Flamenco guitar history probably starts with ancient Roman empire, and with Iberia developing, due to it’s geographical location, as the western cultural center on the cradle of empires – Mediterranean sea. But after culturally fertile ancient times, Europe descended into 1000 years of darkness, all up to the 14th century. The Moors that ruled southern Europe from 711 to 1490’s were the ones that kept the ancient cultural heritage and preserved it for the future, or precisely until the renaissance. Their mathematics, astronomy, anatomy and medicine, and all science was quite advanced for the times. But their social standards and mutual understanding were even more advanced than in many societies today. The healthy social relations and cultural transfer among the generations were the base for art development in the medieval Moz-Arab society. The Arab world extended from the very east to the most west of the Mediterranean and in 822nd, a musician and a scientist Ziryab came from ancient Baghdad. Coming from the cradle of Islamic world to the “new conquered colonies” and with a wide variety of occupations, Ziryab rapidly became a trend setter. He is supposed to have added the bass string to the ancient 4 strings lute.
In the Arabic world the artist was well respected, and even the early Gypsies that started populating Iberia in the 12th century, have been let to take Muslim religion and then “culturally adopted”, started inheriting and playing Moorish strings instruments as their own. The Christian wars in the 15th century plunged the culture back into darkness. The old document from the PDF book is the Gaspar Sanz’s 5 string guitar, from 1674., together with his primitive understanding of harmony. The remaining Gypsies, all living in deserts, or “sierras”, continued the same naturalization process they were on for centuries, passing the heritage into the modernity. Thanks to their rich legacy, the modern guitar was able to develop in the 17th and 18th century with the slow gradual cultural development progress.
The modern guitar with 6 strings and contemporary tuning with fourths and a major third, starts to appear in the second half of the 18th century, around 1780. The industrial revolution and the technical development allowed for more sophisticated instruments to develop, and that led to the appearance of the classical guitar on Iberian peninsula. The flamenco guitar came wright after the classical guitar, because at the very moment the Gypsies saw the classical guitar entering the high society, they started accepting it as a part of their own legacy. Once the industrial revolution distributed precision tools and standards over the planet, the more precisely crafted instruments were available for the masses, and since then – the design of the Spanish guitar didn’t change a bit. In early flamenco records, there is no guitar mentioned, they were just too poor to own one, so the flamenco techniques as well as first purely flamenco, not classical guitar will not appear until the 19th century.
From the beginning of the 19th century in Spain, with the classical guitar coming to the world music stage and being played more and more in the elite society, the gypsies rapidly adopted this new 6 string instrument as their own. Started populating western Europe from the east during the Moz-Arabs ruled in the 12th century, these gypsy “guests” that remained after the 15th century Christian conquistadors in 1492. (Castilla and Toledo alliance expelled (almost) all Jews, Arabs, and Gypsies), were still traveling nomads that were now spreading their spirit of freedom over just the Iberian peninsula. Their nomadic freedom ideology under years of repression created the very essence of the Flamenco culture.
Flamenco guitar playing style came from their different approach to this newly emerged and perfected 6 string instrument. Instead of performing it plucking the strings by pulling and releasing them with the fingers (like classical guitarists, which would require a certain level of precision and fingernails hygiene); their approach to it was much more crude. They started using the whole body of the guitar as a percussion instrument, hitting the front board to create sound and playing the “golpe” hit, paving the way for the “golpe” protection plate to appear. But the most important is that they invented a whole new technique from scratch, hitting the strings with the top of the fingernails with circular repetitive motion; using as a pivot base both the wrist, and the finger base joint with the anchored thumb. Therefore creating the base of the “Rasqueada”, as opposed to “Punteada” guitar, (today being the flamenco and the classical guitar).
For the last 200 years both the classical and the flamenco guitar remain literally one and the same unchanged instrument. The major evolution of flamenco techniques happened in the second half of the 20th century, and the techniques are still evolving. On the other hand, the classical guitar techniques are still being strict to expand, as always, waiting for some piece to embed the technique into the classical guitar heritage. Having some amazing artists through the last 200 years enriched the world’s national heritage in giant steps, like Fernando Sor in classical guitar, and Paco De Lucia in flamenco. So today we have an enormously rich legacy for exploration. What has changed are the craftsmanship processes, and some irrelevant stuff, like the pegs mechanism or a “golpe” plate. Our problem today is the serious shortage of wood to build guitars because almost all forests with several centuries old timbers are gone. But that is a whole other story…