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The Guitar Before 1900
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The Guitar Before 1900: What the Dictionaries Reveal

(GFA Refereed Monographs, 1)

by Sean W. Ferguson

The Guitar Before 1900: What the Dictionaries Reveal is the first title in a new peer-reviewed series being put out by the Guitar Foundation of America. The aim of the series is to encourage the creation and dissemination of studies that contribute significantly to the knowledge and appreciation of the guitar: its repertoires, its literature, its composers and performers, and its function and place in society. The purpose of peer review of each title is to assure the integrity and quality of the series.

This monograph is available at $9.99 in two e-book formats:

  • from in Kindle format here) and
  • from (in ePub format here).

Readers for e-books in both formats are free to download onto Macs, PCs, and various portable readers. Here is a summary of the work:

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, as for example this 1819 remark in the Rees Cyclopoedia: “The Portuguese having lost a battle, 14,000 guitars were found on the field of battle.” There are first-time ever English translations of numerous foreign-language sources (Spanish, French, Italian, German); the originals appear in facsimile in an appendix. Cultural historians as well as curious guitarists will find the attitudes toward the guitar reflected in these dated sources to be both entertaining and informative.

Among the referees' comments were remarks such as these:

It is valuable to have so many lexicon entries gathered in one place. This monograph may become a useful research tool, one that will be quoted from for years to come.

[This] project is a valuable one and I hope it will soon be available on line.

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