Cool Wooden Box

Transformation of the American Acoustic Guitar

  • Author(s): Smith, W. Rand
  • Series: Charles K. Wolfe Music Series
  • Imprint: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2023-05-08
  • Status: Active
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“In Cool Wooden Box, Rand Smith has cleverly woven person, social, and musical histories into a compelling narrative. In doing so, Smith has illustrated just how, well, cool the steel string acoustic guitar, its makers, and its players are.” —John Thomas, author of Kalamazoo Gals: A Story of Extraordinary Women and Gibson’s “Banner” Guitars of WWII, and field editor for The Fretboard Journal

Beginning with a comparison of the American acoustic guitar world in the early 1960s with that of today, then describing iconic performances at storied venues such as The Ark in Ann Arbor while meticulously researching the instrument’s top makers, Smith assembles a passion-filled and eye-opening history of that “cool wooden box” from the folk era through the pandemic. The author focuses on both the playing and making of the acoustic guitar, concluding that the instrument has been transformed in both aspects during the last sixty years. On the playing side, Smith examines the influences on, and the impact of, such guitarists as David Bromberg, Elizabeth Cotten, Paul Geremia, and Norman Blake. On the making side, the author takes the reader into the tradition-minded yet dynamic world of lutherie. He traces how the oldest, most revered companies whose reputations are based on legendary breakthroughs in lutherie, Gibson and Martin, have adapted as the new lutherie movement of innovative small-scale producers, exemplified by interviewees such as Michael Gurian, Bill Collings, Richard Hoover, and Dana Bourgeois, arose. Starting small and then growing exponentially, Taylor Guitars is a wholly different “player” in acoustic guitar building, and Smith compellingly tells its story. Finally, Cool Wooden Box considers the effects of globalization on the industry.

Clocking thousands of miles and hours of interviews with guitar makers, suppliers, and sellers, W. Rand Smith has created not only a detailed history of the acoustic guitar, but also a lasting tribute to an instrument he so clearly reveres.

W. RAND SMITH is Irvin L. and Fern D. Young Presidential Professor of Politics, Emeritus at Lake Forest College. He is the author of The Left’s Dirty Job: The Politics of Industrial Restructuring in France and Spain and Enemy Brothers: Socialists and Communists in France, Italy, and Spain.