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Guitar: An American Life | [Tim Brookes]

Guitar: An American Life

What was it about a small, humble folk instrument that allowed it to become an American icon? The guitar represents freedom, the open road, protest and rebellion, the blues, youth, lost love, and sexuality. Tim Brookes explores with adoration these ideas and how they became entwined with the history of America.
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Publisher's Summary

What was it about a small, humble folk instrument that allowed it to become an American icon? The guitar represents freedom, the open road, protest and rebellion, the blues, youth, lost love, and sexuality. Tim Brookes explores with adoration these ideas and how they became entwined with the history of America.

Shortly before Tim Brookes' 50th birthday, baggage handlers destroyed his guitar, his 22-year-old traveling companion. His wife promised to replace it with the guitar of his dreams, but Tim discovered that a dream guitar is built, not bought. He set out to find someone to make him the perfect guitar, a quest that ended up a on a dirt road in the Green Mountains of Vermont, where an amiable curmudgeon master guitarmaker, Rick Davis, took a rare piece of cherry wood and went to work with saws and rasps.

Meanwhile, Tim set out to write a kind of chronicle of the guitar, as he said, "not a catalog of makes and models, nor a genealogy of celebrities, but an attempt to understand this curious relationship between the instrument and the people involved with it, and how that has grown and changed over time".

He discovered that the instrument, first arriving with conquistadors and the colonists, ended up in the hands of a variety of people: miners and society ladies, lumberjacks and presidents' wives, Hawaiians, African-Americans, Cajuns, jazz players, spiritualists, singing cowboys of the silver screen, and bluegrass and Beatles fans. Inventors and crackpots tinkered with it. In time, it became America's instrument, its soundtrack.

When Tim wasn't breathing over Rick's shoulder, he was trying to unravel the symbolic associations a guitar holds for so many of us, musicians and non-musicians alike. His journey takes him across the country talking to historians, curators, and guitarmakers.

©2005 Tim Brookes; (P)2005 Blackstone Audiobooks

What Members Say

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  •  
    Colin Fort Wayne, IN, USA 08-16-05
    Colin Fort Wayne, IN, USA 08-16-05 Member Since 2003
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    "Amazingly, a real page-turner"

    Who could have thought that a combination of craftsman's tale and musical history could be so addictive? Brookes intersperses the construction of his new guitar with a detailed account of the guitar's place in global and America music and I couldn't stop listening. Only two regrets, one of them already fixed:

    - After such a detailed description of the custom built guitar, I wanted to see it. Fortunately there are pictures available at www.npr.com (search for "brookes" and "guitar").

    - The audio-book format could have been used to great effect to illustrate the many musical styles discussed in the book. Brookes is almost poetic in his description of the many sounds that can be had from a guitar and some clips would have just been the gravy on the cake. Or something like that.

    Highly recommended, probably best for middle-aged guys like me who have 25 years+ of fascination under their belts, but have never really stopped to think why and how it all happened.

    18 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tim Fremont, NE, United States 05-30-06
    Tim Fremont, NE, United States 05-30-06 Member Since 2004

    Computer Programmer and Worship Leader. Have enjoyed reading since my mom got me hooked on Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie prior to my teen years. My brother got me hooked on audio books after I started having a longer commute to work. Love a variety of genres.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Interesting"

    Having been an avid guitarist for almost 30 years, I was intrigued by this book. I have read quite a bit about the instrument, its history and players and didn't know if there'd be much here for me or not.

    I was happy to see that the author provided many interesting tidbits of information that were new to me, both in terms of the general development of the instrument, as well as what I'd call "guitar trivia" - things that your even your above average player probably doesn't know.

    It was also interesting to read about the construction of the author's guitar and to learn about acoustic guitar construction and what makes the difference between a "good" production-line guitar and a really good custom guitar.

    I have only two minor criticism (very small in light of how much good stuff is in the book). First, I would agree with another reviewer that the pauses between certain paragraphs were too long. I also found myself reaching for my mp3 player to see if something was wrong. About the time my hand grabbed the player, the reader started up again.

    Secondly, IMHO, the author comes across as a bit snobbish towards most things that have been commercially successful (either musically or guitar-wise). At times I was reminded of some college friends who eschewed anything that was popular, merely because it was popular.

    Anyway, these very minor criticisms IN NO WAY dissuade me from recommending this audiobook. The author discussed subjects ranging from fingernail care to Ace Frehley's near-electrocution; from Segovia's violent temper to B.B. King's rise to fame; from the reason that stock production acoustic guitars aren't intonated properly to how amplification affected the playing style of guitarists.

