About The Author
Twelve years ago I ordered a bespoke, custom built acoustic guitar. Made by an experienced English guitar maker the expectation was an 18 month wait until completion. Ten years later I was still waiting.
If the new guitar ever arrived it would be the fifteenth in my “small collection” of guitars. I’d started out as a guitar player, gradually became a player who collected but was fast becoming a collector who played guitar. I knew I had contracted an extreme and unreasonable enthusiasm for guitar acquisition - what is often termed Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. I felt that before I inevitably acquired more, I needed to understand why and how this had happened. How had the 18th century Spanish guitar been transformed, by the 20th century, into the modern American steel string acoustic that had such a hold over me?
The resulting book is part music and social history, part travelogue and a deep dive into the nature of guitar making and the obsessive nature of guitar acquisition.
The Devil Is In It - Collector’s Edition
The Devil Is In It is not yet another collection of dream guitar pictures linked by a series of well-worn captions. The book is written, illustrated and crafted to sit alongside any collection of guitars, be they vintage Martins or bespoke boutique models from today's top makers.
The individually numbered limited Collector’s Edition of 300 are assembled by hand and bound with cloth-covered cased covers.
Each 380 page hardback book is section sewn and printed on 140gsm uncoated Woodfree archive quality paper with a ridged and deckled fore-edge.
16 original Drew Christie colour-tinted illustrations are printed independently on 157gsm art paper and each 7” x 5 1/4” plate added-in to the book by hand.
A separate set of the illustrations, printed on 180gsm matt art paper and wrapped in archival tissue, complete the package.
THE DEVIL IS IN IT - Collectors Edition
The wait for yet another bespoke guitar inspired a journey through time and across America, the home of the modern steel string acoustic guitar.
During a two month road trip from New York to rural Pennsylvania, through the Carolinas, Tennessee, Mississippi and ending in New Orleans, guitar players, guitar dealers and a mystic guitar guru recount their perspective on the development of the guitar. In search of the ghost of Robert Johnson we encounter Dame Meghan and the Mayor of Clarksdale but everyone we meet, from the multi-millionaire lawyer who’d spent 5 years in federal prison to his guitar playing cousin, help explain how so much of the music culture we have today came from the poorest sections of the black and white communities of America.
Picking up the story of the modern acoustic in San Francisco we meet Dylan’s flatmate from 1963, ‘Lucky’ the Nigerian Highlife guitarist and former ‘Byrd’ and enigmatic mainstay of Crosby,Stills,Nash & Young, David Crosby - playing the guitar he played at Woodstock in 1969. By the end of the journey, and just a few miles shy of the Mexican border, we finally understand how so much of the music we love today was inspired and facilitated by the acoustic guitar.
Joining the dots
While many guitar enthusiasts and “accidental collectors” know some of the history of the guitar The Devil Is In It helps join the dots… from the European classical guitars, in Spanish, German, Austrian styles, that arrived in America in the 19th century, to American-made parlour instruments used by prosperous East Coast families. Why and how the guitar eventually superseded what were much more popular instruments like the banjo, the mandolin and of course the ukulele.
The book explores how and why the physical shape, design and size of the guitar evolved… from the Parlour, the single, double and triple ‘0’s, the OM, the Dreadnought and Jumbo through to the modern Modified Dreadnought.
So Many Stories
Why did music written for the parlor guitar in the 1800s travel into the Delta?
How did Spanish and ‘Vastapol tuning sow the seed for Delta blues?
Why did a craze in 1900s America for Hawaiian music influence the development of the Dreadnought?
How a big band banjo player influenced the modern finger style acoustic guitar.
Why Germany and erstwhile Bohemian violin makers were so important to the development of English beat music.
How improved recording technology led to the development of the Modified Dreadnought.
Author John Stubbings sat down with The North American Guitar's Ben Montague to preview 'The Devil Is In It'
A Must Read...
‘...for anyone that builds guitars, is interested in playing or collecting handmade instruments”
Historical and Hysterical
"Historically fascinating and 'laugh out loud' funny"
A culmination of years of experience and careful research
"A wealth of well researched historical context and well-informed opinions"
A compelling, absorbing read from start to finish, impressively researched, touchingly personal, and cleverly constructed.
A terrific achievement
Wide-ranging and informed. Affectionate, funny and beautifully written.
Luthier Jason Kostal on The Devil Is In It
"I received a copy early to read and enjoy and all I can say is this is a must read book for anyone that builds guitars, is interested in playing or collecting handmade instruments, or just appreciates the lost art of making something by hand. This book takes the reader on a journey that talks about the history of the handmade guitar through the eyes and adventures of someone that participated in its story.
My collectors edition featured a beautiful presentation box, handmade artisan paper, and hand tinted illustrations by Drew Christie on water color paper and hand glued into the book.
Yours truly even has a small part in the book as John talks about our introduction and eventual commission of a guitar that he received last year!
This book is truly a display quality book that will be worth reading over and over again!" - Jason Kostal, luthier