Once upon a time the history of musical instruments was almost exclusively to be found in books. While books continue to play an essential role in preserving and enlarging knowledge of the history of the guitar (note the more than 660 citations of books cataloged with the Library of Congress subject heading "Guitar-History" at www.worldcat.org), it is also very interesting to see how the Web has begun to influence thinking about the history of the guitar. The Web's ability to display color photographs with ease, largely sidestepping issues of reproduction rights, is largely what accounts for its increasing importance as a tool in comparative historical research.
Several types of Web sites have already begun to appear in response to the growing demand for internet-based treatments of the history of the guitar:
1. Primary Sites - Museums and Musical Instrument Collections with Significant Guitar Representation Online
The best meta-site for becoming aware of the majority of musical instrument collections worldwide is sponsored by CIMCIM (the Comité International des Musées et Collections d'Instruments de Musique), which is an affiliate of ICOM, the International Council of Museums. Among the sites one can find here is that of the National Music Museum at the Univ. of South Dakota, whose Lillibridge Gallery has 31 self-described "superb guitars" that can be viewed at this link.
Another genuine museum site, excellent for viewing historic guitars, is the Leipzig (Germany) Instrumentarium.
Yet another serious museum site, well represented online with color photos, is at the Cité de la Musique in Paris. It has a particularly rich Photothèque - hundreds of photographs online that document over 960 historic guitars.To see them, click "Collections du musee," then "Photos," and then put the word "guitare" in the search box and click the "Rechercher" box.
Please let the editor of this page know of similar museum collections as their guitar photos become available online. Some day we will have links to quite a directory of genuine museums that document the history of the guitar here!
2. Primary sites - Private Collections of Historic Interest
The number of private guitar museums online that have something to contribute to the history of the guitar is growing. Most are like James Westbrook's The Guitar Museum, located in Brighton, England. They represent actual instruments, in contrast to the "virtual" museums mentioned in 3. below. Matanya Ophee's collection, located in Columbus, Ohio, USA, is notable for its guitars with more than six strings.
Another private guitar collection well represented online (although by now the instruments have largely been sold to other collectors) is that of professor Carol van Feggelen, formerly of the music faculty at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S. Click the Van Feggelen collection link to see both what is and what was in his guitar collection. (Disclosure and disclaimer: The editor of this page happens to be the webmaster of the van Feggelen site. Mentioning it here is purely for information's sake and NOT an attempt to solicit buyers.)
Not all private collections are online. Two significant private guitar collections offline at this time are (a) the Russell Cleveland Collection in Dallas, Texas, spotlighted in the book Classical Guitar: A Complete History, Featuring the Russell Cleveland Collection (Balafon, 1997); and (b) the Jim Forderer Collection of Rare and Historic Guitars. The latter instruments are listed at least, if not pictured, on the La Guitarra California Festival web site. The Forderer collection has lately been profiled in a series of three YouTube videos: Part 1 , Part 2 , and Part 3 .
3. Secondary sites - Virtual Museums of Guitar History
Other historically interesting "guitar collections" exist only online. These sites do not represent physical collections in one place, but rather are virtual museums, selected and compiled largely by enthusiasts who usually draw their photos from far and wide on the internet.
www.earlyromanticguitar.com is a site that pulls together for side-by-side comparisons all kinds of early classic guitar photographs and related information. The author of the site, Len Verrett, expresses his motivation this way: "This web site was created out of my desire to find good organized information about the period guitar practices, composers, and instruments of the early 19th century, known also as the Early Romantic Guitar era."
Frets.com, is built and maintained entirely by Frank Ford, of Palo Alto, Calif. His Gryphon Stringed Instruments business, repairing and selling vintage acoustic and classic guitars, is promoted at the site. But his FRETS.com Museum contains an interesting selection of his own photos of dated guitars of all kinds, many of which were evidently in his shop for repair at one time or another. Nice photos!
Gregg Miner, of Tarzana, Calif., has created a highly informative Web site documenting the history of guitars with added bass strings -- so-called harp guitars. See www.harpguitars.net, especially the page called The Galleries: Photo Reference Library of all Harp Guitar Forms and Examples. It is an eye-opening introduction to a fascinating world of bass- or harp-guitars throughout history by an individual who is greatly interested in the subject. Miner and his associates have also created a Harp Guitar Foundation as a non-profit to further interest in the instrument. The Iconography pages at the parent site are also a source of excellent visual documentation; speaking of which ...
Pictorial Works / Iconography
Returning to standard guitars: Ever since Frederick Grunfeld's Art and Times of the Guitar first came out in 1970, there has been a growing area of historical guitar research based on pictures (paintings, prints, drawings, etc.). This approach is sometimes called guitar iconography or iconology. A Web site with over 300 pictures of paintings featuring primarily guitarists has been mounted by Dag Arve Lindsetmo of Trondheim, Norway. Check it out!
4. Sites for Dating Historic Guitars
As quacky as it may sound, Dr Ducks Dating Service, of Las Vegas, Nevada, is one of the best online resources for dating guitars by known makers. It provides over a hundred links to guitar makers and their legacies: profiles of their careers and lists and tables to help people date recent and vintage guitars. So if you come upon a C. F. Martin guitar with the serial number 9999, you can look it up at this site and determine its date of manufacture as early 1905.
5. Online Articles about the History of the Guitar
There is a fascinating gathering of the collected essays by Nashville guitar connoisseur and dealer George Gruhn at the Gruhn Guitars Article Library site. Mr. Gruhn has been contributing articles about collectible guitars to guitar publications such as Guitar Player, Frets, and Vintage Guitar since 1970.
One of this editor's own little essays on the problematic quest for the earliest extant, unaltered six string guitar, originally published in Japanese in Gendai Guitar, has been available for many years at the GFA Archive web site at the University of Akron. While it does not presume to identify the earliest prototype, it does describe some of the features that one should look for in evaluating instruments from the "incunabula" stage in the development of the classic guitar -- instruments that might be candidates for the honor "grandmother of all six-string guitars." See Thomas F. Heck, Stalking the Oldest Six-String Guitar."
Visitors are invited to send suggestions for additions and corrections to Thomas F. Heck.