Changing Strings

Thursday, November 30, 2006

When you buy your guitar, chances are that it is correctly strung, and you will be able to seeby looking at the bridge how the knot is tied. The illustration below shows the correct way toattach nylon strings to the bridge for the classical or Spanish guitar. After looping in themanner shown, the end should be trimmed so as to be clear of the soundboard. Otherwise itcould cause buzzing.

Approximate settings for comfortable playing action

How the strings attach to the bridge

For acoustic or folk guitars, there is often an arrangement of six pegs in the lower part of thebridge. The string is simply looped around the peg and then the peg inserted into its hole tohold it fast.

Electric guitars feature an attachment at the end of the bridge, usually with six small pins.The loops of the strings are attached around these pins to be held securely. Jazz guitars oftenhave a raised tailpiece and have their own unique method of string attachment.

At the peg-head end of the classical guitar, the string should be passed through the hole inthe white bone barrel. Then pass the string back to make a loop around itself. Finally,holding the string by the end, turn the tuning key so that the twist you have made windsover the top of the barrel and away from you.

Acoustic folk guitars and electric models usually feature solid peg heads with large, steel-barrelled tuning machines. As with the classical guitar, the string is passed through a hole inthe top of the barrel, and then the peg is simply turned to increase its tension. Excess stringsshould be cut off to avoid tangling in the tuning key and to keep a generally clean appear-ance.

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Strings and Things

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The strings form the key interface between you and your guitar. If you’ve never played astringed instrument before, it may even feel uncomfortable for a while. But with the rightplaying action, your guitar will soon become easier to handle.

This chapter introduces you to some easy solutions for the trials and tribulations of playing astringed instrument. It tells you what you need to know to make playing fun and easy fromthe beginning, and introduces the many options available to you among different types ofguitar strings. And it will making tuning your guitar easier.

About the Fingers
The first thing a new guitarist notices is that the tips of the left-hand fingers can feel soreafter a stretch of playing. This is particularly true if you’re playing a steel-strung guitar, but isnoticeable even with nylon strings.

Just as a trumpeter must develop his “chops,” the guitarist will develop calluses. It may takeseveral weeks—or even months—for these to develop. And, if you take a break from practic-ing, you may lose the calluses you’ve built up.

The Playing Action
For beginners, it is important not to have strings that are too high off the fingerboard,because this increases the necessary pressure for the left-hand fingertips to hold down a clearnote or chord.

The strings are supported by detachable bones at the nut and bridge (see illustration). Thenut bone, which is slightly grooved to provide a guide for each string, sets the height abovethe fingerboard at that end. If the strings are too low they will buzz against the frets. If theyare too high, the guitar becomes hard to play, which can completely discourage you fromcontinuing.

If the setting is too high, the nut bone needs to be removed and filed down from the under-side. If it is too low, a sliver of cardboard or similar material may be inserted underneath, butthis should be a temporary solution until a new bone of the right height can be obtained. Ona classical guitar the height of the strings at the first fret will be about 1/16 in (1.5 mm).

At the bridge end, a similar adjustment can be made to the bridge bone to produce a heightat the twelfth fret of approximately 3/16 in (5 mm). The reason the measurements areapproximate is that the exact amount depends on the height of the frets and the total stringlength, both of which vary from maker to maker.

Note that these measurements are for the nylon string guitar. The metal strings of theacoustic guitar are set lower due to the greater tension, and for the sake of the left hand, steelstrings need to be as low as is practical, consistent with clear sound.

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What Will a Dealer Do for You?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Remember that when you buy an instrument from a guitar store, you’re giving them yourbusiness—so they should treat you like a valued customer! This should start even whenyou’re“just looking.” Here’s a checklist of things to ask of your dealer:

  • Will he play and demonstrate different instruments for you?

  • Will he tune and adjust the guitar to your liking?

  • Does he provide any free extras—a carrying case, extra strings, etc.—with your pur-chase?

  • Does he offer repair services or additional warranties?

  • Does he have a return/refund policy?

  • Will he accept the instrument in trade if you decide to “upgrade” to something better?

