The guitar


Jacques Delinois
Tuning guide


The guitar is a stringed musical instrument. It is generally played with the fingers of the left hand[1]. The right hand plucks the strings with either the fingers or a plectrum, (guitar pick). The sound is produced by vibrating strings, which in turn resonate the body and neck.

Guitars have a body (hollow in acoustic guitars, solid in most electric guitars) and a neck. Typically, a headstock extends from the neck for tuning.

Guitars may be acoustic, electric (i.e. with electrical amplification) or both.

Guitars are used in a variety of musical styles. They are made and repaired by luthiers.

Guitars are widely known as the primary instrument in rock music.


Figurines playing the ancestor of the Guitar. Excavated in Susa, Iran. Dated 2000-1500 BCE.
Figurines playing the ancestor of the Guitar. Excavated in Susa, Iran. Dated 2000-1500 BCE.

Instruments similar to what we know as the "guitar" have been popular for at least 5,000 years. The "guitar" that is so popular in the Western World has derived from ancient mother instruments, which were invented in Iran, Central Asia. Earliest evidence of instruments very similar to the Westernized guitar appear in ancient Susa carvings and statues recovered from the Iranian Plateau. The name, guitar, is a combination of two words. "Guit" comes from the Sanskrit word "Sangeet" meaning "music." The second half of the word "tar" is purely Persian and means "chord" or "string." Sanskrit itself was primarily the official language of the Aryans of Central Asia, that is, Iran, and was spread along the east, as far as present Bihar by about 600 BC where it was later to be established as classical Sanskrit of India. So the word "guitar" is Iranian in Origin, and so are the ancestral instruments from which the Westernized guitar derived. The word qitara is a word in the Arabic given to those ancestoral lutes of the Westernized guitar. The Arabic name for these lutes, that is, qitara, is obviously rooted in Persian. The name "guitar" was first introduced to the Western World when guitars were brought into Spain by the Moors after the 10th century. (See related article).

The notion that the name "guitar" also may have been derived from the word sitar, is therefore unlikely. This word is also purely Persian, meaning "three-strings." There are two theories on the creation of the sitar. One theory states that it evolved from a purely Indian instrument called the Chitra Veena. The other theory is that the instrument was created by a Persian musician named Khosro Parviz of the Persian court in India. The various components of the "sitar" also bear Persian names. The name "sitar" is actually the name of a Persian lute which indeed had three strings but today has four. The Chitra Veena is depicted in Indian artwork as the traditional instrument of the Hindu goddess Saraswati.

The idea that the guitar's name (along with those listed above) may be derived ultimately from the kithara, an instrument from classical times used in Ancient Greece and later throughout the Roman Empire, is also unlikely. This name is also the Greek version of the Persian word, guitar. The name was first introduced to Greek through the Persian language when the two cultures came into contact. Henceforth, the guitar and its name were both introduced to other European nations, such as Spain. Through the course of time, the name moved into the English language, and today the guitar, or what it has evolved into, is used throughout the world.

The Spanish vihuela appears to be an intermediate form between the ancestral guitar and the modern guitar, with lute-style tuning and a small guitar-style body, but it is not clear whether this represents a transitional form or simply a design that combined features from the two families of instruments.

The electric guitar was invented by Adolf Rickenbacker, with the help of George Beauchamp and Paul Berth, in 1931. Rickenbacker was the inventor of the horseshoe-magnet pickup. However, it was Danelectro that first produced electric guitars for the wider public. Danelectro also pioneered tube amp technology.


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Last modified: July 12, 2007