The Acoustic Guitar, What Is It Really?

It seems strange to me that sometimes the things that have been around the longest can be the most mysterious.  Take the acoustic guitar for instance.  I say guitar for there were stringed instruments that preceded the guitar, but yet the guitar has been with us for a very long time.  The oldest known iconographic representation of an instrument displaying the essential features of a guitar is a 3,300-year-old stone carving of a Hittite bard.  Now the use of the word guitar or some form of it has an interesting history as well as all the instruments to which it was applied.  However, reviewing that history is not the purpose of this writing.  Though I am sure it would be very interesting to see how that remarkable instrument we call the guitar has evolved to what it is today, we are not going to go over that road.  The road we will travel is the with guitar that we know today.

Long before the electric guitar made its entry into the music scene, the acoustic guitar had already written an unforgettably  history of it own.  The first electrically amplified guitar was designed in 1931.  There were variations of electrifying the guitar but they were primarily an adaptation made to acoustic guitars.  Many attribute that design to Les Paul, however that distinction belongs to George Beauchamp General Manager and Paul Barth Vice President of the National Guitar Corporation with their maple body prototype.  It subsequently produced in aluminum and called the Frying Pan.   The acoustic  guitar as we know it today has an unknown birth date.  Some day it goes back as far as 4000 years.  What is known that regardless of when the guitar entered the musical scene, it fell out of favor in the 19th century.   But only until Francisco Tarrega during the classical period, revived it.  Then Manual Torres “Father of the Modern Guitar” (1850-1892),  developed a larger and more resonant guitar, as we know it today. He once built a guitar with a spruce top and paper mache sides so he could prove his theory of which, it is the top that produces most of the volume. Torres increased the size and experimented with anything that will improve the sound; he was especially interested and focused in the volume of the guitar.

So I guess it is safe to say that during the late 1800’s the guitar we know today was being played again.  It was also during this time that the steel string guitar was introduced basically in an attempt to get more volume.  The first steel stringed guitars were likely what we refer to as the “OO” today since it would have been an adaptation of the Classical guitar predominant at that time.  And it is that guitar I wish to write about.  The mystery I referred to comes from my hearing those early guitars playing those rustic, moaning tones.  I am really a Blues fan, so most of my references who be to those early Blues performers, some of them known and many unknown.  It is fortunate that early recordings have been preserved and reproduced so that music is now available to any who care to seek it out.

Their sounds are still a challenge to many accomplished guitarists.  Eric Clapton is a serious study of the early Blues and he has stated that some of what he hears is still a mystery as to how it was done.  It is interesting that those who had no training other than from those who came before them were able to produce that singularly unique sound.  I wonder if formal training might is someway stifle the creativity.   I came to the guitar very late in life, much too late to ever become more than a struggling study of it.  Already my hands are stiff and their endurance is short.  I play when I can and stop when the pain allows me no other choice.  I so envy those who can play effortlessly and I wonder if they appreciate the great value of that ability.  I wonder if they share the same heart and feelings of their predecessors.  I, who am with out talent and skills, share that heart and feelings and yet they are captive due to my inability to express them.  I wonder if the electric with all its pedals, tone, volume, reverb, and limitless modifications to the sound have taken from the player the sole connection to the instrument.  I remember shortly after I started playing my first acoustic.  I remember feeling the vibrations through my hands and against my body.  I remember how I felt for the first time that my guitar was alive and breathing and waiting for me to coax it on.  I so wanted to let it talk for me and yet I struggled and was short of my goals.  There are songs written around the thought of “me and my guitar” and that song can be taken in different ways.  There is a Blues song about “Come and I will Play the Blues for You” and that song can be taken different ways.  I have always thought that it was about the union of a living breathing human being and an object that appeared to live and breath, while we know that it can not, did appear to do so.  I felt it had more to do with the experience of the player and his guitar rather than the player and his music.  Where the music was the language of the union of player and guitar.

Yes, I do own an electric guitar, a nice one at that.  It is a pity, for I constantly turn to the instrument that causes my hands to complain the most, when it would be easier on my Tom Anderson drop top.  For those of you who know that guitar, you know how easy it is to play.  It is fine and I can do things on the electric that I would not dream of trying on my acoustic and yet it is the acoustic that I turn to the most.  Sorry to say, I am realistic enough to know I will never achieve my goals to be a good player.  I still enjoy the time I spend with my guitar and if I cannot express how I feel with my playing; then I guess I will have to settle for writing about it.  So, my answer to the question this post presents is an acoustic guitar is a friend and companion, that seems to understand your problems, share in your joys and feel your feelings and is more than willing, with your help, to tell the world as well.  It is no mystery to me why it is an instrument that is so loved.


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