Mail Order

At one time, most towns had a music store with a good selection of guitars on hand. Nowa-days you may have to travel miles to find a well-stocked outlet. There are, however, severalmail order dealers that specialize in guitars, often at discounted prices.

Here are some things to keep in mind when dealing with mail order:
  • Make sure you’ve played the instrument—in a local music shop or at a friend’s house—before ordering one.

  • Make sure you have a reasonable “trial” period during which you can return theinstrument for a refund (not just a credit).

  • Pay for a reputable shipping service such as UPS or Federal Express, and insure theshipment.

  • Determine who handles warranty repairs and adjustments.

  • Examine the instrument carefully for damage when you receive it.


When buying a new guitar, you should always get a good, sturdy case. Generally, there arethree types of cases available:
  • Chipboard: The cheapest, and least protective of your investment.

  • Gig Bag: A lined bag made of vinyl or some plastic material that gives limited protec-tion to your guitar.

  • Hardshell Case: The heaviest and most durable protection you can get.

Obviously, you should go for the most protection you can afford. But never ever store orcarry a guitar outside of its case, even if it’s just a cardboard one. A case will help protect aguitar from bumps and scratches, and also can protect it against excessive humidity, sun-light, or heat, as well as other less-than-favorable conditions.

Other accessories you might consider are electronic tuners, extra sets of strings, straps, andguitar instruction books and videos. All of these items can be useful, although you don’tneed to buy them all at once. We’ll be discussing some of these items in more depth infuture chapters.

The Least You Need to Know

  • Buying a guitar takes time and study.
  • Be sure to get an instrument that suits your playing style and is easy for you to play.
  • Shop carefully among new and used instruments, as well as local dealers and mail-ordersuppliers.

  • Be sure to get a case to protect your investment.

  • You can play all the music in this book on a Spanish-style nylon string guitar.

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Common Guitar Brands

Guitar makers come and go but there are a couple of name brands that have been around formany decades that are known for the general quality of their instruments. Here’s a partiallisting, with some comments about them.

Japanese/Asian Makers

  • Yamaha: This Japanese maker is well known for the quality of its beginner’s instru-ments. They make a wide variety of styles of acoustic and electric guitars, most of whichare copies of popular American models, although a few are original in design toYamaha. They also make a line of classical-style guitars based on Spanish models.

  • Alvarez-Yairi. This is another Japanese maker that makes a slightly glitzier guitar thanYamaha, with lots of “mother-of-pearl” (actually plastic) inlays. They are knownprimarily for acoustic, folk-styled guitars.

  • Washburn: Originally, Washburn guitars were made by the Lyon & Healey Company inthe late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The name was revived in the 1970sby a U.S. importer of Japanese guitars. They make a reasonably good line of acoustic,folk-styled guitars, as well as electric instruments.

  • Takamine: A Japanese company specializing in copies of Martin guitars. Very playableand reasonably priced, they are good alternatives for those who want a Martin-styleinstrument. They also make classical guitars, including some fine handcrafted modelsunder the Hirade brand name.

  • Ibanez: They are best-known for their reasonably priced copies of popular electricguitars, including models inspired by Les Paul and the Stratocaster.

American Makers
  • Guild: This venerable American maker was founded in the late forties to make jazz-styleguitars, but they are best-known for their folk, acoustic instruments of the sixties. Notquite as celebrated as Gibson or Martin, Guild nevertheless makes dependable andplayable instruments.

  • Gibson: The Gibson Company has a long history, going back to the 1890s. After aperiod of corporate ownership in the 1970s, the company underwent a remarkablerevival. Gibson makes acoustic, folk guitars; arch-top jazz models; and the famous LesPaul electric guitar (as well as other electric styles, such as the Flying V). Gibson hasimported less expensive Japanese-made instruments that it has marketed under theEpiphone name.

  • Martin: Founded in 1833, this company still makes its guitars in Nazareth, Pennsylva-nia. Martin makes some classical and acoustic-electric instruments, but basically isknown for their large-bodied, Dreadnought (or “D”) styled guitars. The gold standardfor acoustic players.

