Inventing the American Guitar

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

Over the course of a mere twenty years preceding the outbreak of the Civil War, a handful of master craftsmen transformed the European guitar into a new instrument. The guitar they invented during this remarkably short period of time had all of the design and construction features—except size—that would define the iconic American flat-top guitar played by millions around the world today.

Inventing the American Guitar is the first book to describe this remarkable transformation in detail and tell the story of the evolution of early American guitar design. The figure who dominates this history is C. F. Martin Sr., America’s first major guitar maker and the founder of C. F. Martin & Co., which continues to produce outstanding flat-top guitars today. Martin emigrated to New York from his native Germany in 1833, where he began crafting elegant guitars based on the model of his Viennese mentor, Johann Georg Stauffer. But within a few years, Martin and his contemporaries came under the influence of Spanish guitarists, who were all the rage in concert halls of the time, and started to bring Spanish elements into their own designs. Ultimately, Martin designed a revolutionary method of bracing the soundboard of his guitars that set the stage for the emergence of a distinctly American guitar.

The team of scholars that collaborated on Inventing the American Guitar has unearthed substantial new information about Martin, his relationships with fellow luthiers and business associates, his instruments, and his technical advances. The book also puts Martin’s achievement in context by including chapters on Johann Stauffer and the Viennese guitar; guitar making and the instrument trade in Martin’s homeland; early nineteenth-century Spanish guitars and guitarists; and Connecticut-based inventor and guitar maker James Ashborn, who was Martin’s main competitor in the 1840s and ’50s.

Inventing the American Guitar is filled with spectacular photographs of dozens of early instruments by Martin, Ashborn, Stauffer, Henry Schatz, and other early builders, many of them presented full page; and there also are glorious two-page profiles of forty-five special guitars from private and museum collections around the country, including the Martin Guitar Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition, the book includes detailed fold-out working drawings of two very different early Martin guitars, both of them created especially for this book by luthier supplier Stewart-MacDonald, as well as diagrams of bracing and other structural elements of all the profiled guitars.

Peter Szego, who headed the team that created the book, is a connoisseur, collector, and player of early nineteenth-century American banjos and guitars. The book was edited by curator and guitar historian Robert Shaw, author of Electrified: The Art of the Contemporary Electric Guitar and Hand Made, Hand Played: The Art and Craft of Contemporary Guitars. Contributing essayists include David Gansz, an expert on early American guitar maker James Ashborn; Antiques Roadshow appraiser and Martin expert Richard Johnston; luthier and early Martin and Spanish guitar scholar David LaPlante; Arian Sheets, Curator of Stringed Instruments at the National Music Museum, University of South Dakota; and James Westbrook, a scholar of nineteenth-century European guitar making.


“Inventing the American Guitar is a magnificent achievement, the only book like it on American stringed instruments of the antebellum period. The editors and contributors present a feast both verbal and visual. Indeed, the book’s illustrations, laid out with true elegance, are alone worth the price of admission. This book should be on the shelf or coffee table of every player, collector, or scholar of the American guitar.”
—Philip Gura, author of C. F. Martin & His Guitars, 1796–1873

“That old saying ‘you never stop learning’ is very apparent to me with the publication of Inventing the American Guitar. Reading about the research that went into revealing the ‘Ah Ha’ moment when my great-great-great- grandfather made the leap from copying Johann Stauffer to developing his own, distinct style (with a little help from Spanish luthiers) is a tremendous step in accurately telling the story of that great American instrument, the flat-top steel string acoustic guitar.”
—Christian F. Martin IV, CEO, C. F. Martin & Co.


Inventing the American Guitar is an absolute tour de force of fine writing, beautiful photography, and meticulously researched information. Although I have collected and studied guitars since 1963 and am considered to be knowledgeable in this field, I found a considerable amount of information presented in this book that I had not known previously, some of which has caused me to change long-held opinions.”
—George Gruhn, co-author of Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars and owner Gruhn Guitars, Nashville, TN


“My entire life has been entwined with the guitar. Small ones, large ones, acoustics, electrics, archtops, fancy ones, plain ones, 6-strings, 12-strings, you name it! The guitar congealed in Europe, but it wasn't until C. F. Martin landed in New York in 1833 that the instrument started to evolve and mature toward the instruments we know and play today. This beautiful book tells the story of the instrument’s early transformation. If only the guitars could talk....Oh yeah, I believe they can!”
—Steve Miller


“The history of the guitar is particularly exciting to me since it has been my musical paintbrush for many decades. The acoustic guitar that we all think of today would not have been possible without the evolutionary contributions and innovations of C. F. Martin. His consistent commitment was craftsmanship and tone. This book tells the story of how the little instrument morphed and grew from European styling to a purely American design. It’s a fascinating story!”
—Stephen Stills

