Guest Blogger: Tony Bacon is author of History Of The American Guitar.
History Of The American Guitar is my take on 170 years of our favorite instrument, told through a collection of great guitars – from the earliest US models of the 1830s right through to the latest creations of today, and all displayed in beautiful big photographs. It’s a revised edition that we’ve brought bang up to date, and many of the instruments featured were owned by Scott Chinery, photographed before Scott’s untimely death and the break-up of his remarkable collection. This book stands as a tribute to Scott and his passion for the guitar.
One of the oldest guitars I’ve ever played was a turn-of-the-20th-century Dyer Symphony Style 8 harp guitar, owned by Scott and which you can see in the book. I picked it up. Carefully. It was a handful, this harp guitar, a result of the expertise of the Larson Brothers of Chicago, who made instruments with various brandnames, including Dyer. It had a regular acoustic flat-top body, but then a huge extra bout that extended upwards, above and parallel to the neck, ending in a curly flourish at the headstock, and with six extra resonator strings attached. So as you played it, that big extra bit of hollow body resonated against your own body.
The sound and the experience were extraordinary, like no other guitar I’ve played before or since. It was almost literally as if your body was an extension of the guitar. As I played that Dyer and looked around Scott’s other guitars – we’ve featured 300 or so in the book, and I counted at least as many again in his vast basement – I began to wonder if a guitar can ever be too old to play. I also began to wonder about taking some lessons, but that’s another story.
The oldest surviving guitar is thought to be one made about 1590, and experts will tell you guitars or guitar-like instruments go back even further than that. They all disagree about it, of course – that’s one of the main jobs for an expert.
Scott had older guitars than his Dyer. His oldest went back another hundred years or so. It was a Stauffer from the early 19th century, made in Germany at the workshop where Christian Martin trained before he emigrated to America. You can see this in the book, too: it’s fragile, small, nylon-strung of course, delicate – and quite playable. And why shouldn’t it be? Herr Stauffer may not have reckoned on it lasting 175 years and more, but why not? Antique furniture can get tougher treatment and might last several centuries more. Many guitars seem to get better as they get older. It’s a pity we’re not the same. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this new edition of History Of The American Guitar.
History Of The American Guitar
First published in 2001 and now updated and expanded, History of the American Guitar begins in New York City in the 1830s with the arrival of Christian Martin, from Germany, to set up the Martin company. From that historic moment, the book takes readers on a fascinating and comprehensive visual tour of U.S. guitar history. Over 75 brand names are represented, with more than 300 guitars photographed in stunning detail, including Bigsby, Danelectro, D’Angelico, D’Aquisto, Ditson, Dobro, Dyer, Epiphone, Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, James Trussart, Kay, Maccaferri, Martin, Micro-Frets, Mosrite, Oahu, Ovation, Regal, Rickenbacker, Stella, Stromberg, Suhr, Taylor, Vega, Washburn, Wilkanowski, and many more. The interrelated stories of the guitar, mandolin, and banjo are mixed seamlessly with the history of the diverse American music that grew and prospered with these instruments, from country to blues, from jazz to rock.