  • Fender: Founded in the early fifties by Leo Fender, this company is famed for twoguitars, the Telecaster and Stratocaster, as well as its Jazzmaster bass. Like Gibson, thequality of its instruments declined during a period of corporate ownership from themiddle sixties through the late seventies, but has recently come back. OriginalStratocasters from the fifties are worth huge sums of money.

  • Ovation: Perhaps the most radical of all new guitar designs came from the Ovationcompany in the early seventies. Acoustic guitarists either love them or hate them. Theseguitars have fiberglass bodies with a bowl-shaped back, although the soundboard orface is made of wood. The sound hole design is also eccentric, often featuring (depend-ing on the model) several small holes in the upper left-hand bout of the instrument.

Spanish Makers
  • Alhambra: Good-quality guitars from the province of Valencia, long a center of classicaland flamenco guitars.

  • Cordoba: In spite of the name, these traditional Spanish guitars also come fromValencia.

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Sound Advice

Sunday, November 26, 2006

To save money, inexpensive guitars are usually made of lesser-quality woods. You will rarelyfind an inexpensive instrument made of solid wood. Instead, laminates (a fancy name forplywood) are used. The appearance will be good, because quality woods are used to for theouter layer, and these guitars are very sturdy and unlikely to crack; but the sound of aplywood guitar is rarely as resonant as one made with solid woods. Sometimes the top, orsoundboard, will be solid with laminated wood for the sides and back, which is preferable toplywood throughout.

The best classical guitars have sides and back of Brazilian or East Indian rosewood. The topsare of spruce or Canadian cedar with even spacing between the anular lines of the grain. Theneck is usually made of Spanish or Honduras cedar, and the fingerboard of ebony. Folk oracoustic guitars can be made of spruce, maple, rosewood, or mahogany, each having adifferent characteristic sound. Folk guitars also use ebony fretboards, although cheaperinstruments may use a plastic substitute. As well as costing more, the solid wood guitar willneed more care since it is more susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity. Exces-sive dryness is a particular enemy of guitars.

At the very minimum, if you are playing an acoustic guitar, try to get a guitar with a solidwood face or top. This will give you the advantage of improved sound. The laminate body,meanwhile, will be better for you as a beginner because it is sturdier—less likely to crack orscratch with mishandling—and overall has less effect on the instrument’s performance.

For electric guitars, it doesn’t much matter what is used to make the body. In fact, the ideal isto have a strong, nonresonant body—the opposite of what you’d like in an acoustic instru-ment. Plywood, plastic, fiberglass—anything strong can be used. The body is more importantfor its decorative value—i.e., how it looks on stage—than its composition.

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New vs. Used

A good used guitar can be an excellent value. Many people buy instruments and thendiscover that they simply lack the time or capability to play them. You can sometimes pickup a real bargain by scanning the local want-ads.

Here’s a checklist for evaluating a used guitar:

  1. Make sure the tuning machines all work and turn easily.
  2. Check the body for cracks. Any crack, no matter how small, is a bad sign.
  3. Check the neck for warping. Press a string down at each end of the fingerboard. Itshould touch all the frets.
  4. Try playing a few notes and chords; see if the guitar responds easily.
  5. Ask the owner if he/she is the original owner. Determine if the instrument has everbeen repaired.

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How Much to Spend

It may be wiser to borrow or rent an instrument for the first few months, until you deter-mine your level of commitment to playing. On the other hand, an old, battered, poorlyconstructed instrument may be so difficult to play that you’ll be discouraged from learning.

It’s a good rule of thumb to purchase the most guitar you can afford. Generally, guitars holdtheir resale value—some in fact grow in value over the years. Buying a very cheap guitar maybe self-defeating, because it may not suit your playing style or be so poorly made that it isdifficult to play.

Acoustic vs. Electric
Many young players start out on an acoustic instrument because they can’t afford a good-quality electric instrument and amplifier—or their parents can’t stand the noise made by abeginning electric guitarist! Learning on an acoustic instrument will probably be a goodexperience for most players, even those who only aspire to playing speed-metal. But remem-ber that the two instruments are quite different, and that you’ll need to master a new set oftechniques once you start playing an electric.