Title page,  Inventing the American Guitar

 Inventing the American Guitar, table of contents

 Inventing the American Guitar, timeline

 Inventing the American Guitar, Austro-German Style

 Inventing the American Guitar, Chapter 1

 Inventing the American Guitar. Profile 2

 Inventing the American Guitar. Spanish Style

 Inventing the American Guitar, Cadiz

 Inventing the American Guitar, Profile 17

 Inventing the American Guitar, James Ashborn

 Inventing the American Guitar, Ashborn #6 Profile

 Inventing the American Guitar. bracing doagram

 Inventing the American Guitar, Profile 28

 Inventing the American Guitar

 Inventing the American Guitar, Martin 10-string

 Inventing the American Guitar. What Survved

 Inventing the American Guitar, What Survived

2014 Classic Guitars

Classic Guitars 2014 Wall Calendar

The 13 extraordinary guitars presented in this calendar were selected by musician and music historian Robert Shaw. Accompanying the photographs are Shaw's engaging and informed commentary about the guitars' histories, manufacture, and characteristics.

The cover guitar is a unique Reverse Teardrop Archtop by renowned contemporary luthier Tom Ribbecke. Other contemporary guitars include works by master carver William Jeffrey Jones, the late Taku Sakashta, acclaimed German designer Ulrich Teuffel, and Patrice Vigier of France, a pioneer in carbon fiber technology. The calendar also includes nineteenth century masterpieces by James Ashborn, C. F. Martin Sr., and Emilius Nicolai Scherr that were included in the new book Inventing the American Guitar, co-edited by Robert Shaw and Peter Szego (see above for more info); a 1935 koa Martin built for Hawaiian lap-style playing with a slide; and rocking electric classics from the 1950s and '60s by Fender and Gibson.

2014 Classic Guitars calendar


Electrified: The Art of the Contemporary Electric Guitar offers a visually stunning selection of guitars by the finest builders at work today, showcasing instruments by 125 master artisans and custom shops from fifteen different countries. More than 250 spectacular color photographs, many of them full page, of killer guitars by luthiers who have custom-built instruments for the likes of George Benson, Eric Clapton, Billy F. Gibbons, Kirk Hammett, Steve Miller, Keith Richards, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. All but a handful of the guitars in the book have been built within the last few years, so it offers a spectacular overview of the current scene. A must for every guitarist, this is a substantial (11 1/4 x 10 3/8 inches, 272 pp.) hardcover with a dust jacket.

"I have just found the most spectacular guitar book that I have ever seen.

"Robert Shaw’s new book Electrified has 250 pages jammed full of fantastic pictures of the most amazing guitars from all over the world. I guarantee that you have never seen a collection like this one! I am doing a feature story on Electrified for Just Jazz Guitar, but I had to write today to tell you all about it. The book has an astonishing array of guitars, from very cool variations on the basic Les Paul, Tele, and Strat designs to some ultra-modern stunners that you really do have to see to believe possible. Fortunately for you, Robert Shaw has a great web site that has several pictures from this outstanding book. I will warn you in advance though, as incredible as the guitars you will see on the web site are, there are even more amazing ones in the book.

"While we can’t all afford a custom guitar of our dreams, this book is a great way to 'window shop' for guitars that few of us are ever likely to see in real life. This is a book that you will pore over again and again, and once you pick it up it is very hard to put down again."

—Dr. Dave Walker, Dr. Dave's Guitar

Electrified dust jacketMatt ArtingerCigtar by Matt ArtingerNik HuberGuitars by Nik HuberJohn PageGuitars by John PageTeyeEl Dorado by TeyeLarry Robinson Fujigen guitarLJ by Michael StevensTeuffel guitarsWilliam Jeffrey JonesAlquier guitarsDagmar guitarFlatetone by David MykaZuni guitar

Hand Made, Hand Played by Robert Shaw

Hand Made, Hand Played: The Art & Craft of Contemporary Guitars

We are living in a golden age of guitarmaking, and this gorgeous new book offers a definitive look at the work of the most skilled artisans at work today. From reproductions of Renaissance and Baroque-era instruments to the wildest looking and most technically advanced electric guitars on the planet, this book covers it all. More than 300 color photos of guitars of every kind imaginable—classical guitars, flattops, archtops, harp guitars, Hawaiian lap guitars, Dobros and metal bodied resonators, acoustic and electric basses, hollow and solid bodied electrics, and more. A must have for every guitarist you know and for anyone interested in contemporary instrument building and craftsmanship.

"Wow! A really unique book that takes a breathtaking tour of more than 300 of today's most creative, imaginative, and gorgeous hand-made guitars -- all illustrated in vibrant full color photos with specs for each guitar and personal statements and anecdotes from the luthiers who made them. The past 25 years have seen an explosion of craftspeople who build guitars by hand, employing an attention to detail, higher quality materials and more technical skill than in any previous era. This book showcases an incredible variety of guitars made by these luthiers, from elegant parlor guitars and innovative classicals to wildly shaped electrics and guitars with seven, ten, twelve or more strings. It's a feast for the eye, mind and soul of anyone who loves guitars."
—Elderly Instruments

Softcover with folding flaps. 11 x 8.5 x 1.3 inches, 416 pages, more than 300 color images! Lark Books, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-157990787

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