52 Guitars: Week 51
52 Authors, Week 1: Flannery O'Connor

52 Guitars: Week 52

Andrés Segovia

I wanted to close out this series with a really important guitarist, and it would be hard to find a more suitable candidate than Segovia, who did so much to bring the guitar into the mainstream of classical music. In a career that spanned the greater part of the 20th century, he advanced the repertoire of the instrument and made technical contributions that assisted its spread, notably the use of nylon strings, which stay in tune much better than the old gut strings. And of course his career coincided with an enormous surge of interest in the guitar in all kinds of music, so that people who might otherwise have had little interest in classical music were interested in classical guitar.

I'm not at home and have limited internet connectivity; worse, I've been pretty sick for the past several days, sicker than I can remember being for at least the past decade or more, and am still feeling pretty bad. So I'm not going to spend as much time searching out Segovia gems on YouTube as I would like. Instead, I give you the complete Guitar Concerto #1 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, which was inspired by Segovia. I think this is the same performance I have on some no-name LP, probably sort of semi-bootleg. The original recording is none too great, and this is just a recording of the vinyl, with a lot of surface noise. You'll need to turn the sound up some. But I think it's worth it--it's a simple and charming piece.

Moreover, for some reason the person who posted it on YouTube has disabled embedding on the first movement, so click here for it, and then proceed with the next two:



And so ends the year of guitar music. I hope you've enjoyed it. It crossed my mind the other day to wonder whether I could come up with another 52 guitarists. So I started writing down names as fast as I could think of them, and in ten minutes or so had come up with 40 or so. But I don't plan to do another year.


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Well, kudos for completing your task even in the grip of the flu. I've always admired your ability to stick to something like this. Too bad it doesn't rub off on your friends.


Great choice.
Happy New Year. Get better soon and continue bringing joy to your loved ones.

I hope you get well soon, Maclin and have a Happy New Year.

I'm amazed you know of so many guitarists!!

Nice job, Maclin. You should create an index.

Get well soon.

And Segovia is a great way to end.

Thanks I really enjoyed the series

Glad y'all enjoyed it. An index would be a good idea.

My psychological trick for following through on things like this is to make a public commitment. That creates a sense of obligation that's strong enough to get the better of sloth.

My psyche does not succumb to that trick. I'm sure you could find several broken promises of that sort on my blog. Of course, it has been a rather eventful couple of years.


Some external factors just can't be overcome. I missed a few SNJs over the years and I think hurricanes were sometimes involved.

Excellent series, Mac. Congrats on a great idea and seeing it through to completion. Sad to say, but if I had been doing this, there's a good chance it would have faded out well before the 52nd week--though your "psychological trick" might have helped.

Anyway, you presented a whole lot of great guitarists--some of whom I knew, many I didn't--and provided lots of interesting commentary and music videos.

Two questions (for Mac or anyone else who cares to weigh in):
1) If you have a general preference, which sound do you favor, acoustic or electric guitar?
(Personally, I tend to prefer the clear, precise sound of the acoustic guitar.)

2) Given its prominence and ubiquity in popular music, there's no denying the mass appeal of the guitar in this country.* The instrument's sound somehow resonates with, or expresses, something in the American psyche (or somethings, since the guitar can be used to create different kinds of sound). Any guesses as to why the guitar is so popular or what common traits it resonates with in the psychology of so many Americans?

* Though some may disagree, I'd conjecture that the guitar is America's favorite musical instrument--and has been, probably since the late 1960s.

Very glad you found it enjoyable.

Acoustic vs. electric: depends on how electric the electric is. If it's basically just an amplified acoustic, as it was used in jazz for a long time and often still is, I definitely prefer acoustic. But the electric as it developed in the '60s, with overdriven sounds capable of producing long sustained notes, is really a different instrument. And overall I might say I like it better. It's certainly capable of greater intensity and variety.

I think you're right that the guitar is America's favorite instrument, and it does seem to connect with something in the American psyche. But I don't know why. You can see some obvious practical reasons for its spread: you can do something musically acceptable with it with almost no training, and relatively little work, compared to a lot of other instruments. Yet you can also devote a lifetime to mastering it at a high level. It's very portable. It's not expensive and doesn't require a lot of special care and maintenance. In general it makes it pretty easy for almost anybody to make some kind of music, and I guess that's pretty democratic.

I'd presume that it is because blues and country players decided in the 1920s to make the guitar their main instrument. Why they did that is another question.

Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Surely those singing cowboys did a lot to make the guitar a popular instrument in the U.S. Was it used all that much in country music before them? Or was it mostly banjos and fiddles?

"you can do something musically acceptable with it with almost no training, and relatively little work"

Ah. So this is why adolescent males like it!

Jimmy Rogers used it, and he was active mostly in the '20s, before the cowboy singers. But there are a number of well-known solo pre-Nashville country artists who accompanied themselves on banjo. Here's Frank Proffit doing "Tom Dooley".

It's definitely true to say that blues players made it their main instrument early on, but not so clear with country. But that might be partly because country was less of a solo art. The sort of classic 1920s-1930s country sound was what's now referred to as the "old-time string band", which was fiddle-centric.