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Before Shopping

As with all major purchases, it is important to do as much research as possible beforehand.Sources of information will be other players, teachers (local colleges may have a guitarprogram), and for those with access to the Internet a host of manufacturers’ advertisements.

There are also guitar newsgroups on the Internet, which offer the opportunity to read theexperiences of others and to ask for opinions.

Remember from Chapter 2 that there are several types of guitars made to play different stylesof music. Before shopping, listen to different players and determine what kind of instrumentyou would like to play. While you may be able to learn on any instrument, it is better toselect one that closely approximates the style you want to learn.

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Buying a Guitar

Buying a guitar can be an intimidating experience, particularly if you aren’t yet a proficientplayer. How can you choose the right instrument if you can’t even play it? But, the fact ofthe matter is there are some practical techniques you can use in selecting and buying anaffordable instrument.

This chapter outlines some basic buying strategies that will work for you. These include pre-shopping tips: distinguishing among different types of guitars (drawing on the informationfrom Chapter 2), fitting an instrument to your body type (and style of music), a brief over-view of the common guitar brands, and whether to buy from a local music shop or by mailorder.

Even if you could afford to own Eric Clapton’s Stratocaster—and generally speaking youshould buy the best guitar you can afford—you may have to be practical. This means buyinga guitar . . . that won’t empty your savings account. This chapter shows you how.

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Guitar Variants

Saturday, November 25, 2006

While most of you will choose from among the four major types of guitars we’ve alreadydescribed, there are some other noteworthy types of guitars that have been or are available.

  • Bass Guitars. Perhaps the most popular guitar variant is not really a guitar at all—it is anelectrified version of a standup bass, designed to be held like a guitar. Introduced in thefifties by Fender, the electric bass has become a standard component of all rock bands.It is tuned and played like a standard acoustic bass—so it’s really a member of the violinfamily. Recently, acoustic guitar makers have designed acoustic bass guitars that areheld like an electric bass but are intended for playing softer music.

  • Smaller Instruments. Three-quarter-sized or half-sized guitars are made, often forchildren. The Martin Guitar Company recently introduced a specially sized guitardesigned for women players, who tend to have smaller hands than men.

  • Acoustic-Electric Guitars. This simply describes an acoustic guitar with built-in electricpickups, designed to be played through an amplification system. These are particularlyattractive to people who like to play folk-style music, but the instrument needs to beheard in a club setting.

  • 12-String Guitars. These large-bodied, double-strung guitars were much favored by bluesplayers because of their loud volume. The strings were tuned an octave apart, giving theinstrument a booming bass sound.

  • Guitar Synthesizers. These instruments enable guitarists to enjoythe wide world of sounds available through synthesizers. Theyfeature guitar-like construction and are held and played like aguitar, but actually they contain or connect to a synthesizer,which creates a variety of sounds.

There are also a wide variety of other guitar types—from tenor guitarsto harp guitars—that were popular at one time or another, althoughthey are rarely played or heard today.

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Selecting a Guitar

Friday, November 24, 2006

This is the type of guitar that developed from the earliest forms of four-and five-stringed instruments, reaching its final form in the earlynineteenth century. In addition to being the type of guitar used for thesolo“classical” repertoire, the Spanish or classical guitar is used for theaccompaniment of folk songs, for the songs and dances of LatinAmerica, and for the flamenco music of Spain. Throughout Europe ithas long been the favorite accompaniment instrument for love songsand serenades.

Traditionally the sides and back of a flamenco guitar differ in that they’re made of cypresswood, which is distinguishable by its yellow color and lighter weight, but this is not alwaysthe case today because some of the great flamenco players prefer hardwood.

Classical guitars usually have a slotted peg head and are strungwith nylon strings. Generally they are smaller than acoustic orelectric instruments. The neck width is greater than on acoustic orelectric guitars to facilitate the intricate left-hand work demandedin classical compositions.

Although the term “acoustic” really applies to any non-amplifiedguitar, it is commonly used to describe the steel-strung guitar usedin country, folk, and blues styles. The steel strings give morevolume than nylon, and also have a “brassier” sound.

