Guitar Makers: The Endurance of Artisanal Values in North America
The craft tradition of making string instruments goes back to Stradivarius, the 18th-century luthier whose instruments today are very nearly priceless. Kathryn Dudley here takes us on a quest for the Guitar Heroes of the 21st century, the luthiers whose artisanal skills (as opposed computer numerical control technology) produce exquisite one-of-a-kind instruments. But she tracks industrial guitar-making as well as artisanal, starting with the post-WW II golden era of the Martin and Gibson companies on to a second golden era, a result of new modes of information sharing. She has interviewed 100 luthiers and 50 dealers, collectors, musicians, material suppliers, and guitar festival organizers. We see how the advent of disco caused sales of acoustic guitars to plummet in the 1980s, and meet the key individuals who rescued both the craft and the big companies from almost certain demise. In-depth portraits of guitar-makers illuminate the kinds of emotional and tactile engagement these skilled workers have with the wood they shape into a guitar’s unique voice. They talk to wood, and listen to what the piece of wood wants to be, how the grain is going to go, they bring wood to life, treating it not as a passive object but as a collaborator in the production process. Along the way, we meet up with consequences of the 1992 law prohibiting sales of Brazilian rosewood, as well as taking tours of the Martin Company museum and factory, and devour with pleasure her portraits of student and apprentice luthiers as well as masters. The interaction between people and things yields a longing to be in perfect synch with sound and with the human body--what Dudley calls "acoustic desire.” No other book has so perceptively shown us the role of human hands in shaping a guitar’s unique voice.
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