The classical guitar (or “classic”) was first developed in Spain by Antonio de Torres, sometime during the 1800s, and is considered to be the foundation stone for all modern guitars.
Torres broke new ground in the world of guitar making by using an innovative “fan-strutting” technique that he applied underneath the top for better sound distribution and strength.
His unique method is still the basic standard adopted by most luthiers today. He is credited with improving the overall design, volume and tonal quality of the instrument, thus making Torres guitars a popular choice among classical guitar enthusiasts.
Classical Guitar Construction
These nylon-stringed guitars have a wider neck than the average steel-string acoustic guitar in order to facilitate finger picking. The fingers of the guitarist’s right hand are used to pluck the strings.
They were originally strung with “gut” treble-strings (made from cat gut) and metal-wound silk bass-strings. As time progressed, the old strings were eventually replaced with nylon treble-strings and nylon steel-wound bass-strings which lasted longer and produced a better sound.
The Latin words below represent a particular finger of the right hand…
P = Pulga (thumb)
I = Indicio (index)
M = Medio (middle)
A = Anular (ring)
Favorite woods used in construction often include Brazilian or Indian rosewood for the body, cedar for the neck, and silka-spruce or cedar for the top. Well made classic guitars produce a beautifully deep, rich, mellow tone. The sound resonates clearly through the woods and can be easily distinguished from the brighter tone of it’s cousin, the steel-stringed acoustic. Because the strings are made of nylon, they are usually softer and easier to play as well.
The guitar probably originated from the “Vihuela,” an instrument that was used during the 16th century to entertain royalty. Early songs were written in tablature and used for accompaniment as well as instrumental pieces.
The classic guitar fell into a brief period of obscurity during the 18th century due to the increasing popularity of the piano, but this didn’t last for long! Virtuosos such as Dionisio Aquado, Mauro Guiliani, and Fernando Sor began to appear on the scene, keeping the music alive by demonstrating their creative genius and technical skills.
By the time the 19th century arrived, Fransisco Terrega was providing classical guitar lessons to a school of students and performing the works of great classical composers. Next in line was Andres Segovia of the 20th century who almost single handedly re-established the classic guitar as an important concert-hall instrument. He also went on to become the master-teacher of Christopher Parkening who is one of the most popular classical guitarists of our generation.
Many styles have since developed, either directly or indirectly, as a result of those who made the effort to preserve our classical guitar heritage. Techniques used for blues, folk, flamenco, rock and more can find their roots here. Tablature, scales, glissando (slides), tremelo, etc. are not new, they have been used for hundreds of years! Now it’s up to us to keep this music alive, in our hearts and in our fingers, so that we too can share it with the next generation!