You can see some practical reasons why the guitar became a preference for solo performers: it's kind of a poor man's piano in its versatility. It can just provide harmony and rhythm, or it can be a solo instrument in its own right. It has a greater range and is arguably more listenable for a long time than the banjo.

When I said country, I was thinking more of what people call "folk," not the string band.

I suppose it was Merle Travis who really brought guitar to the fore in country.

My favorite current band, SHEL, doesn't use much guitar at all. They just have mandolin, fiddle, piano, and percussion.

When I was 19, my father bought me a classical guitar for my birthday. It wasn't really cheap, I think it cost $150 (in 1960s dollars), but it wasn't what I wanted either. He told me if I stuck with it, he would get me a better one. Well, I used to practice for hours every day and was still playing it pretty frequently in my 30s and maybe even my 40s, but the new one never materialized. Still, I was happy enough with the one I had.

By the time I moved here when I was 50, I was hardly playing it at all and it was in pretty bad shape. It spent about 10 years gathering dust in the corner, and a couple of years ago, since my son told me he didn't really think we could ever get it in tune again, I got rid of it.

I've thought about getting a second hand guitar somewhere, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have time to practice. I miss it though, and I miss the idea that someday I might pick it up again.


I'm pretty sure my first guitar, the lowest-end Gibson acoustic (steel-string) cost about $125. That was definitely not cheapo, although it was on the low end of not-cheap. Too bad about your guitar. I guess it was structurally damaged?

Robert, I think the distinction between "country" and "folk" is really non-existent in this country. Or say maybe that country (old-time) is one variety of folk, since blues is also folk. But anyway, my point is, most of the people who were held up as the Authentic Folk Experience by purists in the '50s and '60s did not make any distinction between folk and popular commercial music--most of them were trying to make a buck themselves as soon as radio and recordings made it possible (cf. Dock Boggs).

I wanted a Gibson, but this was a nice Spanish guitar. I cannot remember the name of the maker for anything and that is driving my crazy because I told people who it was for 30 years. I never met anyone else who had one. The $150 included a really nice case, so that sounds about right--cheaper than the Gibson and on the low end of not cheap. Not a Yamaha, for goodness sake. ;-)


When I think of folk, I don't make any hard and fast distinction between that and commercial/popular music or country or blues for that matter. In fact, I don't really care whether music is commercial or not. That is why I'm not allergic to the Nashville sound on purist grounds like some people seem to be.

I can't remember if I've told this story here before, but if I have, I beg your pardon.

My first guitar, a classical one, was bought for me when I was 11 by a priest who was visiting Mexico. It is a Jom. I still have it, but it is in pretty bad shape. I was once stupid enough to put steel strings on it and the bridge popped off. The repair guy put a new bridge on that was shorter than the original, so there are "scars" on the body where the old bridge used to be. The back is all scratched up because it slide against a cinder block wall which I was leaning it up against.

So, in college I saved up to by a $300 (1970s bucks) Alvarez. It was sweet. The tone was beautiful. One day I was taking it to an event. I set it down behind the car, but forgote about it and never actually put it in the trunk. The driver backed out over it. I heard this "crunch" sound. My heart went below the floor boards of the car.

My mom then bought me a $150 Hohner (1982). It is a very nice guitar with an amazing sound for such a cheap guitar and a Hohner at that. It doesn't sound like a mouth harp at all! I still play it, although I know there is a unseen crack under the pick guard from when someone stepped on the case or something.

I love guitar.

Oh yeah, I meant to answer the question about the guitar being structurally damaged. For years it had a dent in the end caused by a run-in with a radiator, but that didn't seem to make much difference. Over the years, I replace the bridge and the pegs, but in the end, the neck warped.

The guitar had nylon strings and a very wide neck, which made it difficult to play, but since I was used to it, it was okay. Still, I could never play bar chords.


These are some very sad guitar stories.

I have an inexpensive Alvarez classical. I don't even know the model number. I was almost guitar-less for many adult years, and if I remember correctly my wife found this one used somewhere. It's good enough for me, except that some of the frets buzz. Probably a guitar shop could fix that. I've pretty much given up on steel-string acoustics because of various problems with my hands. I also have, de facto, a Fender Mustang which technically belongs to one of my children. By this time next year I'm going to be able to play a reasonably convincing few bars of blues. Or at least I was planning to be able to. Right now I'm beginning to suspect that my health has broken down permanently and I'm never going to feel like doing much of anything again.

Oh Maclin, I really hope that's not true of your health.

Mac, please rest and focus on your health until you feel well. Take care. Godspeed.

Thanks. I was mostly kidding, but I have to admit I haven't felt this bad for a long time. I think I may detect some slight improvement today.

I'm glad you were mostly kidding. Although a bad virus can take weeks to recover from. Looks like you were saving up your illness for (semi) retirement. :/

Anyway, the guitar stories above are indeed very sad.

I admit that for a long time I've had this fatalistic suspicion that if I ever were free to spend most of my time on books and writing and music etc, I would probably soon be diagnosed with terminal cancer or something. So the timing of this has made me a bit more uneasy than it might otherwise have done.

I'm laughing at this, b/c it's exactly the way my mind works.

This is a phenomenon I describe as "voodoo." We have to think the worst, because if we think the best will happen, we might be disappointed.


It's also just plain old pessimism.

The plain old pessimism is part of the voodoo. ;-)


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