The History of the American Guitar – Great Resource about Instruments, Music and Players

The American acoustic guitar is certainly the most important instruments in Folk, Country, Bluegrass and Americana music. Although the mandolin and the banjo were very popular for some time in history the guitar has made the race.

If you are interested how the American guitar became what it is today and who were the builders and players of the early American guitar you should visit the website

The Unstrung History of the American Guitar: The Guitar and 19th Century American Music

(website not available – Sept. 2017)

Welcome to The Unstrung History of the American Guitar!

The guitar is the voice of American popular music. How it got to be that way has a lot to do with Alpine yodelers, blackface minstrels and your great great grandmother. The blues and “hillbilly” string band music are the immediate ancestors of country music, R&B and rock & roll, but the guitar juggernaut that streaked through the twentieth century, and still is going strong in the twenty-first, was launched before the Civil War in urban parlors and on New York stages.

Join us for an excursion through the neglected nineteenth century, when “guitar fever” first seized America.

Mandoline aus einem alten Katalog

The first part deals with the guitar and the American music. Influences from Mexican music, the role of the banjo and the mandolin, the guitar in Ragtime, Jazz and Hillbilly music are discussed. Very interesting is also that for some time the Yodel music from the Swiss Alps which was usually also accompanied by guitars was very popular in the USA.

The Guitar and American Music

  • The Guitar and the Birth of American Music
  • A Rage For the Guitar
  • Professional Guitarists in Antebellum America
  • Mexico and the American West
  • Banjos, Mandolins, Minstrels and Medicine Shows
  • Ragtime, Jazz, Hillbilly and the Blues
Monarch Guitar aus einem alten Katalog
Monarch Guitar aus einem alten Katalog

The second chapter informs about the builders and developers of the guitar. You can read about C. F. Martin and other makers of his time – Lyon & Healy, Oscar Schmidt, Harmony and Orville Gibson. The following topics are the changes in the design of the guitar, the first steel strings and the harp-guitars. A guitar gallery shows some interesting instruments from the 19th century.

Guitars and Guitar Makers of the 19th Century

  • C.F. Martin and His Contemporaries ( 7 Articles )
  • The Gilded Age ( 9 Articles )
  • Guitar Design and Technology ( 3 Articles )
  • Guitar Gallery ( 11 Articles )
Banjo aus einem alten Instrumentenkatalog

The next chapter presents ca. 40 guitarists of the 19th century – concert guitarists, guitarists in vaudeville and minstrel shows, singers and jazz guitarists.

19th Century American Guitarists

  • Concert Guitarists and Teachers ( 23 Articles )
  • Minstrel Theatre, Medicine Shows and Vaudeville ( 12 Articles )
  • Songsters and Jazzmen ( 5 Articles )

A link collection is helpful if you are looking for more information about the American guitar and guitarists in the USA.

I have found the following video in which a guitar made around 1850 is beeing played:

Jake Wildwood – Improvisation on 19th Century Guitar

Here’s a c.1850s parlor guitar (would have been called ‘concert’ back then) that’s most likely either American built trying to copy Martin’s early guitars (body shape, body shape!) or European built trying to copy an early Martin. Either way, it’s a truly beautiful guitar with an excellent spruce top, flamed maple back and sides (all solid, of course) and interesting features like a thick brass saddle, single pearl dot on the 5th fret, lovely soundhole rosette, and impeccable, balanced tone.

My recommendation – A great book about the American Guitar:

Inventing the American Guitar: The Pre-Civil War Innovations of C.F. Martin and His Contemporaries (Amazon partnerlink)

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