The History of the Guitar


You may be an avid guitarist, but your knowledge of the instrument may be limited to the chords and sounds it produces. Its history may elude you. The definition of a guitar may interest you as well, brought to you by Online Guitar Tab.

The guitar’s ancestors influenced its development. You may want to know how it evolved, and which instruments are similar to it.

What is a guitar?

Before delving into the history of the guitar, you must know what it is. There are similar instruments so you may want to distinguish it from them.

Professional musicians and music professors define it as having a flat back, a wooden sound board, a neck with frets, and most of the time, sides that are curved inward.

The earliest record of an instrument with similar features is a stone carving of a 3300-year-old Hittite guitar at Alaca Hyuk, Turkey.

With sides that wound inward, an almost flat back and a neck with frets, it nearly fit the definition.

The World’s Oldest GuitarĀ 

Which is the oldest, preserved, guitar-like instrument? The answer is this three-stringed, tanbur that belonged to Har-Mose, a famous Egyptian singer during his time. Sen-Mut, the architect to then Queen Hatshepsut, employed him to entertain her court. The court buried Har-Mose close to Sen-Mut upon his death. You can see his instrument at the Archaeological Museum in Cairo.

How the guitar evolved

To know how the modern guitar came to be, you must know which instruments came before it. That will give you an idea of how its structure changed over time.

1. Bowl Harps

People in ancient Eygpt, Babylon, and Sumeria did not have the technical resources or know-how to create instruments like the guitar. They put together bowl harps using sticks and the gut strings of animals. Despite their crudeness, they served to entertain members of royal courts during the time.

2. The Tanbur

As civilizations grew and progressed, people made changes to their instruments. Ancient Sumerians and Egyptians played the tanbur, an egg-shaped instrument. Obviously, it was not similar to the guitar, which has curved-in sides. It probably developed when musicians tried to include more notes to bowl harps. They lengthened the neck to add more strings.

3. The Lute

The Spanish Moors introduced the oud to Spaniards. Unlike modern guitars, it was fretless. The lute’s neck was also shorter than its modern successors. It had a raised, vaulted back, not similar to those of modern guitars. Its peghead was angular, and it had more strings than a guitar.

Similar Instruments

The suffix “tar” in the word “guitar” is ancient Sanskrit for “string.” Many instruments played in Central Asia end with the suffix “tar”, with a prefix which shows the number of strings it has. Of course, they are all relatives of the modern guitar.

1. Dotar

A dotar, an instrument commonly found in Turkestan, has two strings. It usually plays lower notes if it is part of a string quartet, as it sounds a semitone lower than its previous tuning.

2. Sitar

A sitar, the iconic musical instrument of India, has three strings. It developed from the Persian sitar, but the Indians enhanced it and made it their own.

3. The Chartar

The chartar, which has four strings, has more versatility. It is still a feature in many Indian string quartets and can play higher notes.


The guitar has a rich history. It is portable, versatile, and remains highly popular to this day. It also has many relatives that are popular in the Middle East and Central Asia. Its ancient predecessors contributed much to the way it sounds.

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