The Times - Music Book of the Year
Will Hodgkinson, music critic of The Times newspaper in London, picked ’The Devil Is In It’ as one of his Music Books of the Year...
"If you are looking for a present for the guitar nerd in your life, consider this epic work. Bound in cloth and with a series of pen and ink illustrations, it tells the history of the acoustic guitar, from its Moorish roots to its North American conclusion. It’s certainly of specialist interest, but for that person forever lecturing you on the magical properties of Blind Willie McTell’s fingerpicking techniques, it will be manna from heaven."
THE DEVIL IS IN IT
A Story of Love, Obsession and The American Acoustic Guitar
is a must read for anyone with a passion for the acoustic guitar. Anyone curious to understand how a once little regarded, and at times little respected instrument completely reshaped 20th century music.
Foreword by George Gruhn
Original Illustrations by Drew Christie
About The Author
The author John Stubbings ordered a bespoke, custom built acoustic guitar from an experienced and well-regarded maker. The expectation was an 18 month wait until completion. Ten years later John was still waiting.
If the new guitar ever arrived it would be the fifteenth in his “small collection” of guitars. Starting out as a guitar player John gradually became a player who collected but was fast becoming a collector who played guitar. He realised he had contracted an extreme and unreasonable enthusiasm for guitar acquisition - what is often termed Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. Before he inevitably acquired more he wanted to understand why and how this had happened. He set out on a 6 year journey to explore how the 18th century Spanish guitar been transformed, by the 20th century, into the modern American steel string acoustic that had such a hold over him.
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 - The Monochrome Edition
Fretboard Journal Podcast 305
“It does not look like any other guitar book… a keepsake product that will never get thrown away.”
Rather than do a standard interview Jason asked me to read extracts from the book. Jason’s introduction runs to 6:00 when the extracts start.
NOTE: The Collectors Edition has sold out.
The frustrating and often hilarious story of the building and wait for the 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.
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.