For those of you that own cowboy guitars of the 30s and 40s or are thinking about collecting them, this is a must read. Thanks to the author and the contributors, as I now know what I have and a history of each.
About once a year, Jacksonville Guitar employee Ron Sawyer takes all the guitars off the wall in the museum area of the store and dusts them off. "It's an all day job," Sawyer says, referring to the large collection of cowboy guitars on display. Owner Steve Evans has recently co-authored "Cowboy Guitars," a collection of biographies of singing cowboys and the instruments inspired by them. Evans, along with Ron Middlebrook, have assembled a richly-illustrated work with details on guitar designs, construction and history. Evans' love for his hobby is quite apparent; the book contains an amazing amount of details about each of the guitars. An excerpt from the "Prairie Ramblers" guitar page reads: "It was a grand concert size (36 1/2" X 14 1/2") guitar made of birch, finished in a light brown sunburst with a white scene and with a top edge and soundhole striping painted in white. The first issue came with a black pickguard attached by two wood screws. The ebonized fretboard had four mother-of-pearl dot inlays and 12 frets clear of the body. The trapeze tailpiece had a hidden string attachment and a moveable wooden bridge." The guitar was sold by Spiegel in 1942. Evans and Middlebrook planned the book after Evans wrote an article for Vintage Guitar magazine. Middlebrook wrote to Evans, and while Evans concentrated on guitar research for the book, Middlebrook compiled autobiographies on such legends as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Hopalong Cassidy. The book boasts a forward by Roy Rogers, Jr. Evans began collecting cowboy guitars about 15 years ago after someone traded in a Roy Rogers guitar. "When I saw there was more than one, that's when it started," Evans said, pointing to a shelf full of books about vintage guitars. He then bought eight more from a collector in Tulsa, and traveled to guitar shows snagging more guitars and networking with other collectors "who went ape like me," Evans said. The rest is cowboy guitar history. Now the walls of Jacksonville Guitar are lined with over 100 guitars made of wood, fiberboard, and plastic. Most of the guitars are made by Chicago-based companies Regal, Kay, and Harmony and originally sold in Sears, Montgomery Ward, and Spiegel catalogs. Those catalogs, Evans says, are a wealth of information. Evans did much of his research at the University of Little Rock at Little Rock, where old Sears catalogs are on microfilm. He also studied photocopies of old Spiegel catalogs. Evans photographed most of the guitars for the book, and became proficient with professional cameras and lighting equipment. Other collectors sent photographs of their collections. These days, Evans makes fewer trips to guitar shows and says online auction service Ebay is "a goldmine." Though cowboy guitars are his first priority, Evans also collects toy guitars, which became popular in the 1960's after cowboy celebrities went out of style. His has over 100 toy guitars in his collection, with designs depicting hit television shows, teen idols, and cartoon characters. Other unusual guitars in the Jacksonville Guitar store include a foam rubber "stunt" guitar used in the recent film "Josie and the Pussycats" and a 1977 Peavey T-60 prototype with serial number 00000000. It was the first one ever made. Evans went into the guitar business at age 18 after graduating from Jacksonville High School in 1975. He started playing guitar as a fourth-grader, and is a fan of modern country music, blues, and rock. Currently, Evans is enjoying the latest music from the Dixie Chicks and James Taylor. And there is irony in what you won't find Evans listening to. "I don't listen to much cowboy music," Evans says, laughing. "Cowboy Guitars" is published by Centerstream Publishing and is available at www.amazon.com.
This is a well-done, informative book about the "Cowboy" Guitars and the singing cowboy artists depicted on the guitars. History-wise, it appears to be well-researched and documented. The pictures - many in color - are excellent. Just about every movie cowboy artist is depicted here, as well as many of the early country music stars. In addition, there are some wonderful photographs of later custom-made instruments that are dedicated to these singing cowboys. Nicely done!