Guitar History Timeline

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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.

Guitar History Timeline

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).

Greek Pandura


40 CE   Romans introduce their chitara to Portugal and Spain.

Roman Chitara

700s   Moors introduce their oud to Iberian Peninsula.

Oud (Moors)

800 – 1300 | Guitarra Latina (Spain) is a plucked string instrument with single string courses and normally played with a pick.

Guitarra Latina

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.



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.

Saz / Baglama

1547 England’s Henry VIII is said to have had 21 guitars in his collection of musical instruments.

Henry VIII guitars

1630-1650 | Baroque Guitar (Spain) – The baroque guitar has less in common with the lute and other predecessors. Modern guitar features begin to emerge. 

“The Guitar Player” by Johannes Vermeer 1672

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.

Francisco Tárrega 1852-1909

1779 | Earliest known (existing) 6-string guitar built by Gaetano Vinaccia (1759-1831) Naples, Italy

Earliest known (existing) 6-string guitar

1780s | Standard tuning (EADGBE) becomes most popular tuning across Europe

Standard tuning EADGBE

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.

Ludwig Van Beethoven on guitars

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.

François René Lacote begins developing the modern guitar

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.

Earliest Martin Guitar 1833

1839 | Christian Frederick Martin moves his family and business to Nazareth, Pennsylvania

C.F. Martin

1850 | Modern Classical Guitar (aka Spanish Guitar) begins to take shape

Modern Classical (Spanish) Guitar


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.

Early Gretsch Electric Guitar

1885 | Slide Guitar (Hawaii) – Hawaiin Joseph Kekuku (1874–1932) was an early master of slide guitar

Hawaiin slide guitarist Joseph Kekuku

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.

12-String Guitar

1902 | Gibson Guitar Company 34-year-old Orville H. Gibson (1856-1918) starts the Gibson Guitar Company in Kalamazoo, Michigan

Orville H. Gibson

Early 1900s | Bouzouki (Greece) – The bouzouki is a member of the lute family. It is derived from the Turkish bozuk, saz and Asian tanbur.

Greek Bouzouki

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.

Resonator Guitar

1928 | Epihone Guitars (New York) – Established in 1873 as a banjo manufacturer, the first Epiphone guitars entered the market in 1928.

1928 Epiphone

1931 | Electric Guitar (California) – Swiss-American Adolph Rickenbacker (1886 -1976) produces a working electric guitar prototype.

Rickenbacker Electro A-22

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.

Stromberg amp

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.

nylon guitar strings


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.

Les Paul with Gibson guitar

1946 | Fender Guitar Company (California) – Clarence Leonidas (Leo) Fender from Anaheim starts the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company.

Fender guitars

1954 | Fender Stratocaster – Famous Fender Strat is introduced

Fender Stratocaster

1958 | Flying V Guitar – Gibson patents the iconic v-shaped electric guitar

Gibson Flying V Guitar

1969 | Trigger – Willie Nelson acquires his signature Martin N-20 classical acoustic guitar as an attempt to play like Django Reinhardt.

Willie Nelson's Trigger

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.

Eric Clapton's Blackie

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.

Taylor Guitars
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