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The function and place of the guitar in various societies through the years is still a wide open and relatively underappreciated aspect of its history. Other instruments, like the piano, have already had landmark books written on their social histories. Witness Arthur Loesser's Men, Women and Pianos (1954, reissued by Dover in 1991), and James Parakilas' Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano (Yale Univ. Press, 1999).  Currently there is a Wikipedia entry, "Social history of the piano," but so far nothing comparable for the guitar.

This guide to research aims to recognize the social and cultural studies that have been done thus far on the guitar's behalf, including Web sites (as works in progress), and to suggest online resources that could yield good results if they were well and wisely searched.

1. Currently Available Socio-Historical Studies the Guitar

Many interesting studies of the guitar in its social context were cited in the regular "Works in Progress / Completed" column that this writer has been contributing to Soundboard for over thirty years.  Among them are these studies, which tend to be limited to particular "guitar cultures," as the title of a recent anthology (see 2001gc below) puts it. These articles, dissertations, and books touch in significant measure, if not exclusively, on the guitar's social history. Jeffrey Noonan's publications of 2008 and 2009 are good examples of the value of early published references to the guitar as source material.

1998wg -"Women and the Guitar in Spain's Upper Classes," by Richard Pinnell, in Anuario Musical - Revista de Musicología del Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, vol. 53 (1998): 165-189.

1999ga - "The guitar in nineteenth-century Buenos Aires: Towards a cultural history of an Argentine musical emblem," by Melanie Plesch (Ph.D. diss., University of Melbourne, 1999), 448 pages. Available in full as a PDF file, through member libraries, from ProQuest Digital Dissertations.

1999rg - "The Golden Age of the Russian Guitar: Repertoire, Performance Practice, and Social Function of the Russian Seven-String Guitar Music, 1800-1850," by Oleg Timofeyev (Ph.D. diss., Duke U., 1999), 584 p.

2001ag - The History of the American Guitar: From 1833 to the Present Day, by Tony Bacon (New York: Friedman/Fairfax Publishers; Distributed by Sterling Pub. Co., 2001), 148 p. 

2001gc - Guitar Cultures, edited by Andy Bennett and Kevin Dawe (Oxford; New York: Berg, 2001), x, 215 p.; ill., music; 24 cm.  The Table of Contents of this far-reaching "world guitar" collection includes articles such as the following:

  • "Introduction: Guitars, Cultures, People and Places," Kevin Dawe and Andy Bennett;
  • "The Guitar in the Blues Music of the Deep South," David Evans;
  • "Handmade in Spain: The Culture of Guitar Making," Kevin Dawe with Moira Dawe;
  • "The Guitar as Artifact and Icon: Identity Formation in the Babyboom Generation," John Ryan and Richard A. Peterson;
  • "The Guitar Cultures of Papua New Guinea: Regional, Social, and Stylistic Diversity," Denis Crowdy;
  • "Hybridity and Segregation in the Guitar Cultures of Brazil," Suzel Ana Riley;
  • "Rock to Raga: The Many Lives of the Indian Guitar," Martin Clayton.

2003ga - "‘The Association That I Have With This Guitar Is My Life': The Guitar as Artifact and Symbol," by Holly Everett, in Popular Music and Society, vol. 26/3 (Oct 2003): 331-350.

2004ga -  "The Guitar in America as Reflected in Topical Periodicals, 1882-1933," by Jeffrey J. Noonan (Ph.D. diss., Washington University, 2004).

2006rr - Rock & Roll: A Social History, by Paul Friedländer, Peter Miller (Basic Books, 2nd ed., 2006), 388 pp.

2007tg - "From Tinkerers to Gods: The Electric Guitar and the Social Construction of Gender," by Monique M. Bourdage (M.S.S. thesis, Univ. of Colorado at Denver, 2007), 117 pp.

2008ga - The Guitar in America: Victorian Era to Jazz, by Jeffrey J. Noonan (University Press of Mississippi, 2008), vii, 239 pp.  Cataloging information describes its contents as follows:

The guitar in America to 1880 -- Interlude: the BMG movement--the sources -- The guitar in the BMG movement 1880-1900 -- Interlude : a new generation of guitarists -- Transitions: from the parlor to the concert hall -- Interlude: the guitar as icon -- A new instrument -- Interlude: the wizard and the grand lady -- The old world reclaims its instrument -- Summary and conclusions.

