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Guitar: An American Life.

Guitar: An American Life, by Tim Brookes. Grove Press/Atlantic, Inc. (841 Broadway, 4th Flr., New York, NY 10003), 2005. 339 pp. $24.

This is an extremely interesting and entertaining book about the guitar and its development in America. While it is not primarily a history, it does include tantalizing facts and stories that are not readily available elsewhere. The author, an amateur guitarist, treats the subject with great affection, humor and occasional criticism.

The book is organized around Tim Brookes's quest for the perfect guitar to replace a long-loved, but unfortunately damaged, instrument. He includes chapters about searching for and finding the right guitar maker, sound, style, choice of woods and decorations--with fascinating digressions into inlay work and rosette designs. Although not present for the whole process, Brookes documents the actual building of the guitar with colorful descriptions of this semi-magical process.

Interspersed among these chapters are discussions of the guitar's rise to popularity. From a supposition of the first guitarist in America (a Spanish solider named Juan Garcia y Talvarea, 1576) to jazz, blues and rock, these chapters contain some of the most beguiling stories about the instrument, its players, promoters and other assorted personages. Brookes elaborates on the Hawaiian guitar "craze" that swept the nation in the early 1900s, the guitar's use in country music, the advent of the electric guitar and much more. One highlight of the book is the glossary that lists Brookes's own, unorthodox and humorous, but insightful definitions (opinions).

However informative, Brookes has not written a textbook, which may be good or bad. There are no footnotes, index or bibliography, although he does make liberal use of quotations. There is hardly any mention of the guitar's European evolution and heritage, but it is obviously a book about the development of the "American guitar," which for Brookes equals the steel string guitar. The modern classical guitar is barely touched upon, but it is clearly appreciated. The book is written from a "folk" guitarist's point of view. There are statements that other guitarists might disagree with, for example, "everything important that happened to the guitar actually happened between 1928 and 1941."

Besides being a player and lover of the guitar, Brookes is a commentator for National Public Radio. He has certainly brought his talents, thoughts, experience, research and opinions into creating a delightfully endearing book about this wonderful instrument, the guitar. Reviewed by Glenn Caluda, Stephens City, Virginia.
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Author:Caluda, Glenn
Publication:American Music Teacher
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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