A History of the Guitar

Mar 16, 2017

I’ve been reading about the guitar lately, and here’s what I’ve found: When it comes to the history of the guitar, the only thing that’s certain… is that nothing is certain. Did the early plucked ancestors of the modern guitar make their way to Europe from Asia and the Middle East? Possibly. There are tomb paintings from ancient Egypt, after all, and Hittite stone carvings from over three thousand years ago that show guitar-like instruments, not to mention an actual guitar-like instrument from Egypt that’s 3500 years old.

But some scholars think that neither those instruments nor more recent Arabic instruments like the oud have much to do with the modern guitar. And scholars can’t even agree on the origin of the word guitar. Is it from Greek, Sanskrit, Latin? There seem to have been at least a dozen different words, in various languages, for medieval instruments that may – or may not – have been guitar precursors or relatives. It’s a puzzle.

This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.