2009bmg - The Guitar in American Banjo, Mandolin and Guitar Periodicals, 1882-1933, by Jeffrey J. Noonan (Madison: A-R Editions, 2009).  It is vol. 35 of the Music Library Association's Index and Bibliography Series, and is available directly from the publisher for $50. It has nearly 5500 entries and over 100 pages of indices. The author's summary states:

This bibliography documents the guitar's role in the B.M.G. movement with a chronological list of articles, news items, advertisements, illustrations, and photographs and a list of musical works for guitar published I the BMG magazines.  The second section of the bibliography is a series of indices which link names and subjects to these lists. 

2011gb - The Guitar Before 1900: What the Dictionaries Reveal, by Sean W. Ferguson, is the first title in a new peer-reviewed series being put out by the Guitar Foundation of America. 

Ferguson throws new light on the history of the guitar by drawing upon a class of literary sources still largely unexplored: historical dictionaries and encyclopedias. Between the earliest of these to mention the guitar (1606) and the last one surveyed, Baker’s Dictionary of Musical Terms (1895), the author selects and discusses nearly fifty "entries” about the guitar that run the gamut from the anecdotal to the objective, from ignorance and prejudice to clarity and insight. Sprinkled through these definitions are highly colorful comments on the guitar’s place in everything from love to war.

2. Guitar-Oriented Socio-Historical Web Sites

These Web sites emphasize to various degrees the guitar as a cultural-historical phenomenon:

Historical pictures of guitar playing through the ages have been gathered into a kind of virtual museum by Dag Arve Lindsetmo (Trondheim, Norway) in his site,  Guitar iconography is a microcosm well worth exploring!

The Baroque guitar is the focus of Monica Hall's delightful and informative site, and the best place to find her articles and studies, including her notable "Stringing of the 5-Course Guitar."  See

The Early Romantic Guitar site ( has links not only to the instrument and its evolution, but also to "time periods" and to a host of "guitar composers."

Harp-guitars of all kinds are pictured and promoted in their full historical and cultural breadth at

The Unstrung History of the American Guitar, by Dave Bradford, is a growing compilation of articles and photographs exploring the Guitar in 19th-c. American music. See

The European Guitar Teachers Association site ( has a growing number of online Articles exploring many dimensions of the guitar's history, including Aesthetics, Guitar around the world, Composers, Repertoire, etc.

3. Historical Full-Text Databases (for FREE, or for a FEE)

Searching for evidence of the guitar and guitarists in historical full-text databases is the latest trend in scholarship. It can be a very fruitful way to shed light on the overlooked social and cultural history of the guitar.  The work that Jeffrey Noonan has done with the banjo, mandolin, and guitar periodicals (2008ga above)  is just the beginning of what could become a series of credible, well-documented studies of the guitar as an instrument of cultural expression.

Unfortunately the companies that produce most academic, historical, full-text indexes (like Gale-CengageProquest, Lexis-Nexis, and Ebsco) do not simply mount their files on the Internet for anyone to visit and use for free.  They sell access to these databases by subscription, either individually or to groups, based on the number of anticipated users in a given community.Their primary clients are university libraries, where annual "site" subscriptions cost thousands of dollars per year. Each university library in turn must control access to these databases, often requiring that students and faculty log on with their university ID to use them.  There are some exceptions, like large public research libraries, which often subscribe as a public service. Interested researchers need to contact likely subscribing libraries to obtain access to these kinds of online, keyword-searchable historical sources. Sometimes a trip to the research library in person is the only option to avoid paying user fees.

By way of introduction to the field, consider the useful list of online research databases that has been compiled by GFA member Robert Coldwell, along with some European colleagues (notably Erik Stenstadvold, and Jan de Kloe). It is available at the "Online Guitar Research Resources" page at

The present list of research databases explores a new and growing trend toward "open access" repositories and databases. Section 3-A, below, is where to begin your FREE online research. Section 3-B is where many of the best RESTRICTED DATABASES are listed. One usually needs to be affiliated with a university to have free access to them.


