Welcome to Nerdville
As part of my adventures in amateur luthiery, part of understanding what to build is researching what’s gone before, so I’ve been brushing up on my knowledge of vintage guitars. Less that I want a vintage guitar (although I’d not say no to a Tele from my birth year, if you happen to have a 76 spare), more I want to see what’s gone before to inspire me on what to build next.
I find it somewhat fascinating how little guitar design has evolved in the last half century; the popular guitars of today are now knocking on 70 years old now: the Fender Telecaster was designed in 1949, the Gibson Les Paul, came out in 1952, and the Fender Stratocaster in 1954. But then I guess classical string instrument design hasn’t changed much either in the last few hundred years, at least in terms of superficials.
Anyway, as part of that I’ve amassed a set of links I thought I’d share incase anyone else was interested in having a look at guitar history.
Book-wise, I can recommend The History of the American Guitar by Tony Bacon, and for my particular go-to guitar Six Decades of the Fender Telecaster, also by Mr Bacon. Neither book is vastly deep, but both give you a good overview over how things have evolved over the last 100 years in terms of guitars, both in terms of sound and use, but also the trends in both taste and business that have driven them.
As ever, YouTube is a treasure trove of things. For a quick look at a lot of vintage guitars, then I can highly recommend the Guitar of the Day playlist from Norman’s Rare Guitars. Five days a week they produce a five minute video showcasing another rare guitar they have in stock, give you a little history, and play it through a clean amp so you can hear it too (“all the EQs at noon, just a little reverb…”).
For a longer dive into the world of a vintage guitar addict, this programme about the buying habits of blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa is well worth a watch:
A hat tip to Andy Field for pointing me at that video. If you actually play too, then I also enjoyed this interview with Bonamassa on how he gets his tone to be like that of the 60s blues starts like Cream, Jeff Beck, etc.
Finally, if you like fiddling with guitars, I can also recommend the Mod Garage column in Premier Guitar; they have loads of columns about how wiring evolved for old Teles etc., and some variations to make them suitable for modern ears.
If you have any recommendations for other sources, please let me know!