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Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


by John Morrish

ISBN 0-87930-725-0

Creative Director: Nigel Osborne

Published by Backbeat Books

price: $25.00 or £20.00 GBP


  AmazonUK £15.96   AmazonUS $20.97


A more attractively presented pictorial book on the classical guitar I cannot imagine. It measures 32cm by 25cm, has 126 pages and is packed with beautiful colour pictures, with a small number in black and white; the main photographs being the work of Miki Slingsby. Selected guitars are presented on foldout pages, which display them to great effect. Unfortunately, it is a rather fiddly job to release the folded leaf out of the spine of the book as it is a close fit, trimming the page back a centimetre would have been most beneficial.

Based on the Russell Cleveland Collection, the book includes a brief history of the guitar starting with references as far back as Ancient Greece, through to the Renaissance, the Baroque and up to the small-bodied guitars as played by Fernando Sor (1778-1839) and Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849). It was these small-bodied guitars that were the predecessors of the modern guitar, upon which this book is mainly focused. There are also sections devoted to the anatomy of the modern guitar, with examples of various strutting, and a guitar, which is broken down into its constituent parts by the English luthier Paul Fischer, who is also an acting consultant on the book. The volume also covers woods favoured by the different makers, the science involved in construction, the future of the instrument - in fact all the aspects connected to the guitar in this form, are dealt with in a logical and informative way. There are biographies of the principal players and their association with certain makers. It is in this area that we are treated to Graham Wade’s insights into John Williams, and in particular Andrès Segovia, on whom Wade must rank as one of the foremost authorities. There is also a discography of recordings by a wide range of players.

One can tell from the foreword to the book, written by Russell Cleveland himself, that he is engaged in something of a love affair with the guitars in his collection. He describes their individual sounds and characters - the obvious joy of his life. This devotion is maintained throughout the book through the writings of the formidable array of scholars. These include Colin Cooper, editor of the Classic Guitar magazine, Brian Jeffery, author of probably the definitive book on Fernando Sor and Dr Bernard Richardson whose work in the field of the acoustics of stringed instruments is highly regarded, as well as the aforementioned Graham Wade. I name but a few, who have collaborated to impart their knowledge and, in many cases, their findings from lifelong study of the subject.

The core of the book concentrates on what is regarded today as the modern instrument as envisaged by the maker Antonio Torres (1817-1892), a guitar of greater power and projection. In doing this he more or less standardised, for subsequent luthiers, the body’s dimensions and string length. For the most part experimentation by the following generations of makers focused on the strutting of the top of the guitar, some improving on Torres’ original concepts, some not.

Starting with Torres, this book maps the progress of the luthier’s craft through its most significant makers from all over the world, including the family dynasty of Ramírez. It was Manuel Ramírez who in 1912 supplied the great Andrès Segovia with his first proper concert guitar. Also featured are the Hauser family, now into their third generation, as are the Fleta family. Both of these makers also produced guitars played not only by Segovia, but also by many of the other finest guitarists in the world.

The roll-call of great guitars and their makers continues down through the years, Simlicio 1925, Santos Hernánez 1933, Bouchet 1955, Rubio 1966, to mention only five of the thirty-four featured, up to a 1996 José Romanillos guitar. Romanillos made the guitar that Julian Bream used on many of his famous recordings and concerts. Each maker’s work is accompanied by a text outlining his life. Additional photos highlight the details of headstocks, labels, machine heads and rosettes. Also listed are the specifications (dimensions, weight and string lengths, etc) of many guitars.

At the price of £19.95 (my copy is soft backed) this book is an absolute gift. Not only is it a visual feast it is also packed with facts and information that one can return to with pleasure time after time.

Andy Daly


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