Important New Guitar History Books

The first book (received yesterday, shown at left) is the long-awaited bible of American plucked stringed instrument patents, assembled by Mugwumps founder Michael Holmes.  What a project!  I think he’s been working on this since I first met him 15 years ago.  It lists every single one – nearly 1200!   Now it’ll probably take me the next 15 years to get through.  I’ve looked at maybe 2-300 of these as part of my own research over the years, so have plenty of discoveries ahead!  Obviously, I’ll be looking for any additional instruments that have harp-guitar-like aspects.  I may find none, or maybe I’ll find all sorts of new and strange things.  Personally, as a collector and researcher specializing in the “unusual,” I know I’ll have a field day looking up many of these forgotten inventions.  Michael has arranged the list 5 different ways (by number, inventor’s name, issue date, state, and category).  The last may be the most helpful, but of course only gets you so far.  Michael made the decision (as I would have) to try to categorize the invention (“autoharp,” “zither,” “banjo,” etc.) – as vast numbers were simply titled (for example) “Stringed Musical Instrument.”  A list of a thousand “SMI” category inventions would be pretty unwieldy!  But he’s thus necessarily stuck with the unenviable task of deciding what term best and most simply describes each invention – some obvious, many not.  For example, the very first patent (Scherr’s “Patent Harp-Guitar”) is listed as “guitar” – an organological decision, rather than a literal, historical one.  Other instruments are listed as “harp guitar” though they make no such mention or claim in the text, because they fit the profile (like most of us, Michael knows an obvious harp guitar when he sees one).  Something more complex like Shutt’s Mando-Bass-Harp-Guitar is listed as “three necked guitar” – presumably what Michael sees as its most prominent aspect.  The point is that Michael has kept the system both broad and simple enough to focus one’s investigations a bit better.  Paypal $30 which includes U.S. shipping to to get your own copy and have at it!

I learned of the second book via an announcement just today.  Erik Hofmann (who you will recall from several blog’s back restores, researches, collects and also reproduces period guitars) has self-published the monumental Stauffer & Co. book.  With the help of Dr. Stefan Hackl (an expert on Schrammelgitarres, among other things), and a few other talented friends, Erik has completed what will surely be a guitar tome worthy of lasting attention and discussion.  There will be plenty of important instruments and new perspective that concern floating-string guitars, and he’s even promised me some surprises:

“I dare to say that this book might mean a lot to you, because the harp-guitar question in the wide sense – which I know that you understand, too – is a crucial one.  There are highly important guitars of that category in the book, which are totally unknown to the public to this day (Georg Stauffer 13-string, Anton Stauffer 8-string, Schenk 9-string, etc.) and some facts which let the innovation appear in a slightly new light.”


Obviously a labor of love, it is pricey, but very limited.  Write to to reserve a copy.

  1. Darrell Says:

    As a mandolinist, I’m really looking forward to the new Spann book on Gibson; might have some HG stuff as well?

  2. Gregg Says:

    Agreed, Darrell – I don’t know Joe Spann, nor heard anything about this from my many Gibson peers. Sometimes these “under-the-radar” projects turn out to be gold mines…other times…
    I sure hope it ties some of our serial # and model work on harp guitars together. There’s a whole bunch we have yet to collate.
    Speaking of Gibson books, I ran into Robb Lawrence (2 of the more recent Les Paul books) at the movies the other night, and he told me he’s doing a new Gibson book going back to the early stuff, including harp guitars. Again, I hope he brings something new to the table and helps fill in some gaps.
    Kinda weird that I’m pretty sure I (and Ben, Paul Fox, and other cohorts) have dug up stuff over the years (with plenty un-posted) that these folks would be curious about, but I suppose they have their hands full as it is!

  3. Darrell Says:

    I believe Spann is well known in the Bluegrass community.. His serial#/FON info is supposedly quite revolutionary.

  4. Darrell Says:

    Sorry to keep “harping” on Spann’s book, but here’s a link to a FBJ podcast about it:

  5. Gregg Says:

    Thanks, Darrell – just listened to the whole thing – captivating!
    Really anxious for my copy…and wondering what he’ll have to say about #2502!

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