For lots of young children, their first guitar is a small classical guitar strung with nylon strings. Nylon string guitars are a great choice for youngsters. They are easier on little fingers than steel strings, and there are a wide array of very inexpensive classical guitars on the market that are small enough for young children to hold comfortably.
If you learned to play guitar on a small classical guitar, you might have this man to thank for your start in music—Andres Segovia.
Born in Spain on February 21, 1893, Andres Segovia taught himself to play the guitar. In spite of his family’s desire that he study law, Segovia pursued a career as a guitarist and began performing professionally in his late teens.
Up until that time, the guitar was not held in high esteem. It was considered more of a folk instrument. But as Segovia began his international performing career, the guitar’s importance as a musical instrument was being strengthened. Segovia’s success as a musician helped bring the sound of the guitar to a wider audience and really began to cement the guitar’s reputation as a serious concert instrument.
Segovia was also partly responsible for the development of something that most modern guitarists take for granted today—the nylon guitar string.
For much of the guitar’s history, guitar strings were made from dried animal gut. Of course, steel strings were in common use fairly early in the 20thcentury, but classical guitars still relied on gut strings, and gut strings were prone to breaking and didn’t hold pitch very well.
According to this May 2, 2003 article in the Los Angeles Times by Dennis McLellan, in 1946 Segovia asked a luthier named Albert Augustine to build him a guitar. Frustrated with the deficiencies of gut strings, Augustine had begun experimenting with using nylon fishing line as a replacement for gut strings, but he wasn't able to develop this idea until after he built a guitar for Segovia.
Segovia had already acquired some nylon line from DuPont Co. and had been experimenting with it as an alternative to gut stings. Noting the superior durability and tuning stability of nylon over animal gut, Segovia encouraged Augustine to make nylon strings specifically for the guitar. Segovia’s fame and influence allowed Albert Augustine and his wife Rose to establish a business relationship with DuPont, providing them with a supplier of nylon line that could be used to make guitar strings.
While almost every guitar string manufacturer currently makes nylon guitar strings, were it not for Segovia’s influence, the nylon guitar string may have never come to be. According to that same article in the Los Angeles Times by McLellan, DuPont had already tried to sell their nylon to other string manufacturers, but none of them were interested in using it to make guitar strings. Thanks to Segovia’s influence, the Augustines became the first, and you can still buy Augustine strings today.
Were it not for Andres Segovia, the strings used for those low-cost classical guitars that so many youngsters got their start on may have never been produced. As a result, many youngsters may have never taken up the guitar in the first place, maybe not even you.