    All in all a GREAT read - well worth the time.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Dover, MA, USA 09-28-07
    David Dover, MA, USA 09-28-07 Member Since 2004
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    "Guitar Nirvana"

    This was an excellent and well researched audio-book. After just getting back into guitar myself after a 10 year hiatus I found the topic fascinating. The narrator does an excellent job with just the right amount of timbre and deference to the topic. I have now listened to this "book" twice and enjoyed it just as much the second time around. if you have a fleeting interest in the guitar, guitar history or guitar folklore this is the audo-book for you.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rich Rockville, MD, USA 05-31-07
    Rich Rockville, MD, USA 05-31-07
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    "Fantastic"

    A fantastic book, especially for guitarists or music lovers. Brookes is a masterful storyteller, effortlessly weaving the history of the guitar in America with the coming together of his own custom-built beauty. His attention to detail and ability to bring these stories to life is a real gift. I can only imagine how much research Mr. Brookes must've done for this book. Having played guitar for 25 years, I found it an absolute treasure.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ross Newmarket, Ontario, Canada 07-24-06
    Ross Newmarket, Ontario, Canada 07-24-06 Member Since 2004
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    "Tremendous"

    Tim's book moves smoothly between his history of the guitar and the story of the construction of his new guitar by luthier Rick Davis. Having been a guitarist for thirty years, I found the book fascinating and informative and the conversations about the decisions involved in the new guitar of sufficient interest that I contacted Mr. Davis or Running Dog guitars and have started a discussion about possibly having one built. I'm not suggesting that everyone should, your call entirely, but it's rare to find a history book this interesting and compelling.

    Highly recommended

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tony MIDLOTHIAN, VA, United States 01-07-13
    Tony MIDLOTHIAN, VA, United States 01-07-13 Member Since 2003
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    "For guitarists and their long suffering spouses!"
    What did you love best about Guitar?

    Gives a good insight into why people are so passionate about the instrument, not from the perspective of an Eric Clapton, but from a regular guy. Lots of history (but not too much), and a fun insight into the very personal journey of an enthusiastic amateur guitarist


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    The Author, for being able to share his experiences so eloquently


    Which character – as performed by Tim Brookes – was your favorite?

    See above


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Yes


    Any additional comments?

    Even if you're not a guitarist but maybe a close family member or spouse is, this book might help you with an insight into why some people are gaga about guitar, and why sometimes there appears to be a connection or passion about a piece of steel and wood!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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    Mark San Francisco, CA, United States 02-12-12
    Mark San Francisco, CA, United States 02-12-12 Member Since 2011
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    "A masterpiece!"
    Any additional comments?

    This book is a lovely combination of music history, a wry look at American culture, and the story of how a master craftsman builds a fine instrument. It's all told with a clever narrative structure and a British sense of humor.
    Want to know how a Conederate warship's sinking of a whaling ship near Hawaii led to the rise of blues guitar? This is the place. Want to know the difference between the finish on your guitar and a Stradavarius violin, and why one has cat pee in it? Read this book.
    The author reads this book like he's sitting in your living room telling the story over a few beers. I want to meet him and see his new guitar.
    I liked this so much I'm going to listen to it again.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ronald East Syracuse, NY, United States 10-18-10
    Ronald East Syracuse, NY, United States 10-18-10 Member Since 2008
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    "Excellent! For anyone who appreciates the guitar!"

    Having played guitar for almost 25 years now, I began listening to this book with high hopes and was not disappointed. I learned stuff I would never have known otherwise, laughed out loud several times, and grinned with satisfaction a few times when Tim Brookes confirmed things I only thought I knew, and how I was able to guess what film he was talking about when he tells the story of the movie theme that REALLY started the British Invasion!

    Often when a writer reads his own work I am disappointed with the performance and wonder if vanity or budget were what drove the decision not to hire a professional, but I have no beef with it here at all. The reading is lively Mr. Brookes has a pleasant voice to listen to.

    My only complaint is that I wanted more, and I suppose that would be more compliment than complaint.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Eugene Hialeah, FL, United States 08-15-10
    Eugene Hialeah, FL, United States 08-15-10 Member Since 2009
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    "Better than expected"

    As a guitar player, i enjoyed the insight of in this book. things that i thought only i was pondering is brought to light. . . . . it was beginning to snow when they boarded the plane. well written.
    the first couple of chapters are worth repeating.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shannon Raymond, NH, United States 08-15-10
    Shannon Raymond, NH, United States 08-15-10
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    "Great Listen."

    If you're a guitarist; meaning you have one and are interested in it, this book is for you. A great history of the guitar, framed with the building of the authors acoustic, spans from the beginnings to the new century. Well worth ever cent, I didn't want it to end and am now looking for another book to follow this up with.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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