Acoustic guitar players can play with their fingers (as do classicalplayers), sometimes adding metal thumb and fingerpicks toenhance their sound. Others strum across all the strings—or playcomplex melody lines—using a flatpick (also called a plectrum).

The acoustic guitar has a beautiful rich sound in the hands ofplayers like James Taylor, John Renbourne, Leo Kottke, and manyothers. It works well as an accompaniment instrument, and thebest players also use it for solos and improvisations. However, forintricate solo work it is somewhat harder to play than the Spanishguitar.

This type of guitar is normally played with a plectrum, and represents a transition fromacoustic to electric guitar, because the guitar itself has some acoustic property althoughnowadays it is normally amplified. Although a component of the rhythm section of earlyjazz groups where its distinctive “chunk” sound would cut through and be heard withoutamplification, this guitar was also used extensively for melody and solo work, an examplebeing the work of great players such as Django Reinhardt.

Distinguishing features include the violin-like f-holes which replace the circular sound holeof the traditional guitar. Often jazz guitars are larger in size than classical or acoustic guitars,and they usually have arched tops and backs, like a violin. This is said to improve theirsound projection. Pickups are now built into the guitar, as are volume and tone controls.

The pioneering guitarist Les Paul was a technical as well as musicalwizard. He is famous for multitrack recorded performances, and hisdevelopments on the instrument itself led to the extensive use of solid-body guitars with no innate acoustic resonance. Used for chords andlead in contemporary rock groups, the solid-body guitar has no sounduntil it is plugged into an amplifier. The electronic sound from pickupsis processed in inventive ways for special effects, including deliberatedistortion. The result is a new creation that has a fingerboard andstrings but acoustically shares little with the traditional guitar.

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More Guitar Talk

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Some other terms you might hear when people are discussingdifferent types of guitars are:

  • Fan Bracing: This is a style of internal construction com-monly used on Spanish guitars. It is considered essential tothe production of fine tone, and patterns very slightly fromone maker to another.

  • X-Bracing: This is the style of bracing commonly used on today’s acoustic guitars. It isdesigned to withstand the high tension of steel strings.

  • Arch Top: This refers to a curved or arched (as opposed to flat) top. Arched top instru-ments are said to have a warmer sound, like a violin.

  • Solid Body: This is a type of construction in which the body of the instrument is a solidpiece of wood, fiberglass, or other material. The body of the instrument has no acousticresonance, so that, without amplification, the instrument produces only a thin, barelyaudible sound. Hollow-body instruments have a sound chamber (like an empty box)which amplifies the sound.

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Guitar Styles

With so much variety it becomes necessary to look at the various types of guitar and toexplore the best uses for each. Before going shopping it is obviously important to decidewhich style appeals to you the most, and which guitar will serve you best.

  • Classical: If you’re interested in playing classical music, you’ll want to play a Spanish orclassical-style guitar.

  • Flamenco: For flamenco, a Spanish-made instrument is best.

  • Folk/Traditional/Blues: For these styles, the standard acoustic guitar is the best choice,although some folk players prefer the softer sound of the Spanish classical guitar.

  • Jazz: You can play either an acoustic or electric instrument, although many jazz playersprefer a special, large-bodied hybrid instrument called a hollow-body electric.

  • Rock: An electric guitar is mandatory for the hard-rockin’ player.

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The Parts of the Guitar

View Big Size.

Before discussing the types of guitars available, it’s important to understand the commonnames for the various parts of the guitar. The accompanying diagram shows these partsclearly, along with names for the fingers of each hand.

The peg head is found at the top of the neck of the guitar and holds the tuning machines orgears that are used to tune the strings. On classical guitars, this peg head is usually slotted; onacoustic, jazz, and rock guitars, it is usually solid. No matter—it performs the same function.

The nut is found at the bottom of the peg head and top of the guitar neck. It is made of boneand holds the strings in their proper position. The height of the nut also helps determine thestring height or action of the guitar; classical players generally go for a higher action, whileelectric and jazz players like it lower.

