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Introduction and Overview

Recordings of guitar music have been around for more than a hundred years. One of the earliest, an Edison cylinder dating from 1905, is a guitar and mandolin duet called "An Autumn Evening," played by Samuel Siegel and M. Loyd Wolf. It can be heard online at the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at this Univ. of California Santa Barbara Library web site.

Unlike books, sound recordings have undergone vast improvements in physical format and in carrying capacity. But multi-track albums also multiply the burden of cataloging for libraries. If working to the highest standards, catalogers must make retrievable not only the composer and title of every track on the album, but also its performer(s), the medium of performance, the duration, and the musical genre represented.

Cataloguing standards for sound recordings differ widely in the library community. It is common for online union catalogs, like RLIN and OCLC, to host multiple states or versions of cataloging for the same recording, not to mention its reissues. This can make online searching and retrieval in library databases challenging.

Despite the cataloging challenges, major music libraries are still the places where the broadest selection of guitar recordings will be found, starting with LPs in most cases. For the earlier formats (cylinders, 78s), one should expect to visit specialized sound archives. Virtually all such archives are members of the Association for Recorded Sound Colections [ ], and/or the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives [ ], both of which support listserves that anyone may join and monitor.

The advent of long playing records (1948- ), which allowed up to 26 minutes of playing time per side, coincided with the rapid adoption of nylon strings on classic guitars, and with the emergence of Andres Segovia as the first great recording artist of the classic guitar. He released some 30 LPs, preserving his recordings from 1927 (his early 78s on the HMV label, remastered) all the way to 1977--a half century of epoch-making guitar artistry.

Digital recordings (music CDs) appeared in the 1980s, as the Internet became widely available. More compact sound files, like MP3s, were developed in the 1990s. With them, plus Web distribution of audio files, the era of dominance of the record companies in the creation and distribution of recorded sound on pressed vinyl came to an end. Personal computers ushered in a chaotic but vital online universe of home-made recordings, frequently involving some kind of guitar performances, uploaded by tens of thousands of motivated guitarists from all over the world who want to be heard.

NOTE: This guide to online retrievals of guitar recordings parallels the one for scores [.../node/4112]. If you already know the name of the performer, the composer and/or perhaps a keyword from the title of a recording you would like to locate, skip section 1, and go to section 2 or 3.

1. Searching for Recordings of Guitar Music by Instrumentation, To See What's Available

a) Getting the best from Google retrievals

It's always a good idea nowadays to search Google with an appropriate array of descriptors, to get a sense of what is available. Using the descriptor "MP3" seems to function very well as a limiter to online sound recordings. Combinations of words in quotes, like "guitar music," can also be an important way to focus on the wheat and eliminate the chaff in online searches. Here is a demonstration of how, with well designed descriptors, Google retrievals of sound recordings can be made manageable and productive:

  • A Google search of "guitar" and "mp3" retrieves over 121 million hits--not helpful.
  • A Google search of "guitar music" and "mp3" brings back about 4.68 million hits--better, but still too big to be useful.
  • A more narrow Google search, for example "clarinet and guitar" (in quotes) and "mp3" brings back about 1.86 million retrievals. Reversing the order ("guitar and clarinet") adds over 589,000 more hits.

Most of these retrievals, it seems, point to private sites where guitarists have mounted and basically give away their own sound recordings as free MP3 downloads. They are by no means limited to a particular style of music or type of guitar.

b) Getting the best from OCLC WorldCat.

If you want to focus your search and deepen it historically, try using , clicking on the "Advanced search" option:

  • Keyword-searching just the two words "clarinet" and "guitar" (without quotes), limiting the Format to any type of Sound Recording, retrieves over 12,000 hits - too much to be useful.
  • Changing the Format delimiter to "LP recording" in the same keyword search brings up over 1,880 LPs featruing, somewhere in their tracks, a guitar and a clarinet being played. One can do better!

Abandoning Keyword searching in favor of Subject searching and using the same two descriptors (clarinet guitar) is a smarter strategy. These two instrumental terms retrieved some 90 LP albums in 2011 -- giving us a realistic way to identify and locate recordings of pieces with these two instruments, alone or in larger ensembles, and enabling us to become aware of repertoire that we might not otherwise have discovered, especially ensemble music.

Doing the same subject search for CDs (the more modern format) retrieved slightly over 650 albums (when searched in 2011), proving that in the last twenty-odd years (the music CD having appeared in the mid-1980s) there has been an explosion of new digital recordings involving guitar and clarinet in various combinations and styles. But reviewing 650 albums is still a larger task than many would like to undertake.

Fortunately there is a more precise tool for these kinds of retrievals. It has to do with the exact wording of the subject search:

The official Library of Congress subject heading can be used for the specific combination of original music for clarinet and guitar. Any music reference librarian or catalog department can help a student understand and use the official LC subject headings correctly. Those headings can always be found at the bottom of a quality cataloging entry. For the combination in question, the correct form of the LC subject heading is clarinet and guitar music, in that order. Limiting the format to LP recordings retrieved 51 albums; limiting the format to "CD audio" retrieved nearly 400 CDs in 2011. One gets the impression, in looking over the retrievals, that much new music has been composed and recorded for this medium in recent decades.

