Although its exact history is a little hazy, and subject to much discussion, it is thought that the traditional Portuguese guitar can be traced back as far as the medieval period, and although you will often find references that suggest that it was based on the traditional English guitar, this is most certainly not the case, in particular for the very good reason that there simply is no such thing! The Portuguese guitar is a traditional twelve string instrument which is most notable for its use in the traditional Portuguese Fado music.
When people suggest that the Portuguese guitar comes from the traditional English guitar, what is really being referred to here is not ancestry of design, but rather the quality of build. It was at the time that the Portuguese guitar was being designed and introduced that England was famous for making guitars, and the reputation of these English guitars was very solid. The Portuguese guitar is therefore a descendent of the period when guitars were being made to a high standard in England. Rather than of English origin, the Portuguese guitar is more likely to have its roots in either the medieval citar, or the lute which came from Arabic traditions.
More than likely it was a combination of both of these types of instrument. The Portuguese is an example of a classic guitar, but is not the only type of classic guitar to be available as an alternative to the traditional ones. Another popular type of classical guitar is the flat top steel string guitar. The main difference is that instead of using nylon to create the strings, they are made from steel. This provides a significantly different timbre to the note, but because it has to be tensed and stretched to a very high degree, it has affected the overall shape of the guitar. Often people think that the shape of a flat top guitar is to enhance sound or create some alternate quality of sound to a normal guitar, but it is largely based purely on ensuring that the guitar is strong enough to withstand the tension of the steel strings, since a normal guitar structure would more than likely simply snap in half during the initial tuning up.
The neck of a steel strung guitar is very much reinforced, and the design gives it a strong look and feel. The body is also usually much larger than a normal classic guitar, and also thought his is to act as an extra brace for the strings, it also adds a greater resonance for the notes. The sound created by steel strings rather than nylon ones is described as being much brighter and crisper, and often people suggested that it creates a much louder sound too.
Flat top guitars or steel strung guitars are most often to be found used in traditional folk music, country, jazz and blues, and the music associated with these genres can be thought to reflect the characteristics of the guitar used. A third alternative to the traditional classic guitar is the archtop guitar, and these again used steel strings rather than nylon, creating the crisp bright sound, but the distinctive feature of an archtop guitar is a f-hole which looks very similar to the design of a violin.
The top and back of the guitar’s body are carved in this distinctive curved fashion, and the shape is derived from a similar style of mandolin created by the Gibson Guitar Corporation. The archtop guitar can be made available in either the classic form, or as an electric equivalent, and the sound created by these guitars is quite distinctive and has proven very popular with musicians from both the classical and country traditions, and popular music, with the country musicians using the acoustic version of the archtop, and the popular music musicians using its electric equivalent, which often comes with a tremolo arm, particularly when used in rock music.
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