"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Pickin' and grinnin'
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Guitar: An American Life

By Tim Brookes

Read by Tim Brookes

Blackstone Audio Books

11 1/2 hours on 9 CDs, unabridged

Sometimes we owe debts of gratitude for the oddest reasons. Author and "semiprofessional" guitarist Tim Brookes owes a great deal to the anonymous baggage handlers who mangled his most cherished possession. When his unknown benefactors managed to snap the headstock off the beloved Fylde guitar he had owned for 22 years, just months before Brookes' 50th birthday, his wife offered to buy him, within certain budgetary limits, any guitar he wanted as a birthday gift.

The promise launched Brookes on the dual quests that make up Guitar: An American Life.

The first is a chronicle of his search for the guitar of his dreams. Brookes tries out all the guitars in dozens of shops, coming to the realization that guitar shopping is the one time that men shop like women, going into stores and trying everything on with no serious intention of buying anything.

He decides to look for a custom-made guitar and after a brief search hooks up with luthier Rick Davis of Running Dog Guitars. Brookes follows Davis through every step of the guitar making process, exploring in depth the ins-and-outs of wood selection, design, shaping and finishing.

Such a close look at guitar making has the potential to bore senseless any but the serious guitar aficionado, however, Brookes makes it fascinating.

Between steps in the construction of the author's dream cherry-wood flattop, he pursues his second quest, compiling for the reader an extensive history of the instrument from its origins in Arabia to its arrival in America in the hands of Spanish soldiers.

Brookes traces the evolution of the guitar from its days as a ladies parlor instrument to its vital role in the creation of modern American music.

This second thread of Guitar takes an anecdotal approach to examining how the instrument has shaped and been shaped by North American pop culture. Brookes attends guitar conventions, talks to collectors, musicians, and cultural historians to present a wide-ranging look at the most popular, most widely played instrument in the world.

A seasoned radio presenter who regularly contributes to National Public Radio's Weekend Edition in the United States, Brookes wry take on his subject is never over-serious, though his passion for it is clear.

At times, the audiobook seems like a long radio documentary and you expect to hear those interviewed speaking for themselves.

The only disappointment is that after hearing so much about the building of Brookes' guitar, we never get to hear him play it.

(Oct. 7, 2005)

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