The origins of the acoustic guitar changes depending on who you ask. We can trace early, guitar-like instruments to all corners of the world, each with a fantastic story. There are even explicit representations of guitar-like instruments found in ancient carvings, as old as 3300 years (Hittite carvings found in Turkey).
Through time, there have been countless variations on the guitar. We have to focus on the advancements that led us most clearly to the form of the modern acoustic guitar as we know it today. That way, we can more accurately answer the question, who invented the acoustic guitar?
That leads us to one man, Antonio de Torres Jurado.
Antonio de Torres Jurado was a 19th-century musician who is credited for shaping the modern acoustic guitar, circa 1850. He altered the proportions of the existing acoustic guitar, to give it more defined features. The most visible alterations are the widened body and narrow waist. He also replaced wooden pegs with mechanical tuners.
Overall, his design was larger than the typical classical guitar of that era.
He was an extremely innovative musician and designer who made changes to the guitar that goes beyond its appearance. One of his most acclaimed innovations was the introduction of fan bracing within the guitar’s body. Fan bracing refers to his design for the internal pattern of wood reinforcements. Bracing is there to secure the guitar’s top and back, preventing the instrument from collapsing under pressure.
His design had a dramatic effect on the sound of the acoustic guitar. The sound was now richer, thicker, louder, and more resonant. It was also the catalyst for luthiers all over Europe to start copying his design.
Meanwhile (or a couple of decades earlier), in the United States, guitars were usually strung with steel strings that put more pressure on the guitar’s body. A German-born American luthier by the name of Christian Frederick Martin designed an X-brace, circa 1830. The X-brace was far more robust and could handle the pressure of steel strings easily.
Christian Frederick Martin is also responsible for designing the flat top guitar. Martin’s design, with the tight steel strings, was better suited to playing with a pick than fingers. This change saw the rise of chord-based music as opposed to the Spanish/classical style of Antonio de Torres Jurado’s guitars.
Antonio de Torres Jurado’s guitars had now made it to the United States, carried by European immigrants. Even with the innovative fan bracing, the pressure that came from steel strings was an issue. What we ended up with is a combination of innovations from both of these forward-thinking musicians.
It’s fair to say the modern acoustic guitar wouldn’t be the same without either one of these designers. So, it wouldn’t be right to mention one without the other. Christian Frederick Martin’s X-brace is one of the most critical innovations in the history of the acoustic guitar. However, the starting point is always Antonio de Torres Jurado and his alterations to the guitar’s body. These alterations were the blueprint for the most familiar acoustic guitar body-shapes we have today.