3-A. Free full-text online databases 


Perhaps the best online survey of currently available FREE research databases, usually full-text, that can be freely searched, read, and often even downloaded, is the article "A Short Guide to Free Academic Search," hosted and kept up-to-date by the good folks at When it comes to specific recommendations for guitar research:

GOOGLE BOOKS, as a starting point, is hard to beat, in particular if one does an advanced search, filtered chronologically. A sample search, might ask the question "When did people start writing about the 'harp-guitar'? An initial search of "harp-guitar" (use quotes to keep the two keywords together) retrieves around 11,800 results in Google Books. Clicking on "Search tools," once the initial search has been made, allows you to specify a date range where perhaps the earliest publications mentioning this topic can be discovered. The 19th century is one preset limit, but it brings back too many hits. Selecting a "Custom range" of 1800-1820, sorted by date, brings up only 4 pages of retrievals -- less than 40 hits, of which perhaps a technical book, The Repertory of Arts, Manufacture, and Agriculture of 1804, gives the earliest (?) description of an instrument called a "harp-guitar." Better descriptions of the early "harp-guitar" are found in retrievals from 1809 and 1814, but these are based (we learn upon close reading) on the English "guittar" tuned in C maj. One must look a bit later for Spanish-guitar-based harp-guitars.

Google Scholar pretends to do for articles and documents (like patent records) what Google Books does for books, and some will be surprised and delighted with the results.

Amazon ‘Look Inside’ and the Hathi Trust Digital Library are two more "must visit" databases that deserve inclusion in most literature searches.

OpenDOAR – the Directory of Open Access Repositories, is one of the truly important Websites guiding readers to "open access repositories.” Its Web site claims that "OpenDOAR is an authoritative directory of academic open access repositories. Each OpenDOAR repository has been visited by project staff to check the information that is recorded here. This in-depth approach does not rely on automated analysis and gives a quality-controlled list of repositories.” There are currently over 2,200 special collections content-searchable to some degree in OpenDOAR.

Sample searches:

  • "guitar” retrieves nothing, but
  • "music” brings up 29 repositories or special collections, including the American Memory project of the Library of Congress, where a search of "guitar” brings up over a hundred hits. Sheet music, photos, and text memoirs are all parts of the typical retrieval, and everything brought up is digitized and freely available. 

The Internet Library of Early Journals is a free digital library of 18th and 19th Century journals, hosted by the Bodley Library of Oxford Univ.  It is a project of the Universities of Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, and Oxford. Provides digitized texts of six English journals, of which two discuss the guitar to some extent. Notes and Queries (1849-69): OCR permits 25 "guitar*” keyword matches; Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (1843-63): OCR permits 118 "guitar*” kw matches. The Builder (1843-62) is full-texts but has no indexes; Gentleman's Magazine (1731-1830) is subject-indexed for vols. 1-20; Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1757-77) has author, title, & subject indexes; Annual Register (1758-78) has a subject index.

JSTOR now has a rather generous sharing policy. Not only does it offer a free "preview” of any article retrieved, but it now also offers a purchasable download (at typically $10-20), and a "Read Online FREE” option.  For example if you Google jstor "classical guitar” you will retrieve (in 2013) four relevant articles from journals not usually associated with the guitar. Here is a sample, from Computer Music Journal:

"A Physical Model of the Classical Guitar, Including the Player's Touch,"  by Giuseppe Cuzzucoli and Vincenzo Lombardo. Computer Music Journal Vol. 23, No. 2 (Summer, 1999), pp. 52-69. Published by: The MIT Press.  Article Stable URL:

Here are similar searches, with sometimes larger results: jstor guitar (15); jstor choro (7); jstor "Fernando Sor” (4); jstor "Andres Segovia” (4). Expect to retrieve at least as many reviews as actual articles. 

Even better than Google searches (with jstor as a keyword) is using the new JSTOR "advanced search" page. My recent search of "guitar" or "Guitarist" in a range of humanities and arts publications brought up an incredible number of hits: over 1,000 pages each with 25 citations --over 25,000 items.

Lists of digital library projects, in Wikipedia, provides a table of about 135 "digital library projects” that have gotten underway since the inception of the Web. No effort is currently being made to check on the accuracy of these links.  Wiki editors consider the whole thing out of date, but it still may be useful in certain areas. It references such resources as the free British History Online mega-site. 

