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Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience Hardcover – February 4, 2000


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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Waksman (Harvard Univ.) presents a scholarly treatise on the history and development of the electric guitar and how its use shaped the course of popular music. Beginning with the first electrified instruments of the 1930s, he traces two competing sound ideals: one with a focus on tonal purity (favored by artists such as Les Paul, Chet Atkins, and Wes Montgomery), and the other centering on a more distorted sound (used by Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page) that challenged popular notions of acceptable and unacceptable "noise." In comparing these two divergent ideals, Waksman, editor of the Journal of Popular Music Studies, argues that they also draw on different concepts about the place of the body in musical performance, about the ways in which music articulates racial and gender identities, and about the position of popular music in American social and political life. Well written, and with extensive footnotes, the book's only apparent drawback is that it ends with music produced in the mid-1970s. In that sense, it is less than complete. (Perhaps a second volume will bring the work up-to-date.) Still, this is an excellent analysis of the growth and impact of the electric guitar on popular music and culture; for all libraries.
-Eric C. Shoaf, Brown Univ. Lib., Providence
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Waksman's critical look at the electronically enhanced plectral lute and meticulous tracing of its influence is a darn fine book. Its purview includes Hendrix, Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, the ubiquitous Pete Townshend, and Blue Cheer (Blue Cheer?), as well as, of course, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and Chuck Berry. Respect is rightfully paid to Chet Atkins and Les Paul, too. But, although it tells blues and rock musicians' stories, this isn't a book about musicians or, really, music. It is an exploration of the "racialized nature of rock's favorite mode of Phallocentric display . . . the electric guitar." Waksman makes much of the sexuality conveyed by the instrument and keeps the issue of race close to the surface of the discussion. Far more theoretical and involved than most other books about guitars, Waksman's is a delineation of the implications of one of our era's endemic icons, the boy with his guitar. Persuasive, responsible, and wide-ranging, this is the thinking headbanger's guide to the evolution of the mighty axe. Mike Tribby
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (February 4, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067400065X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674000650
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,967,684 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mister Mark on April 21, 2014
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book expecting a popular history of the electric guitar. That is, an informative skim read but better than the numerous picture books. But I was surprised at how Waksman unravels the tight braid of intertwined music histories, from blues roots to rock antecedents, from rock-n-roll rebellion to heavy metal commodification, and finally from punk to the avant garde.

Throughout, Waksman heralds the instrument's potential as a 'noisemaker' to empower music makers to stretch and ultimately serially reinvent conventional forms. And of course back around to its role in creating music more easily packaged and sold.

I expected to learn something about the guitar, sure, but I gained a whole new perspective on music, music-making, and musicians. A great, thoughtful read.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By maria damon on August 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
this is a terrific book; it weaves together lots of well-researched cultural history, theoretical savvy, musical insight and a true rock and roll spirit to create an eminently readable and yet very intellectually responsible volume. it is hard to find a scholarly book that is so accessible, entertainingly written, and consistently adept at keeping so many balls in the air at once --gender and racial politics, sonic codings in popular music (purity of sound vs. distortion), the facts and figures of the history of popular music and the development of the electric guitar, etc. etc. highly recommended for smart groovoids.
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4 of 15 people found the following review helpful By joe rada on March 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I would like to quickly state my thoughts about Dr. Steve Waksman. Although I have not yet been able to read through the entire book, I have read many sections of it. Dr. Waksman is a professor of mine at Miami University in Oxford, Oh. Throughout the semester he taught me a countless amount of information on the guitar and the history of Rock n' Roll. Out of all my classes I have ever been enrolled in, his American Studies class has not only been the most interesting, but I have also gained the most out of it. I am about to start reading the book and I'm sure I won't be able to put it down. Thanks Dr.Waksman! Sincerely, Joe Rada
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2 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Paul S. Wilson on May 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
While this book is mostly readable and does contain interesting and useful information where it is dealing specifically with guitars, and the direct histories of the artists involved...
....it fails when it takes an acedemic's perspective and drags in unwanted cultural, social speculations.
I bought a book because I wished to read about nuts and bolts guitars and electric guitar history. I did NOT wish to enroll in a class in ethnic studies. If the author wanted to write about ethnic studies, I'm sure he could have found better and more appropriate subject matter.
Tell me how Gibson put the Les Paul together with what woods and wiring and what problems they had. Tell me about electric guitar chord progressions in rock compared to jazz.
As it is there are whole pages of academic, social intrepretive mishmosh.

I will finish the whole book and there are interesting facts that are what I was looking for. But giving a psychological interpretation about a photo of Les Paul and Mary Ford sitting on a Gibson guitar was not what I need. Instead of suggesting that Les Paul was a sexist, why not talk about how Mary Ford had learned to play her electric guitar? Not a word about that.
And when it comes to an important fact like how Chet Atkins fingerpicked his electric guitar like no one else had done, there is one paragraph.

This appears to be a book for a sociologist, not for a guitar player.
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