The guitar is a six-stringed instrument and a member of the lute family, having a flat, waisted body with a round sound hole and a fretted neck. The top three strings are usually made of gut or nylon; the others are metal. The strings are tuned E A d g b e1 (E = second E below middle C; e1 = E above middle C). The player’s left-hand fingers stop the strings at the appropriate frets to produce the correct pitches; the right-hand fingers pluck the strings. Some metal-strung guitars are plucked with a small flat plectrum, or pick.
Guitar-like instruments have existed since ancient times, but the first written mention of the guitar proper is from the 14th century. In its earliest form, it had three double courses (pairs) of strings plus a single string (the highest). The guitar probably originated in Spain, where by the 16th century it was the counterpart among the middle and lower classes of the aristocracy’s vihuela, an instrument of similar shape and ancestry that had six double courses.
The guitar became popular in other European countries in the 16th and 17th centuries, and by the late 17th century a fifth course of strings had been added below the other four. In the mid-18th century, the guitar attained its modern form when the double courses were made single and a sixth string was added above the lower five. Guitar makers in the 19th century broadened the body, increased the curve of the waist, thinned the belly, and changed the internal bracing. The old wooden tuning pegs were replaced by a modern machine head.
The electric guitar, developed for popular music in the United States in the 1930s, usually has a solid, nonresonant body. The sound of its strings is both amplified and manipulated electronically by the performer. American musician and inventor Les Paul developed prototypes for the solid-bodied electric guitar and popularized the instrument beginning in the 1940s. As an instrument of classical music, the guitar came to prominence largely through the efforts of the Spanish composer Francisco Tarrega and the Spanish guitar virtuoso Andrés Segovia.
The guitar is a good example on which to learn sustain and freeform. While pianos do have sustain pedals, the guitar far out carries a note because of its acoustic nature, and also allows the player to trill the string for sustain.
The guitar has become a staple in many different genres because of the wide variety of styles and effects available. Most every guitarist (whether playing acoustic or electric) uses a combination of delay, chorus, and reverb. Many guitarists typically use distortion or fuzz over and above the aforementioned effects, as well as compression. Some guitarists also use harmonizers, flange, phasers, or wah-wah. Other effects include talk boxes, tremolo, ring modulators, and pixellators.
Because of these many effects, a guitarist may step from one genre to another by the combination of effects he or she uses. For instance, in rock and blues, the effects most often used are distortion, chorus, reverb, delay, wah-wah, and compression. While in reggae and jazz guitarists generally use reverb, compression, chorusing, and some form of wah-wah.
Guitars are very much oriented for singing over and can break away from chords into soloing (pianos can provide the same, with the exception that soloing on a piano is not as accented as a guitar). Moreover, a guitar is much easier to control as far as tuning goes – guitars can be tuned in flats, naturals, Drop “D”, open tunings, and capos can be used to alter all six strings at once.
Guitarists can enjoy a variety of styles and techniques, such as: hammer-ons, pull-offs, arpeggios, chords, finger tapping, trilling, palm muting, fingerpicking, bending, sliding, harmonics, artificial harmonics, and tremloing. Most of these are not available on the piano or drums, and therefore are unique to stringed instruments.