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THE WEEKLY MUSE - When is a Guitar Not a Guitar?

The answer, of course, is when it’s a piano! Granted, the two instruments look very different from one another, but it turns out that “under the hood” they’re closely related.

We’re all familiar with the guitar. It’s a fretted musical instrument, typically with six strings, and played by strumming or plucking the strings with one hand while simultaneously pressing the strings against the frets with the other hand.

It’s also just one of a family of instruments called chordophones – the collective name for a musical instrument that makes sound by way of a vibrating string stretched between two points. Other chordophones include the banjo, cello, double bass dulcimer, harp, lute, sitar, ukulele, viola, violin – and piano. Other less well-known relatives include the gittern, citole, cithern, mandolin, bouzouki, chitarra battente, requinto, and vihuela.

The English word guitar, in German gitarre, and in French guitare are all adopted from the Spanish word guitarra, which comes from the Arabic qīthārah and the Latin cithara, via Ancient Greek.

The modern guitar look settled around 1850, when Spanish guitar maker Antonio Torres Jurado, who increased the size of the body, altered its proportions and invented new design and construction techniques that significantly improved the volume, tone, and sound of the instrument. It has remained essentially unchanged since.

Subtle variations on Jurado’s design have given us a vast range of diverse guitars. Classical, flamenco, Mexicano, harp guitar, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Selmer, tenor, electric, folk, jazz, country, steel, lap-steel, 7-string, 8-string, 12-string, baroque, acoustic, semi-acoustic, arch-top, flat-top, renaissance, requinto, concert, double neck, triple neck. The list goes on!

Today, guitars are ubiquitous. According to Rolling Stone, around 3 million guitars are sold every year in the U.S. Many of us have one at home; some of us even try to play it. There’s rarely a band that doesn’t have at least one. And although it’s challenging to play well, there’s something about its simplicity that we seem to embrace, in all its forms. Despite new instruments and computer-based instruments becoming increasingly popular, the guitar is still the most played instrument globally and continues to be the go-to instrument for those who want to start playing music. Will you pick yours up this holiday season?

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