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How The Oud Became A Guitar… The history of the world’s oldest instrument

We can’t imagine a world without the guitar – can you? But where did one of the world’s most popular stringed instruments come from?And how has it evolved through the ages to become the axe as we know and love it today? Our blog reveals all.

 

THE OUD - FATHER OF STRINGED INSTRUMENTS

When you hear contemporary guitar legends shredding, it’s difficult to believe that this instrument has existed since the dawn of time. But it’s true! To understand the story of the guitar, we have to start with its origins. And it all began right here in Arabia - with the oud. 

There are many legends and mythical stories surrounding the oud. What we do know for sure is that it can be dated back over 5,000 years. The oldest pictorial record of the oud dates back to the Uruk period in Southern Mesopotamia (Iraq), over 5,000 years ago. The instrument is pictured on a cylinder seal acquired by a Dr Dominique Collon and is currently housed at the British Museum.

The oud is a pear-shaped fretless instrument and typically has 1 12 strings. It has an unrivalled, haunting sound and is still very popular throughout the Middle East. We have a range of beautiful ouds, that you can learn to play at Music by Art of Guitar, based in Motorcity, Dubai. Click here for more details.

THE LUTE

Moving on, the lute becomes the descendant of the oud after it was brought to Europe in the 13th century, by way of Spain, where it was adapted by the addition of frets. The lute has far more strings than the oud, typically 15 to 24. It was prominent in the Renaissance and Baroque periods with the greatest players performing in royal courts throughout Europe.  

Mid-sixteenth century Spain produced a school of fine composers, playing the vihuela (a lute with a guitar shaped body) whose compositions are well known to guitarists today.

THE CLASSICAL GUITAR

Spanish made Baroque guitars, effectively replaced the lute as the stringed instrument du jour. The English word "guitar" comes from the Spanish word guitarra. Prior to that, it likely was formed from the Latin word "cithara" and an ancient Sanskrit "tar", which meant string.  The Baroque guitar had 9 or 10 strings with 2 strings generally tuned to the same course or note. A lower E string was added later as the form moved toward the modern guitar.  

In the 1800s Antonio Torres Jurado started building guitars in a similar fashion to modern classical and acoustic guitars. His work was the blueprint for many guitars that followed, and he is lauded as “one of the single most important inventors in the history of guitar.”

 

Around the same time, Christian Frederick Martin, a German-born American guitar maker, created the flat top guitar. Improving on the Torres-style guitars, he replaced the old-fashioned fan bracing with X-bracing to help the guitar body handle the extra stress of modern steel strings.   

The tight steel strings of the flat top also required the guitarists to change their playing style and use picks more often. This then triggered the evolution of the pickguard, now seen below the sound hole on most flat top guitars.

1900s to today

Fast forward to the early 1900s and American Orville Gibson created the archtop guitar with F holes, an arched top and back, and an adjustable bridge.  

Gibson’s new guitars boasted bodies similar to cellos, so they could rock a much louder sound! It’s no surprise then that the big jazz and country bands of the time soon fell in love with these instruments. 

Another historic development occurred in 1931 when George Beauchamp and his partner Adolph Rickenbacker won the first patent for the electric guitar. 

Hot on their heels, Les Paul soon pioneered the solid body electric guitar made by Gibson and Leo Fender invented the Telecaster in the 1950s.

Fender, Gibson and Rickenbacker are still some of the greatest guitar makers of all time. It’s exciting to think that your guitar signifies a little piece of history. We look forward to seeing how the guitar’s story unfolds hereon.

We have the finest range of guitars in the Middle East. Browse our product pages or pop into our store to find the axe that calls to you!

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