The neck of the guitar contains the fingerboard. Across the fingerboardrun frets. By placing a finger against a fret, the player is able to raise thepitch of a string to play individual notes or chords.

The back of the neck, where it joins the body of the guitar, is called theheel. This may appear in a variety of shapes, and on very fancy guitars itmay be carved with animals or human faces. It simply hides the jointbetween the neck and the guitar.

The front of the guitar is called the face or top. Around the edge of theface, there is usually purfling (often called binding) that hides the jointbetween the face and sides; similar binding appears around the back of the guitar. The face of the guitar usually features a round or oval sound hole (on acousticinstruments); sometimes f-shaped holes are used on jazz guitars. On some guitars, a fancyinlay called a rosette surrounds the sound hole for decorative purposes.

After the strings pass over the sound hole, they cross a slotted bridge bone, which directs thestrings down to where they are fastened on the guitar’s bridge.

While different types of guitars may have different features, these are the basic componentsyou will find on most of them.

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What Is a Guitar ?

Now that we know something of the instrument’s past, let’s learn more about the differenttypes of guitars that are available to play. First, we’ll take a guided tour of a typical guitar, sowe learn how to talk about the various parts of the instrument, from peg head to bridge.

Once we’ve learned the guitar parts, we’ll be ready to discuss the major differences betweenclassical, folk, jazz, and electric/rock guitars. Why is choosing the right type of guitar soimportant? You can’t play like Andres Segovia if you choose Eddie van Halen’s guitar, or viceversa.

Each type of guitar presents its special features and poses special challenges for the beginner.Getting the best guitar for the style of music you want to play is the goal here. You may evenfind that you’ll want more than one instrument to suit your different musical personalities!

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The Folk Revival

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

In the sixties, there was a veritable guitar renaissance, sparked by two different movements.One was the so-called “folk revival,” in which young people with guitars performed topicalsongs of the day. Bob Dylan was the best known and probably the greatest of these singer/guitarists, and his songs influenced hundreds of others.

The second big influence was the arrival of the Beatles in America, and the British Invasion.When the Beatles first appeared, everyone copied their hair styles, clothing (down to theirboots), and—naturally—musical instruments. The Rickenbacker guitar, favored by JohnLennon, and the Hofner bass, played by Paul McCartney, were soon the most in-demandinstruments in music stores across America. Instrument makers rushed to give the Beatlesfree instruments so that they could benefit from the publicity.

The British Invasion also spawned guitar gods like Eric Clapton,influenced by American blues players. A veritable war broke outamong partisans of the Fender Stratocaster versus the equallypopular Gibson Les Paul—some defended one as the “holy grail”of guitar sound, while others went for the other. Added “effects”—from wah-wah to fuzztone—were an additional arsenal in theguitar’s acoustic army. One of the first guitarists to use these effectsin a truly musical way was Jimi Hendrix, whose flamboyant stagepresence only added to his popularity.

Today the guitar is firmly ensconced as one of the most popular instruments among amateurmusicians. Knock on somebody’s front door, and you’ll probably find a guitar in the house.It’s easy to play, portable, and adaptable to just about any style of music.

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The Guitar in America

The acoustic guitar came to America in the 1850s, thanks mainly to immigrants from EasternEurope. Guitar maker Christian Friedrich (C. F.) Martin left his native Germany because ofdissatisfaction with the restrictive guilds that oversaw all instrument making back home.Meanwhile, factories were built to turn out inexpensive guitars by the dozens, and mail ordercatalogs like Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward began selling five-dollar instruments.

In the nineteenth century the guitar was promoted as a parlor instrument for young ladies toplay. In the time before phonographs and radio, music-making was a favorite amateuractivity. Young women were especially encouraged to learn music as an important socialskill. While the piano was large and ungainly, the guitar was small and sweet-voiced; at thetime, most guitars were far smaller than today’s jumbo models, and they were all strung withgut strings in the classical style. Because of this, the guitar was thought to be an ideal instru-ment for young ladies, and it soon became popular.

