Inventing the American Guitar: The Pre-Civil War Innovations of C.F. Martin and his Contemporaries

Written by September 30th, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Inventing the American Guitar: The Pre-Civil War Innovations of C.F. Martin and his Contemporaries
Edited by Peter Szego and Robert Shaw with various essayists
(Hal Leonard Books)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There are a lot of guitar history books out there, and some pretty good ones at that. But when it comes to the origins of the acoustic guitar in the United States, it’s doubtful that anyone will be able to top Inventing the American Guitar: The Pre-Civil War Innovations of C.F. Martin and His Contemporaries. This nearly 300-page volume follows the history of the acoustic guitar (and some other stringed instruments) in America from the early 19th century through the end of the Civil War and beyond, focusing heavily on the career of the brilliant and incredibly industrious C.F. Martin, and the work of the people who both influenced him and competed with him.

In addition to historical background about C.F. Martin’s guitar-building innovations and business origins in New York, profiles of such builders as Vienna’s Johann Stauffer and Connecticut’s James Ashborn, and much more, the book includes dozens of high-quality photos, bracing diagrams, timelines, schematic drawings and more. Edited by noted stringed instrument collector Peter Szego and by curator and guitar historian Robert Shaw, the book includes essay contributions from such guitar historians and experts as early American guitar expert David Gansz, Antiques Roadshow appraiser and Martin authority Richard Johnston, stringed instruments curator Arian Sheets, and others, and will go down as essentially the equivalent of the Sgt. Pepper’s of guitar books.

Containing mouth-watering pictures of instruments so vintage and rare that most of us have never seen them, and even photos of some of the original labels that identified them, this book was as meticulously crafted as the guitars it was written about. With back-cover quotes from such endorsers as Steve Miller, current Martin CEO Chris Martin, and longtime Martin legend Stephen Stills, this book offers hours of great reading and a wealth of reference material for guitar fans, players, history buffs, builders, and, well, just about anyone who’s into the acoustic guitar. While the Internet has been a life-changing tool that has replaced a generation’s reading and reference habits, nothing can replace a book like this one. Given its size, scope and quality, the $50 (list) price tag is a small price to pay. Far more than just another “coffee table” tome, it’s a book that readers will find something new inside the pages of every time they pick it up. Highly recommended as a book to enjoy for a lifetime.


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