Friday, April 12, 2024

A Guitar By Any Other Name...

By Kathy Kovach

My dad taught me how to play the guitar when I was a teenager. He had been in a band in his youth, playing mostly country and western, but also the swing music of his generation. He was gifted. I’m mediocre. But that’s neither here nor there. I mostly “seconded” him, strumming chords while he jammed out on “In the Mood” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart”.

Where did this versatile instrument come from? Who first thought of stringing a piece of wood (or shell, or animal skin) to perform everything from foot-stomping melodies to awe-inspiring classical music?

The word itself, guitar, more than likely came from the ancient Greek word kithara. Mythology attributes Hermes as the inventor, but images of Apollo have also been seen of him playing this instrument made from a tortoise shell. It is closely related to the lyre.

Instrument made with tortoise shell


Moving away from the harp-like shape, variations of the lute began to appear. The first having its origins in medieval Persia before the 5th century. The oud was fashioned from aloe wood as opposed to sheep’s belly of the earlier instruments. In Arabic, the word ud means “wood”. A neck and sound holes were added somewhere around 700 AD in ancient Al-Andalus, or present-day Andalusia, a region in Spain then made up primarily of Muslims. These additions produced a rich tone that was maintained throughout subsequent modifications.


The lute grew in popularity throughout the Renaissance Period, but by the 16th century, a new design was adopted, one that we use in some form today. The vihuela was made thinner than the bulbous, gourd shape of earlier instruments and an hourglass design made it easier to play. It used twelve strings, and while the tone had a beautiful, ethereal quality, it was hard to tune. Enter the Baroque guitar produced in Spain a century later. With only four to six strings, it still maintained the musical range of its predecessors, but became more popular because of its ease.


By 1890, the extravagant shapes of earlier stringed instruments gave way to the modern guitar. Spanish guitarist Antonio Torres Jurado crafted the first acoustic guitar popularly known as the “modern classical guitar”. Its design allows the music to resonate in, through, and outside the body of the guitar using steel or copper strings as opposed to gut strings of the earlier imaginings. In 1936, the Gibson Guitar Corporation produced the first acoustic amplified guitar and four years later physics professor Sidney Wilson created the first fully electric instrument, a solid piece that didn’t need sound holes for resonance.

Antonio de Torres

Gibson ES-150
In 1954, the Mercedez Benz of guitars, the Stratocaster, became the elitist’s instrument of choice.

I’ll forever be grateful to my dad for instilling in me the love of music and, specifically, the ability to play this beautiful, and historically rich instrument. The guitar has provided so much joy, for myself and many generations—past, present, and future. 

My dad


A secret. A key. Much was buried on the Titanic, but now it's time for resurrection.

Follow two intertwining stories a century apart. 1912 - Matriarch Olive Stanford protects a secret after boarding the Titanic that must go to her grave. 2012 - Portland real estate agent Ember Keaton-Jones receives the key that will unlock the mystery of her past... and her distrusting heart.
To buy: Amazon

Kathleen E. Kovach is a Christian romance author published traditionally through Barbour Publishing, Inc. as well as indie. Kathleen and her husband, Jim, raised two sons while living the nomadic lifestyle for over twenty years in the Air Force. Now planted in northeast Colorado, she's a grandmother and a great-grandmother—though much too young for either. Kathleen has been a longstanding member of American Christian Fiction Writers. An award-winning author, she presents spiritual truths with a giggle, proving herself as one of God's peculiar people.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today. It's always interesting to learn of a familiar object's beginnings.