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History of the Guitar in America

The guitar's history in America dates back to the continent's first explorers and settlers.
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The guitar has a long history world-wide, so it is no surprise that guitars arrived in America along with the very first settlers. Once in America, the guitar became the instrument of choice among folk musicians and eventually jazz, blues and rock musicians as well.

The Spanish Guitar

The Spanish guitar was one of the first to come to America.
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Spanish explorers and missionaries brought the first guitars into the New World in the 16th century. These "Spanish guitars" were a combination of the 15th-century "viola de amo," which was played primarily by the noble classes, and the "guiterra," which was more popular among peasants and commoners. The strings were made of gut and were arranged in five pairs. By the beginning of the 19th century, most Spanish guitars had six single strings.

The Cittern

The guitar was popular in America from the very beginning.
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English settlers brought a version of the guitar to America as well. The "cittern" resembled a lute, but the back was flat. The cittern typically had 9 or 10 metal strings, but occasionally the strings were made of gut. This instrument was extremely popular in America during the 1700's, and Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson both owned more than one cittern.

Early Popularity

The guitar's popularity in America reached such a peak by 1830 that it was referred to as "guitaromanie," a phenomenon originating in Europe around 1810. By the early 20th century, the influx of European immigrants included gifted and innovative guitar makers who developed two major styles of steel-stringed acoustic guitars: the arch-top and the flat-top.

Electric Guitars

Innovators devised a way to magnify the guitar's sound using electricity.
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Because of the guitar's popularity as a concert and dance hall instrument as well as a parlor instrument, innovators began trying to magnify the sound of the guitar as early as 1920. In 1923, an engineer named Lloyd Loar came up with an electrostatic device that picked up vibrations from the guitar's soundboard. George Beauchamp and Adolph Rickenbacker invented an electromagnetic pick-up in 1931. By the 1930's and 1940's, jazz, country and blues musicians were using the electric guitar. Rock and roll came onto the music scene during the 1950's, and the electric guitar proved to be most important for this new musical genre.

Current Popularity

Guitars continue to be popular in America with musicians and listeners alike.
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The guitar has remained one of the most popular instruments among professional musicians, as well as with aspiring musicians of all ages. It is portable and relatively easy to learn. Although it takes years of training and practice to achieve the proficiency of a classical guitarist, the lead guitarist for a neighborhood garage band can coax a passable sound out of the guitar in a fairly short period of time.The beauty and simplicity of the guitar's sound have continued to make the instrument popular with listeners as well, both in the United States and worldwide.

About the Author

Teressa Rose Ezell has been writing professionally since 2010. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and English from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and is a Master of Fine Arts in writing candidate at Lindenwood University. Current projects include a short-story series and a collection of creative nonfiction essays.