As stage performers began taking up the guitar in the early twentieth century, they clamoredfor louder instruments that could fill a concert hall. Guitar makers responded by makingbigger guitars; others began experimenting with different shapes for the guitar’s body toimprove bass response and volume. The Martin company made an important contribution inthe teens with the introduction of their so-called D or Dreadnought guitar. With a widerlower bout (or half of the body), and with construction strong enough to withstand thenewly introduced steel strings, the instrument was immediately popular for its loud bassvolume and carrying power.

In the twenties and thirties, guitars began replacing banjos as the instrument of choice injazz bands. Jazz players needed guitars that were louder still. The Gibson company intro-duced jumbo-sized instruments with carved tops and f-holes that were ideally suited to thenew jazz music. Soloists like Eddie Lang helped popularize the guitar in jazz, although it tooka French gypsy musician named Django Reinhardt to really show the jazz potential of theguitar.

The search for louder guitars led to some odd hybrids, including all-steel-bodied guitars withbuilt-in, cone-shaped resonators. But it was the experiments of player Les Paul that led to thebiggest innovation of them all: an electric guitar featuring a solid wood body. Instrumentmaker Leo Fender was quick to pick up on Paul’s lead, introducing three solid-body modelsin the 1950s: the Broadcaster, the Telecaster, and the Stratocaster. The latter two instrumentsare still made today and remain favorites of rock players everywhere.

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Early Guitar Masters

In the Christian era, the guitar is mentioned in two forms in the thirteenth century: theLatin guitar and the Moorish guitar. Both are illustrated in beautiful miniatures in themanuscript“Cantigas de Santa Maria” attributed to Alfonso the Wise of Spain. Of the two,the Latin guitar is closer to the figure-eight shape of the guitar as it developed in Spain andItaly.

In early sixteenth-century Spain, the vihuela became the instrument ofchoice for the serious musician. The vihuela was in fact an early form ofthe guitar, with six pairs of strings. Vihuela music may be playedwithout alteration on the modern guitar. The only significant differ-ence was the pairing of strings to produce a stronger sound, comparableto the 12-string guitar of today. The vihuela was played with thefingers, and a considerable repertoire of music existed for it in thenotation form known as “tablature.” The tuning was like that of theRenaissance lute, which in the rest of Europe was considered the “Kingof Instruments” and whose music is now a fertile source for guitarists.

At the same time, a smaller guitar, first with four and then with five setsof strings (known as courses), developed as a less sophisticated instru-ment for chording and the strumming style known as rasgueado used asaccompaniment for the dance.

Surprisingly, at the end of the sixteenth century, the vihuela went out of favor and it was thehumbler form of guitar that survived, now established with five courses. The name Spanishguitar became attached to this instrument, possibly to distinguish it from the earlier four-course variety, although guitars were also well known in Italy. Francesco Corbetta (c. 1615–1681), a famous Italian player, published extensively in the finger style that went beyondsimple chording. Corbetta’s playing was so popular that it soon became the rage amongseventeenth-century courtiers in France and England, launching the guitar in those coun-tries. In France the talented Robert de Visee (c. 1660–c. 1720) played frequently for LouisXIV, to whom he dedicated his collection of pieces published in 1682. Back in Spain, GasparSanz’s famous 1674 instruction book included detailed technique instruction and a finecollection of pieces that are still widely played.

The history of the guitar includes periods of fantastic popularity followed by periods ofdecline. The eighteenth century proved a time of low ebb for the guitar, until at its end thedouble strings gave place to single ones, and the sixth string was added to create the familiarform of today’s guitar. Sheep’s gut was used for the first three strings. The basses were formedby winding silver-plated copper wire onto a core of silk thread.

With the sixth string came a new wave of popularity with the public, led and inspired byvirtuoso players who also composed and wrote instruction methods for the guitar in its newform. The main centers were Vienna and Paris, and great players such as Mauro Giuliani(1781–1829) from Italy and Fernando Sor (1778–1839) from Spain were drawn to emigrate tothe north where enthusiastic audiences and students awaited them. Both composed exten-sively for the guitar, and laid the foundation for the solo repertoire. Ferdinando Carulli(1770–1841) produced a guitar method that is used to this day, and the “25 MelodiousStudies” of Matteo Carcassi (1792–1853) are still part of the standard student repertoire.

