By Courtney Pancost, Fri Dec 9th
The guitar is one of the most familiar and common instrumentsthe world over. It is descended from other stringed instrumentsthat were common in Greece, in India, in Mexico and in Africa -in fact, throughout the known world. It's descended from suchinstruments as the sitar, said to be sacred to the Hindo goddessSaraswati, and the lute, which Greek mythology claims wasinvented by the god Apollo himself.
It's no wonder that the guitar has a history of association withthe divine. The range and styles of music that can be played onthe classic stringed instrument is incredible. From theintricate fire and beauty of classical Spanish and flamencoguitar to the down-home country sounds of good finger-pickin',the guitar is a versatile and beautiful instrument.
Modern-day guitars have a hollow or solid body, a neck withfrets, and a tuning mechanism that is called the machine head.They may be acoustic, or electric, and are one of the mostpopular instruments in the world.
Guitar bodies for acoustic guitars are made of wood, oftenspruce, red cedar or maple. The face of the guitar, or top, isone of the most important factors in its sound quality. It iscarefully engineered to a precise thickness, and braced by avariety of materials.
The most important piece of the guitar is the face, or top. Itscomposition, shape and engineering will determine the finalsound of the guitar. The back and sides also make a difference,but not so much, and often, luthiers will choose the wood forthe sides and back with an eye to appearance
rather than soundquality.
Electric guitars are solid, though they are rarely made of asingle solid piece of wood. Instead, most are created of manylayers of different kinds of wood laminated together. This givesthe guitar both strength and sound quality that wouldn't bepossible in a single piece of wood. Often, the electric guitaris made of a 'good sounding' wood like ash or poplar, with alaminated top of a more attractive wood for appearance.
It's hard to believe that the same instrument is capable ofcreating such wide and varied styles of music. It's even harderto believe that only a few hundred years ago, the guitar wasconsidered the instrument of peasants, lesser than the nobleviolin and organ. It was considered so much lesser that acrossthe United States, older generations boycotted Catholic churchesthat used guitars to celebrate faith in folk Masses.
Nowhere else will you find the variety of guitars that you findin a typical Mexican mariachi band. A typical mariachi band willinclude at least three kinds of guitar - a classical guitar, avihuela and a guitarron, a large guitar that is nearly the sizeof a cello.
Mastering the guitar, however, takes years of practice. Thedifference between a three-chord strummed song and the intricatefinger picking and speed of a flamenco guitarist is unmistakable.
From divine beginnings, though its history as the music ofpeasants to its
elevation again as the king of instruments, theguitar has been a beloved instrument
of people the world over.If you choose to learn only one instrument, the guitar
is theperfect choice.