With its small body and 6 nylon strings, the classical guitar is played on a wide fingerboard, allowing for simultaneous control of melody and harmony. It is responsive to a considerable degree of musical expression, on par with the violin and other concert instruments. The guitar can be traced back to harp and lyre-like instruments found in the ruins of the ancient Sumerian city of Ur (2500 BC). The course of guitar evolution led circuitously to the 15th- and 16th-century, 4- and 5-string guitar which, however, did not gain much recognition until the 17th century in the French court of Louis XIV. The 19th century saw the classical guitar as we know it today develop in construction, performance, pedagogy, repertoire and popularity; and the 20th century brought it worldwide popularity, almost solely through the efforts of its master performer Andrés Segovia. The electric guitar was introduced in the US in the 1930s and became extremely popular in JAZZ, and later in POPULAR MUSIC.

Although the guitar was brought to Canada as early as the mid-17th century, it had limited use. There were few if any classical guitarists in Canada even in the 1950s, although the influential guitarist and teacher Eli Kassner came to Toronto in 1951 from Austria. Composer Harry SOMERS took guitar lessons from Kassner in 1957 and his "Sonata for Solo Guitar" (completed 1959 and premiered 1964) was the first major Canadian work written for the classical guitar. Though pieces were written by composers John BECKWITH, Walter Buczynski and others, there were few Canadian guitarists to perform them until the 1970s and 1980s, when a number of superb professionals emerged, including Pierre Augé, Liona BOYD, Philip Candelaria, Lynne Gangbar, Paul-André Gagnon, Davis Joachim, Norbert KRAFT, Michael Laucke, Peter McCutcheon, Gordon O'Brien, Alan Torok, Jean Vallières, the Wilson-McCallister Duo, Tom and Lynn West and the Laval Trio. Guitarists Michael Shutt (from the UK) and Paul Gerrits (from the Netherlands) immigrated to Canada. Well-known professional pop and folk guitarists in Canada have included Randy Bachman (seeBTO), Bruce COCKBURN, Robbie ROBERTSON and Dom Troiano; jazz guitarists have included Ed BICKERT, Sonny GREENWICH, Nelson Symonds and Lenny BREAU.

Guitar making has spread to several centres, mostly at the craft level; Richard Berg, Marshall Dun, Oscar Graff, Neil Herbert, Robert Holroyd, Patt Lister and Michael Shriner are a few of the excellent luthiers across Canada.

Canadian works composed for the classical guitar have had a corresponding increase, and Boyd, Kraft and Laucke, among others, have launched successful recording careers. Amateur playing, competitions and workshops have been encouraged by the Classical Guitar Soc of Toronto (est 1956) and similar organizations across Canada. Formal instruction is offered by the ROYAL CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC OF TORONTO, the BANFF CENTRE FOR CONTINUING EDUCATION and the Orford Art Centre (JEUNESSES MUSICALES DU CANADA). Canada's first international guitar festival, Guitar '75, was held in Toronto and has been held every 3 years since. Under Kassner's direction, the festival has commissioned new works and has become the most important event of its kind in the world. Guitar '84 featured new concertos by Stephen Dodgson (UK), Leo Brouwer (Cuba) and Harry Somers. Guitar '87 featured the new "Toronto Concerto" by Leo Brouwer, played by John Williams and the Toronto Symphony under Brouwer's direction.