There are many other instrumental combinations with guitar that guitarists may want to explore in WorldCat, especially if they are planning a chamber music program. One can usually find the relevant LC subject heading by locating one good recording using that instrumentation in WorldCat, and then by checking its subject headings. Many ensemble-specific LC subject headings are constructed like this:

Quintets (Clarinet, guitar, percussion, violin, violoncello)

2. Searching for Recordings of Guitar Music by Performer

Sometimes the sound of a piece is what we fall in love with, before we know its composer or title. It may be something we hear on the radio while driving, or in a restaurant. Of course the most direct retrieval strategy is to phone the radio station or visit it online to check out the playlist for the day and time you heard the piece.

Assuming that you could make out the name of the performer when it was announced, you have two good options nowadays: (a) visit the performer's web site and check out the recordings, or (b) search OCLC's WorldCat to see what the libraries of the world currently hold by way of that performer's recordings. Use the "advanced search" feature of WorldCat, and enter the performer's name in the "author" field. Catalogers always attribute authorship to performers because the latter create the particular interpretations fixed on the recording.

3. Searching for Recordings of Guitar Music by Title

The most important tip for doing thorough online searches by the title of a piece of music, whether in a free environment like Google or in a controlled environment like WorldCat, is to remember that NOT EVERYONE USES ENGLISH names and titles. So ask yourself if a piece like Barrios' Cathedral might be cataloged in other languages, and search them too, to get a complete picture of what is available. Limiting WorldCat searches to Format="CD audio" yielded these results in 2011:

  • Keywords: Barrios and cathedral --> 11 hits (English form of title)
  • Keywords: Barrios and catedral --> 155 retrievals (Spanish form of title)

The most common cataloging rule for titles is to favor the original language of the piece. Thus a well known set of Variations by Fernando Sor (his Op. 9) can be quite a challenge to retrieve if one only thinks in English. Here are some 2011 WorldCat retrievals, limited to Format="CD audio," for that work:

  • keywords: Variations Mozart, and author: Sor = 154 (French, English)
  • keywords: Variationen Mozart, and author: Sor = 8 (German)
  • keywords: Variazioni Mozart, and author: Sor = 1 (Italian)

Can you guess what the original language of this piece was?

One of the great advantages of online searching, impossible in the earlier days of card catalogs, is the fact that by keyword searching any part of a title you can probably find it. If you recall just a part of the title of a piece you heard on the radio, like "vacas," then try to search that as a keyword in WorldCat, adding "guitar" in the subject field, and limit the Format to "Sound recording" or "LP recording," etc. You will soon find albums with a track entitled "Narváez, L. de. Diferencias sobre Guárdame las vacas." That's probably the piece you were listening to!

4. Downloads and Negotiating the Online Environment

What are the best places to visit for online guitar music, free or otherwise?

  • The best known legal download site is probably iTunes ( ), which charges $.99 per downloaded tune. It currently offers "about 833 results" for the search "guitar music." there are also numerous other online sites, like these:
  • (prices start at $ .25 per song or piece; there were some 200 tracks retrieved in response to a search of "guitar music" but one can't search it without joining first.)
  • (offers free guitar tabs, free lyrics pages, and some free MP3s), but one can't search it without joining first.
  • gives away MP3s of only acoustic guitar playing, not classical.
  • and feature classic guitar recordings contributed by members.

NOTE: Please send us other links to sites with significant free MP3 downloads of classic guitar music.

5. Special Collections and Resources


GFA member Dustin Wiebe writes that he has done a bit of brainstorming regarding online research resources for "world" guitar music and the Smithsonian Global Sound site came to mind. The URL is: The site require the user to register an ID and password and allows you to search by a variety of categories including genre, country, instrument, and year. The engine searches the holdings of the Smithsonian Global Sounds Catalogue and there is a charge to download files as MP3s.


The International Guitar Research Archive (IGRA) at California State University, Northridge, has been mounting full-screen-size digitizations of its guitar music albums (mostly historic LPs) along with full cataloging of each band of each recording. The URL is , and the IGRA discography is linked to that page. It brings up over 2,400 guitar albums in the collection, along with a search window where one can retrieve albums in response to key words. A similar database on a much larger scale, just for commercial CDs, is hosted by Amazon and called CDNow. Searching "guitar music" in CDNow [ ] retrieves useful information (if not full cataloging) on over 22,000 published CD "main albums" of all kinds of guitar music, most with thumbnail album covers that can be enlarged. One can limit the search to "classical music" and retrieve over 5,300 such CDs. Searching "Giuliani Mauro" on CDNow brings up over 260 CDs.


There are several major audio archives in France where the guitar may be heard online. The "médiathèque de la Cité de la musique" in Paris [ ] has digitized examples of a number of historic guitars being played, including a Panormo of 1850 and a Torres of 1883. The "médiathèque de l'IRCAM" in Paris is devoted to contemporary sounds. It has an acoustical presentation of the guitar, with text in French, of course [ ].

Over 3,500 sound recordings of contemporary music performed in concert and held by France's CDMC (Centre de documentation de la musique contemporaine ) have gone online through the Gateway for contemporary music resources (Le portail de la musique contemporaine) in France. So far over fifty works in the CDMC database involve the guitar, and most of these contemporary pieces (by composers like Berio, Stockhausen, etc.) can now be heard on the internet in excerpts of up to three minutes, and in their entirety at the CDMC.   

Visitors are invited to send suggestions for additions and corrections to Thomas F. Heck.

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