DOAJ - the Directory of Open Access Journals - is a European initiative containing mostly scientific journals, but there are occasional humanities and arts journals, too, mostly those not being issued in hard copy.  A full-text "article” search of "guitar" (searched in June 2013) brought up 50 relevant articles.  

Sample retrieval: "The Guitar, the Musette and Meaning in the fêtes galantes of Watteau." Author: John Weretka. Journal: EMAJ : Electronic Melbourne Art Journal. ISSN/EISSN: 18356656    Year: 2008   Issue: 3 

Abstract: This paper examines the depiction of the guitar and musette in the fêtes galantes of Watteau by considering the theoretical, musical and literary evidence for the reception of these instruments in Watteau’s culture. Documentary evidence suggests that the presence of the guitar and musette in the fêtes galantes may provide a tool for reading the nuances of these contested images.

JURN – calls itself "a curated academic search-engine, indexing 4,507 free ejournals in the arts & humanities.” It seems to be more than that when initially searched. This search engine, "made in England,” does not just index and retrieve the contents of "free ejournals.” It covers a wide spectrum of e-publishing, including such series as the Univerisity of California’s graduate theses and other research reports published through (see following entry), and Indiana University’s similar online research service, the IUScholarWORKS repository.  The JURN search interface (as of June 2013) only permits simple searches: a word or "phrase search” using quotes to preserve word proximity and order. Its "sort by” button offers only "relevance” and "date” sorting options. It initially reports hits in the tens of thousands for any search, suggesting that its search engine includes all of Google. But as one works one’s way through the results, one discovers far fewer actual retrievals -- and these evidently only from the targeted 4,500+ e-journals that it seriously indexes.
Sample search: A search of "harp-guitar” (with quotes) in the JURN search window initially appears to retrieve far too much (over 49,000 hits). But when one begins to review the results, one sees that there are 31 retrievals to review, most of which are scores for "piano, harp, guitar, etc.” i.e. false drops. There are, however, a few that hit the nail on the head, like Jean Dickson’s "Mandolin Mania in Buffalo’s Italian Community, 1895 to 1918,” in Journal of World Anthropology: Occasional Papers, Vol. II, no. 2, which discusses the harp-guitar. 

eScholarship states that it provides "a suite of open access, scholarly publishing services and research tools that enable departments, research units, publishing programs, and individual scholars associated with the University of California to have direct control over the creation and dissemination of the full range of their scholarship.”

"With eScholarship, you can publish the following original scholarly works on a dynamic research platform available to scholars worldwide:

Sample search: A "guitar” keyword search retrieved 298 documents/articles/theses in June 2013. About half of the 298 "guitar” retrievals are likely not to interest music scholars, because they reference other disciplines (like "guitar fish”), or creative works like contemporary musical compositions or poetry.

Here is a sample retrieval:  Greene, Taylor Jonathon.. "Julian Bream's 20th Century Guitar:  An Album's Influence on the Modern Guitar Repertoire.” M.A. Thesis, Music (UC Riverside, 2011). Retrieved from:  Available to download as a PDF file. 


For those who read German, the German wikipedia, at, lists hundreds of older German music periodicals that have been digitized, some with reasonably good OCR (keyword searchable texts), but many suitable only for browsing online.  ANNO – AustriaN Newspapers Online (Historische österreichische Zeitungen und Zeitschriften online), gives free digitized access to historic German-language newspapers and magazines such as the Wiener Zeitung (1780- ), Wiener Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung (1817-1824), Blätter für Musik, Theater und Kunst (1855-1873), Deutsche Musik-Zeitung (1874-1901), Neue Wiener Musik-Zeitung (1852-1860), Österreichische Musik- und Theaterzeitung (1888-1905), etc. It has a search window (in Beta development, 2013) called ANNO-Suche (1704-1872), where a keyword search of the German word "Gitarre” brings up 85 hits for the pivotal years 1770-1870. NOTE: Searching the old German spelling of guitar, "Guitarre,” retrieves 3,176 occurrences. There are many erroneous retrievals, however, due to the Gothic typeface so common in German pre-1900 typography, which is difficult for OCR systems to handle.


