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Spanish guitar: origin of this instrument

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Spanish guitar: origin of this instrument

The Spanish guitar has its origins in old chordophone instruments such as the vihuela and the Moorish guitar. The evolution towards what we know today as Spanish guitar was a centuries long process, in which some outstanding milestones stand out.

History of the Spanish guitar: origin

Spanish guitar: origin in the inclusion of the fifth string

The Moorish guitar was a popular instrument in the Iberian Peninsula kingdoms during the Middle Ages, only among the common people, outside the Court. It was a three-stringed instrument, highly appreciated by the common people and in it lies the origin of the Spanish guitar. 

For a great part of the 16th century, it became a very popular four-stringed instrument. Unlike other similar chordophone instruments of the time, the guitar in Spain was an instrument very well received, used and appreciated by the people. It was played to accompany popular songs and dances in all kinds of parties and celebrations, and its expansion as a popular instrument was gaining importance.

But it is the inclusion of the fifth string that marks a key point in its evolution towards the current Spanish guitar. Its success was so great that it spread throughout Europe, becoming the most widely accepted and used evolution of stringed instruments of the same origin.

Joan Carles Amat and his role in the expansion of the Spanish guitar in its origins

The Catalan Joan Carles Amat played a key role in the origin of the Spanish guitar and its expansion. In 1596, he wrote and published a work that became well known throughout Europe. Its title, “Guitarra española de cinco órdenes, la cual enseña de templar y tañer rasgado” (Five-stringed Spanish guitar, which teaches tempering and strumming) made the instrument to be accepted and known by this name. 

If it had previously been known  by other names, due to this international success, the name Spanish guitar was adopted in both musical circles and among the common people as the only valid name.

The inclusion of the Spanish guitar in cultured circles

Techniques such as plucking contributed to the artistic explosion of the guitar, creating new compositions and techniques for playing  the instrument. A key figure in the origin of the Spanish guitar, as well as in its development during the Baroque period, was Gaspar Sanz, born in 1640.

Among his works, “Instrucción de música sobre la guitarra española” (Music instruction on the Spanish guitar) stands out. It was this work that achieved the introduction of the Spanish guitar in cultured environments and the Court, where they used to prefer other instruments.

Physical changes of the Spanish guitar in the 18th century and its resemblance to the current instrument

From the origins of the Spanish guitar to the present day, the instrument has undergone numerous changes. Some of the most relevant changes took place in the 18th century and even the beginning of the 19th century, and the instrument acquired characteristics that remain or are very similar in the 21st century. 

The implementation of the metal pegbox was one of them. Also, the extension of the frets up to the soundhole and the introduction of the single orders that replaced the double orders. 

The most important change was, without a doubt, the inclusion of the sixth string. There is some controversy about the first builder of a six-stringed Spanish guitar, with two different theories that attribute it either to a German luthier or an Italian luthier.  

Be that as it may, this sixth string is the milestone that marks the most relevant change in the origin of the Spanish guitar and its evolution into the instrument we know today. 

19th and 20th century, the worldwide spreading of the instrument

Some names have been key to the success and the spreading of the Spanish guitar around the world. Not only luthiers, but also great composers such as Fernando Sor, Dionisio Aguado, Francisco Tárrega, Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados, Manuel de Falla, Joaquín Rodrigo and Federico Moreno Torroba have played a key role and have left beautiful works that are still appreciated today. 

Each person that builds or plays this instrument, and those who have done it through centuries, are in one way or another part of the history of the guitar. Do you want to be part of it too? You can buy a luthier’s guitar at Guitarras Fuentes and enjoy a unique instrument.

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