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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

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  • Overall
  • Colin
  • Fort Wayne, IN, USA
  • 08-16-05

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 (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.

23 of 23 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Ronald
  • East Syracuse, NY, United States
  • 10-18-10

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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Shannon
  • Raymond, NH, United States
  • 08-15-10

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Ross
  • Newmarket, Ontario, Canada
  • 07-24-06


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

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Tim
  • Fremont, NE, United States
  • 05-30-06


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.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Dubi
  • New York, NY
  • 12-31-16

This Machine Makes Peace

Folk icon Woody Guthrie wrote "This Machine Kills Fascists" across the face of his guitar in 1941 in response to what was happening in Europe at the time. More recently, master finger-style guitarist Jorma Kaukonen adopted a variation on this theme for his Fur Peace Ranch music camp, "This Machine Makes Peace". Tim Brookes examines many reasons why the guitar became the instrument of choice for most Americans during the 20th century, but it seems to always seems return to its inherent populism.

Brookes was inspired to write this book (truly an inspired choice) when he decides to have a new guitar custom built by a luthier rather than buying one off the shelf. He realizes that he can write the history of guitars and their impact on music and popular culture alongside the story of the making of his new guitar. There may be no direct parallel between the steps in crafting a guitar and the steps that the guitar took in conquering music, but it still makes for a satisfying framework.

I can't imagine that this particular treatment of this subject is going to appeal to anyone who is not a serious guitar aficionado. The level of detail is just too deep for anyone who is not that deeply interested in those intricacies. But if you feel you may be interested, this is great stuff. Brookes leaves almost no stone unturned, examining the evolution of the instrument itself, the people who played it, every style in which they played (almost all of them changed profoundly by the guitar, if not catalyzed by the guitar in the first place), and all the social, historical, and cultural trends that influenced these tides.

Brookes narrates the audiobook himself, always a bonus, in this case doubly so since he is originally from England (still sports a distinct English accent) yet is so steeped in the history of the guitar in America (notwithstanding the inevitability of crossing borders to discuss key developments, such as the British Invasion of the 1960s and the impact of Mexicans' affinity for the guitar on California in the 19th Century.

I guarantee you, if you are a guitarist, you will not be disappointed. I can't make the same promise to non-guitarists, but if you're an adventurous sort willing to listen to subject matter that may not necessarily be of direct interest, this book is good enough to be rewarding (although you may need to practice patience through some of the sections of the building of Brookes's guitar).

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Tony
  • MIDLOTHIAN, VA, United States
  • 01-07-13

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?


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!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Rich
  • Rockville, MD, USA
  • 05-31-07


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