3-B. Restricted (fee-based) full-text online databases

Here are some good prospects for full-text searches of terms like "guitar" and "guitarist" (with approximate numbers of retrievals of the term "guitar"). There are no embedded links below, because one can't use these databases freely.  The computer on which a search is conducted must be recognized by its location (IP address) as being authorized:

The American Periodicals Series, 1740-1900, comprising general interest magazines published in the USA, such as The Family Magazine; or, Monthly Abstract of General Knowledge (New York, 1833-1841). Surprisingly rich retrievals!  ("guitar" = 12,783 documents; "guitarist" = 179)

American & English Literature: Poetry, Drama, and Prose, comprising the following collections

  • Early American Fiction 1774-1850 (110 items)
  • American Poetry 1600-1900 & 20th century (41)
  • English Poetry 600-1900 & 20th century (91)
  • American Drama (29)
  • English Prose Drama (61)
  • English Verse Drama 13th-19th centuries (32)

Eighteenth Century Journals: a Portal to Newspapers and Periodicals, c1685-1815. Brings together rare journals printed between c1685 and 1815 about all aspects of eighteenth-century social, political and literary life. (61 hits when searching "guitar" or "guittar")

Wright American Fiction, 1851-1875, attempts to include every novel published in the United States from 1851 to 1875 by well known writers such as Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville, along with many forgotten authors whose works may have been very popular in their own time. (Searching "guitar" brought up an amazing 1335 matches in 513 records, for just this quarter-century!)

ARTFL is a French-language full text database that mines French literature from the 13th to the 20th centuries. It is a project for American and French Research on the Treasury of the French Language, and is a cooperative project of the Institut National de la Langue Française (INaLF) of the Centre National de la Recherche, Scientifique (CNRS) and the Divisions of the Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Chicago.  (433 occurrences of "guitare," starting in 1840; 13 occurrences of "guitarre," from 1627 to 1756; 11 occurrences of "guiterre" from 1552 to 1656, and so forth.)

Early English Books Online contains digital facsimile page images of virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473-1900,  (49 hits in 34 records for "guitar" and many variant spellings of the same.) Early European Books - printed sources to 1700 is the European version of the same, and is vended through ProQuest (Chadwyck in the UK).

Eighteenth-Century Collections Online. Nearly 150,000 English-language titles and editions published between 1701 and 1800 in the United Kingdom, along with thousands of important works from the Americas, are included (30 retrievals of "guitar" or "guittar")

English Short Title Catalogue. Contains records for works printed in any language in England or its dependencies from the beginning of printing through the end of the eighteenth century, as well as works printed in English anywhere else in the world. (41 references to "guitar")

Index to English Literary Periodicals. Indexes 341 journals published in Great Britain in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Not full text. (4 citations of articles on the guitar)

Teatro Español del Siglo de Oro. Contains the most important dramatic works of sixteenth and seventeenth century Spain, published in full. (151 occurrences of the term "Guitarra" in 99 Spanish plays.)

Women Writers Online. Coverage is 1400-1850. Collection of searchable texts written by women that were previously only available in archives.  (11 occurrences of "guitar" and related terms.)

Literature Online. a fully searchable library of more than 350,000 works of English and American poetry, drama and prose, 241 full-text literature journals, and other key criticism and reference resources. ("Guitar" retrieves 16 poems, 9 literary works in journals, and 58 reviews and critical works)

LexisNexis Academic provides access to a wide range of news, business, legal, and reference information, mostly covering the last fifty years. Various portions of the database are updated daily and most information is full text. This is a huge contemporary resource, and covers all major US and foreign newspapers in full text, starting with the New York Times, December 1969- .)  Here are some sample retrievals:

  • "Julian Bream" is mentioned in nearly 1,000 Worldwide English newspaper articles and reviews, starting in 1970. Imagine how valuable this database will be for anyone doing a serious study of the "critical reception" of Bream, Williams, Segovia, and any of their contemporaries.
  • 2,080+ worldwide English newspapers & journals have mentioned the theorbo since it began receiving coverage in 1978. The same year, world newspapers also began to mention the "baroque guitar," and now there are 238+ articles and reviews about it. The chitarrone begins to draw attention in the English-speaking world after 1981, with 235+ articles and reviews discussing it in the intervening decades. This kind of data can help document these instruments' 20th-century revival in early music.
Visitors are invited to send suggestions for additions and corrections to Thomas F. Heck.

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