Arcas was born in María, Almería, and died in Antequera, Malaga. From 1860 until 1872, he performed all over Europe. He even performed for the Duke of Wellington and the Duke of Cambridge in 1862. The young Francisco Tárrega listened to him in 1863 in Castellón and played for him after the performance, on the request of Tárrega's father. Arcas then invited Tárrega to study with him in Barcelona. Tárrega plagiarized, deliberately or not, a number of Arcas's pieces including "Fantasia sobre los motivos de La traviata". Arcas wrote fifty-two original works and transcribed thirty pieces for the guitar, including waltzes, variations, preludes and dances. Thirty were published in Barcelona by Vidal y Roger and fifty in Madrid by Unión Musical Española.
Interest in Arcas was sparked by his teaching of Tárrega and the discovery of Tárrega's plagiarism. Recently, Arcas has become more well known due to the beauty of his music and the release of his complete works.
Through the work of the guitar maker Antonio de Torres Jurado, Arcas influenced the development of the classical guitar, particularly with regard to the design of the soundboard. Arcas's major career accomplishments include the appointment as Honorary Master of the Conservatory of Madrid, being Knighted in the Royal Order of Charles III.
Eusebio Rioja: Julián Arcas o los albores de la guitarra flamenca (Sevilla: Bienal de Arte Flamenco, 1990), ISBN 84-86773-20-2.
Javier Suárez-Pajares: "Julian Arcas: Figura clave de la Guitarra Española", in: Actas del XV Congreso de la Sociedad Internacional de Musicología: Culturas musicales del Mediterraneo y sus ramificaciónes, vol. 4, (Madrid, 1992).
Eusebio Rioja: "Julián Arcas Lacal (1832-1882), concertista internacional, compositor y maestro de guitarra", in: Revista velezana no. 12 (1993), p. 43–54.
Melchor Rodríguez (ed.): Julían Arcas. Obras Completas para Guitarra / Guitar Works (Madrid: Soneto, 1993), ISBN 84-87969-38-0.
Graham Wade: A Concise History of the Classic Guitar (Pacific, Missouri: Mel Bay, 2001), ISBN 078664978X.
Javier Suárez-Pajares, Eusebio Rioja Vázquez: El guitarrista almeriense Julián Arcas (1832-1882): una biografía documental (Almería: Instituto de Estudios Almerienses, 2003), ISBN 84-8108-273-2.