When you think of guitars, many people immediately think about one of two types - either the popular electric guitar used so prevalently by bands and groups that produce popular music, and the classical guitars more traditionally used for softer music, and classical music itself. The one distinctive attribute of a classical guitar is its ability to allow the musician to construct and play arrangements of music with multiple notes being played simultaneously, what is known as polyphonic music, and this is similar is in many respects to the traditional pianoforte.
This ability to play polyphonic music is the one aspect above all others that sets the classical guitar aside from other types, including the popular acoustic guitar, bass guitars and the electric guitars, which are more limited in the notes and combinations which can be played. Although often it may be suggested that classical guitars are not the only type to be capable of this polyphonic sound, and that flamenco guitars offer the same opportunity, there is still one great difference that sets the two types of guitar aside. Classical guitars, as with most guitars, are designed to be plucked or strummed, whereas flamenco guitars are far more percussive, being played almost as though in the style of a piano, with the strings being struck or hit to create the resonating note, and this difference in playing method creates a very significant difference in the type of sound or voice, and the style of music that each instrument is capable of producing.
The classical guitar that we tend to think of has a broad family, and across the whole world the classical guitar comes in many flavours, each sharing the same quality and characteristic of being able to play polyphonic musical arrangements, but each lending the music a distinctive quality which reflects the different musical traditions and patterns of the culture of each country. For example, a wide range of guitars can be found in Mexico, with the very small guitar known as the requinto, and then the much larger guitarron which is so much larger that it competes with a cello for size, and therefore produces a much more deeply resonating sound, and is tuned to the same register as a bass guitar.
A similar range of different sizes and styles can be seen in Columbia too, with the smallest guitar being known as the bandola, and is most popularly used as a travelling guitar, since its small size allows it to be packed or carried with relatively little difficulty. A slightly larger version of the classical guitar than the bandola is the tiple, and this is mid way between the bandola and the classical guitar, although he classical guitar does itself appear in the Columbian repertoire. The classical guitar, or as they are often referred to today, the classic guitar, owes its shape and traditionally agreed dimensions to a man named Antonio Torres Jurado who lived from 1817 to 1892.
Today the modern classic guitar has ten strings, which is four more than a traditional guitar with only six. These four extra strings, called resonators, are tuned in a very special way that means that they can be played, and will resonate in tune to any of the twelve notes that can be played chromatically on the higher strings. The three bass strings on a classic ten string guitar are tuned in the same way, and this extra tuning for resonance is felt to improve and complement the sonority of the sound, giving a much more distinctive, clear and full performance of the music. Modern classic guitars are available in a number of different versions which can be played within different octaves, with the soprano guitar being used to play a full octave higher than a normal guitar, and a contrabass guitar achieving notes a full octave lower.