ', so 'kithara' means ‘cavity with strings’. The kithara was popular among tGuitarra Morisca or  mandorehe art loving Greeks and served as an accompanying instrument for the epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey. Next, the Romans took over the kithara of the Greeks, bringing the Roman ‘cithara’ to Europe. Already around 400 AC the Romans brought their string instruments to Hispania, currently known as Spain. During the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century AD, in Spain, the Roman cithara evolved into the three strings ‘Guitarra latina’. Next when Spain, from the 8th till the 15th century, largely became Moorish territory, the Arabic lute or ‘Al Ud’ was introduced in Spain where it developed into the ‘guitarra Morisca’ or mandore.  All that time Spain had two cultures, the Christian and Moorish. As a result both 3 stringed instruments were used commonly, the guitarra latina accompanying Spanish dances and the guitarra Morisca accompanying Moorish dance and poetry.

During the fall of the Vihuela guitar playingMoorish Empire, the Moorish culture disappeared as well as the influence of the guitarra Morisca while the guitarra latina remained in Spain. Next important evolution was partly based upon the influence of oriental musical instruments brought home from their world travels by Spanish explorers like Marco Polo. These explorers also brought the use of the bow on string instruments from China to the West. As a consequence many artisans developed several variants such as the ‘vielle’ and the ‘vihuela’. The vihuela was also called ‘vihuela a mano’ when the string instrument was played by the hand instead of with a plectrum. The often luxurious vihuela had six double-strings made of gut and was intended for the fashionable society and aristocracy. In the 16th century, the vielle was only played with a bow, becoming the ancestor of the violin or the cello that we know today. During all this time the guitarra latina had remained and evolved into what we, later on, would call the Spanish guitar. A fifth string, a high E, was added to the guitarra latina, which made her much more easier to play than the double string Vihuela, making her rapidly and much more  popular than the Vihuela.

When Spain, in the 16th century, became one of the largest and first global empires in world history, the Spanish versions of the stringed instruments or Spanish guitar spread north of the Pyrenees. Until that time, the lute was the most popular string instrument in the rest of Europe with many troubadours playing the lute, travelling as folk musicians. Because of the complicated way of playing, soon the lute was oppressed by the rise of the guitar from Spain. Lute lovers, including the religious clergy and priests, tried to give the Spanish guitars a bad name by associating them with the scandalous street fun, dances and unnecessary moral ruin. However this attempt worked counterproductive, because it stimulated the Spanish guitar to become more and more popular in the European folk music. Another important development was made in the 18th century. Due to the Renaissance period when Italy became the centre of the guitar world, this time it was not in Spain. In 1779 Gaetano Vinaccia built the earliest six string guitar in Naples, Italy. During the late 18th century, leadership in guitar developments switched to Spain.