Following this great wave of popularity came a period of decline and neglect, and by themiddle of the nineteenth century the guitar was little played and rarely heard in concert. Itwas really thanks to Francisco Tarrega (1852–1909) that public interest was again awakened.

Although not as active a performer as Sor or Giuliani, Tarrega’s reputation spread due to hiswonderful compositions and his ability to produce an extremely beautiful and distinctivesound. This was due partially to his intimate knowledge of the guitar fingerboard and use ofthe higher positions on it to achieve a particular romantic quality. The general public tendedto become familiar only with the first five frets or so of the guitar, and to favor student piecesthat stayed within this limited range. Tarrega ignored these limitations to concentrate onworks that exploited the whole guitar, and as a result founded a school of playing andcomposing that survives today.

Although not a student of Tarrega, Andres Segovia (1893–1987) in a sense carried on thetradition and played Tarrega’s works extensively in concert. Where Tarrega had been some-what retiring as a player, and really preferred playing for intimate groups of friends andadmirers, Segovia took the guitar to the world, and brought the world into his concerts witha hitherto unknown level of virtuosity and musicianship. It was due to him that the guitar isnow recognized as an instrument worthy of serious study, and his interaction with compos-ers inspired the bulk of the existing repertoire.

In parallel with the growth of composed music for the guitar came popular developments inthe field of folk music. In Spain the guitar had been used since the earliest times as astrummed accompaniment for dancing, and it had a long and respected history as an accom-paniment for the voice. In the nineteenth century, the style known as flamenco evolved asaccompaniment for the songs and dances of Andalusia. Inspired by the gypsies and derivingfrom their songs and dances as they blended with traditional folk music, the style developed into a complex and vigorous art form. The guitar was the principal instrument of accompani-ment, and the continuing search for variety combined with a spirit of competition amongthe players resulted in an elevation of guitar technique to its highest levels. Many flamencoguitarists do not read music, and the style evolved primarily through exchange of ideas andexperimentation. The legendary Ramon Montoya (1880–1949) is credited as the originator ofmany of the best falsetas, the name given to the musical phrases used to intersperse theverses of the songs and to embellish the dance accompaniments. Traditionally flamenco hasnot been considered as a solo art for the guitarist, the player being essentially a skilledaccompanist for the song and dance. However today flamenco guitarists appear in concertand play improvisations based on their accompaniment skills to the delight of the fans oraficionados.

In the academic world of today the guitar has achieved a level of recognition and respect thatwas certainly lacking 50 years ago. Today many universities and music conservatories offer amusic degree with the guitar accepted as the major instrument. In the popular field, theguitar holds its own in spite of the comparative ease of playing of the synthesizer. Thoughthe sound is electronically amplified and often deliberately distorted, the human touch isalways apparent, and no keyboard can ever quite simulate the effect of fingers on strings.

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The Ancient Roots of the Guitar

The guitar has a noble and ancient history. A plucked string instrument with the in-curvingsides of the guitar is to be found on a tomb sculpture of the King of Thebes of the thirty-seventh century B.C., and a relief sculpture from Cappadocia of c. 1000 B.C. even shows anEgyptian guitar-like instrument with signs of frets. Evidence exists also of plucked instru-ments of extreme antiquity in Persia and Arabia.

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The Guitar : A Noteworthy History

Before you begin to learn to play the guitar, you might be curious to learn a little bit aboutthe instrument and where it came from. Although there have been stringed instrumentsaround for centuries, the guitar in its present form is a relatively recent innovation—and theelectric guitar has only really been with us since the 1950s.

Knowing about earlier guitarists and their styles of music will help you choose the kind ofmusic you’d like to play. Thanks to recordings, we can hear today the music of sixteenth-century lutenists and then (at the flip of a CD) listen to twentieth-century heavy metal. Allstyles are open to us—we simply have to learn that they are available.

Our journey begins in ancient Egypt, where we will see that guitar-like instruments werealready entertaining the Pharaohs.

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