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Renaissance Guitar History and its Contribution to the Music Industry


The vihuela was an early form of a guitar. It had five to six doubled strings made of gut. This early instrument first emerged in Spain, Italy, and Portugal. These instruments were made of thin flat slabs or wooden pieces, which were curved differentiating them from earlier stringed instruments made from wood blocks. First generation vihuelas looked more like the modern guitar but they had a sharp cut on the waist making them look like violins.


Over the years, the vihuela has been improvised with the second generation starting around 1490 and it had eight smoother curves. Other notable features of the early vihuela included very long necks with varying shapes, top decoration, and varying placement of sound holes, pierced rosettes, and ports. They also used over two peg styles.



Contribution of Renaissance Guitars to the Music Industry

Although literature mentions the first guitar in the 13th century, the first version of the modern guitar appeared during the Renaissance. This guitar looked more like the Spanish vihuela and it had four paired strings. The vihuela remained common in Italy and Spain for the better part of the 16th century.



The Emergence of the Five-Course Guitar

The vihuela had a great impact on the designing and tuning of five-course guitars that appeared in the mid-16th century. The five-course guitars not only replaced the four-course guitars but also set the modern standard guitar tuning of A, D, G, B, and E. Consequently, the number of the frets increased from eight to ten, and finally twelve. In Italy, the sixth-course guitar became quite popular and was made by altering the nut and the bridge to fit another tune peg hole for the sixth string.



Notable Guitarists during the Renaissance Period

Luis de Milán is an important figure in guitar history. He was a Spanish Renaissance vihuelist and composer. He was the first musician in history to publish vihuela music for the vihuela de mano. He was also one of the first musicians to specify verbal tempo indications in his music. The music of Luis Milan is popular with performers on the present-day classical guitar.


Juan Bermudo was a renowned mathematician, composer, and music theorist who focused his attention on the vihuela. His first published work was a dedication to King John III of Portugal, which was done in 1549. In his writing on vihuela, “Perfecting the perfect instrument,” published in 1555, he mentions that his work was checked and approved by Cristobal de Morales, Royal Chapel of Granada, and Bernardino de Figueroa.


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