The guitar history timeline below outlines the evolution of various string instruments which ultimately become today’s modern guitars. *Rotate phone horizontally for best view.
3500 BC | Oud (Middle East) – The guitar’s origins trace back to the Middle East’s Uruk period between 3500 and 3200 BC.
3100 BC | Lute (Middle East) – Ancient Egyptians, Persians, Turks and Greeks were among the earliest pioneers of stringed instruments.
2600 BC | Lyre (Middle East) – The lyres of Ur were excavated in ancient Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). They are considered to be the world’s oldest surviving stringed instruments.
2000 BC | Kithara (Ancient Greece) – A stringed musical instrument related to the lyre and often associated with the god Apollo.
1500 BC | Tanbur (Ancient Greece) – A long-necked fretted lute resembling the long lutes of ancient Egypt and Babylon. It has a deep pear-shaped body, 1 to 4 dozen adjustable frets, and 2 to 10 metal strings arranged in single, double or triple courses.
1400 BC | Chitara (Ancient Rome) – Romans adopt the Greek kithara and call it a chitara.
300 BC | Pandura (Greece) – A 3-string full range chromatic scale instrument that produced any note between D3 and G5 (two and a half octaves).
40 CE Romans introduce their chitara to Portugal and Spain.
700s Moors introduce their oud to Iberian Peninsula.
800 – 1300 | Guitarra Latina (Spain) is a plucked string instrument with single string courses and normally played with a pick.
1400-1600 | Gittern (Spanish Renaissance Guitar) was one of the most popular instruments of the time. It was enjoyed by all levels of society, from royal appointment and religious services, to singing and dancing in taverns.
1500s | Vihuela (Spain) – Beginning of the most popular guitar design for the next 200 years.
TURKEY’S MOST POPULAR INSTRUMENT
1500s | Saz / Baglama (Turkey) has traditional tied movable frets and 3 courses of strings. Like the bouzouki in Greece and guitar in Spain, the Saz is still the most popular stringed instrument in Turkey.
1547 England’s Henry VIII is said to have had 21 guitars in his collection of musical instruments.
1630-1650 | Baroque Guitar (Spain) – The baroque guitar has less in common with the lute and other predecessors. Modern guitar features begin to emerge.
1750-1850 | Modern 6-String Guitar (Spain) becomes an instrument played by lower class folks. It is associated with drinking, dancing and singing in the streets and bars. This lifestyle is considered inappropriate for the more fashionable layers of society.
1779 | Earliest known (existing) 6-string guitar built by Gaetano Vinaccia (1759-1831) Naples, Italy
1780s | Standard tuning (EADGBE) becomes most popular tuning across Europe
1806 | Ludwig Van Beethoven declares “The guitar is an orchestra in itself.” He announced this at a concert in Vienna by guitar virtuoso Mauro Giuliani.
1825 | Modern Guitar (France) – François René Lacote begins developing the modern guitar. He uses metal frets, fixed bridges with ivory saddles, bridge pins and tuners arranged in slotted headstocks. These design developments enabled greater volume for public performance. They are still evident in today’s classical guitars.
1833 | Martin Guitars – 37-year-old C.F. Martin (1796-1867) leaves Germany due to the oppressive rules of the Instrument Guilds. He moves to New York and sets up shop at 196 Hudson Street. Below is the earliest known Martin guitar (1834), hand-built in New York by founder C.F. Martin Sr after arriving from Germany in 1833.
1839 | Christian Frederick Martin moves his family and business to Nazareth, Pennsylvania
1850 | Modern Classical Guitar (aka Spanish Guitar) begins to take shape
GRETSCH IS BORN
1883 | Gretsch Guitars 27-year-old German immigrant Friedrich Gretsch opens his Brooklyn, NY shop making banjos, drums and tambourines. In 1927 he begins building guitars.
1885 | Slide Guitar (Hawaii) – Hawaiin Joseph Kekuku (1874–1932) was an early master of slide guitar
1900s | 12-String Guitar – Various ancient instruments featured 12 strings. The precise origins of the modern 12-string guitar are vague. However, historians believe it was created at the turn of the century. Mexican or Italian immigrants are credited for its invention before or after arriving in the US.
1902 | Gibson Guitar Company 34-year-old Orville H. Gibson (1856-1918) starts the Gibson Guitar Company in Kalamazoo, Michigan
Early 1900s | Bouzouki (Greece) – The bouzouki is a member of the lute family. It is derived from the Turkish bozuk, saz and Asian tanbur.
1927 | Resonator Guitar (Los Angeles) – John Dopyera invents the resonator guitar to increase the instument’s volume. This enabled players to better compete with rhythm section banjos in bands.
1928 | Epihone Guitars (New York) – Established in 1873 as a banjo manufacturer, the first Epiphone guitars entered the market in 1928.
1931 | Electric Guitar (California) – Swiss-American Adolph Rickenbacker (1886 -1976) produces a working electric guitar prototype.
1928 | Electric Guitar Amplifier (Chicago) – Chicago-based company Stromberg-Voisinet launches the first portable electric instrument amp with a speaker in a transportable wooden cabinet.
1944 | Nylon Guitar Strings (New York) – Using WWII innovations in nylon cord and supported of one of his clients, guitarist Andre Segovia, Danish-born luthier Albert Augustine develops nylon strings for classical guitars.
GIBSON’S LES PAUL IS BORN
1951 | Gibson Les Paul (Nashville) – American guitarist and luthier Lester William Polsfuss (1915-2009), aka Les Paul, began designing his famous electric guitar. However, it took 10 more years before Gibson Guitar Corp began producing it in 1951.
1946 | Fender Guitar Company (California) – Clarence Leonidas (Leo) Fender from Anaheim starts the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company.
1954 | Fender Stratocaster – Famous Fender Strat is introduced
1958 | Flying V Guitar – Gibson patents the iconic v-shaped electric guitar
1969 | Trigger – Willie Nelson acquires his signature Martin N-20 classical acoustic guitar as an attempt to play like Django Reinhardt.
1972 | Blackie – Eric Clapton enters Nashville’s Sho-Bud Guitar Shop and discovers a rack of used Fender Stratocasters. Selling for $100 each, he buys seven. He gives one to friends Steve Winwood, Pete Townshend and George Harrison. Clapton then picks over the remaining four for parts and assembles a personal Strat that becomes known as Blackie. Blackie becomes his main guitar for the next 12 years.
1974 | Taylor Guitars (California) – Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug open Taylor Guitars. Today it is a leading manufacturer of guitars with headquarters in El Cajon, CA.