Guitar Makers: The Endurance of Artisanal Values in North America

Overview


It whispers, it sings, it rocks, and it howls. It expresses the voice of the folk—the open road, freedom, protest and rebellion, youth and love. It is the acoustic guitar. And over the last five decades it has become a quintessential American icon. Because this musical instrument is significant to so many—in ways that are emotional, cultural, and economic—guitar making has experienced a renaissance in North America, both as a popular hobby and, for some, a way of life.

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Overview


It whispers, it sings, it rocks, and it howls. It expresses the voice of the folk—the open road, freedom, protest and rebellion, youth and love. It is the acoustic guitar. And over the last five decades it has become a quintessential American icon. Because this musical instrument is significant to so many—in ways that are emotional, cultural, and economic—guitar making has experienced a renaissance in North America, both as a popular hobby and, for some, a way of life.

In Guitar Makers, Kathryn Marie Dudley introduces us to builders of artisanal guitars, their place in the art world, and the specialized knowledge they’ve developed. Drawing on in-depth interviews with members of the lutherie community, she finds that guitar making is a social movement with political implications.  Guitars are not simply made—they are born.  Artisans listen to their wood, respond to its liveliness, and strive to endow each instrument with an unforgettable tone. Although professional luthiers work within a market society, Dudley observes that their overriding sentiment is passion and love of the craft. Guitar makers are not aiming for quick turnover or the low-cost reproduction of commodities but the creation of singular instruments with unique qualities, and face-to-face transactions between makers, buyers, and dealers are commonplace.

In an era when technological change has pushed skilled artisanship to the margins of the global economy, and in the midst of a capitalist system that places a premium on ever faster and more efficient modes of commerce, Dudley shows us how artisanal guitar makers have carved out a unique world that operates on alternative, more humane, and ecologically sustainable terms.

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Editorial Reviews

Yale University - Jean-Christophe Agnew

“Kathryn Dudley deftly reconstructs the social, moral and aesthetic worlds that a counter-cultural generation of North American luthiers has made in concert and in conflict with the volatile, ‘entrepreneurial’ imperatives of a globalizing, neoliberal economy.  Out of the many different artisanal voices in her study—all of them eloquent in and for themselves—Dudley teases out a haunting, antiphonal meditation on the meanings of embodied work, knowledge, and exchange in an increasingly virtualized and commodified world.  In this, Guitar Makers is as masterfully crafted and richly resonant as the instruments themselves.”
Tim Olsen

“This book honors the decades of unremitting toil that a generation of self-discovered artists invested in bringing the ‘folk’ guitar to its current pinnacle of sophistication.  The barriers to this evolution have been formidable, beginning with the scorn of polite society and continuing up through today’s baffling legislation that impedes the movement of millions of fine guitars across national borders.  Now that the cultural and commercial ship has come in, can luthiers serve both Art and Mammon?  That is the question that drives this groundbreaking anthropological analysis.”
Heather Paxson

Guitar Makers attunes readers to the complex works and lives of American artisan guitar makers. In this finely honed ethnography, Dudley helps us hear how guitar makers seek to challenge capitalist mythmaking by pursuing work out of a sense of passion, even obsession, often at the expense of profit. Dudley’s luthiers, consoled by the conviction that others might recognize in the quality of their products the values that make their labor worth pursuing, come alive in this engaging anthropology of commodities, class, and craft.”
author of Art from Start to Finish - Howard S. Becker

Guitar Makers is a terrific book. Dudley has investigated the world of North American guitar making, or lutherie, the long hard way, the way of intense participation and observation, deep involvement in the world she studied, and in general following the old anthropological wisdom of seeing for yourself and asking about everything you don’t understand.”
Harvard University - Michael Herzfeld

"A richly informative contribution to our knowledge of the predicaments and challenges of artisanship in this relentlessly high-tech and commercially unforgiving age, Dudley’s beautifully written study of modern American guitar-makers explores the intersection of the sensual, the affective, and the practical in their lives and works.  Dudley tells a story that weaves together stories of coping with harsh economic realities, of intense explorations in personal self-realization, and of the often trial-and-error acquisition entailed in what she astutely takes to be the craft epistemology of a demanding and specialized but often undervalued and risk-fraught profession.  She thereby offers us an incisive account--historical, ethnographic, personal, and analytical in kaleidoscopic rotation--of the vicissitudes of value and the mystique of mastery."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226095387
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 10/6/2014
  • Pages: 400

Meet the Author


Kathryn Marie Dudley is professor of anthropology and American studies at Yale University.
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