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Antonius Stradivarius in South Dakota

Antonius Stradivarius in South Dakota

by Joseph R. Johnson

Originally published in American Lutherie #12, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2000



When the name Antonio Stradivari (1644–1737) is mentioned, images of fine quality violins, master craftsmanship, and exor­bitantly large price tags come to mind. Stradivari is known to the world primarily as an excellent violin maker. However, the members of the violin family were not the only stringed instruments that he made. Stradivari’s output also included a harp, three known guitars, and patterns for lutes, mandolins, mandolas, and violas da gamba.

The Shrine to Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota, is home to the “Rawlins,” one of three extant guitars made by Antonio Stradivari in Cremona, Italy, between 1680 and 1700. The second is in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University in England. The third, much altered and in need of restoration, is privately owned in Italy.

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In Memoriam: Joseph R. Johnson

In Memoriam: Joseph R. Johnson

Oct 24, 1954 - May 21, 2012

by Deb Olsen

Originally published in American Lutherie #111, 2012

We were very sad to hear of the passing of our friend Joe Johnson after an extended illness. It’s been some years since we’ve seen Joe, but we haven’t forgotten the great work he did for the Guild in the 1980s and 1990s. Members who have been around awhile will remember that Joe was the genial and energetic host of our 1988 and 1992 GAL Conventions in Vermillion, South Dakota.

Photo by Robert Desmond

When we first met Joe, he was living in Vermillion and working as the first Curator of Education at the Shrine to Music Museum (now the National Music Museum) at the University of South Dakota. Joe joined the Guild in 1986 and made the suggestion that we might want to have our 1988 convention in Vermillion in conjunction with the museum. That was a pretty wild idea, but Tim went out to visit and saw what an incredible gem was hidden in the farmlands of South Dakota! It soon became apparent that not only was the museum a great treasure-trove for our members, but that we had found a great helper and GAL supporter in Joe Johnson. Joe made all the on-site arrangements and was there to do whatever needed to be done and whatever would make a better experience for the members. This included forgoing dinner to give after-hours museum tours, shuttling folks to and from the airport, and many other details in the extreme South Dakota temperatures, always wearing a tie and a smile. Whenever a problem needed to be solved, he enthusiastically arose to the challenge. (He had served in the Navy, and this showed in his ability to get things done and get along with folks.)

After experiencing the crazy fun of helping to organize a GAL Convention, Joe came to Tacoma to help out in 1990 and did many of the interviews with exhibitors that year. (You can experience Joe’s enthusiasm on our Luthier’s Show and Tell DVD). Things had gone so well at our 1988 convention in South Dakota (with Joe’s help), that we decided to go out to Vermillion again in 1992. That year we added a joint meeting with the Catgut Acoustical Society. Thanks to Joe, both these conventions were great successes. For our 1995 convention, Joe came out to Tacoma again especially to curate the special exhibit of D’Aquisto and D’Angelico archtop guitars from the collection of Paul Gudelsky. His expertise as a curator greatly enhanced this project. The photo above was taken at that convention.

After eleven years at the Shrine to Music Museum, Joe got a new position as the founding Curator of Music and Popular Culture at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon, Georgia. This was in his words, a “fun job” where he went around collecting artifacts from some of the great musicians who hailed from Georgia. Every once in a while we’d get an e-mail from Joe telling us about some amazing experience he had hanging out with musical icons like Little Richard, Chet Atkins, or the B-52s. We really enjoyed hearing about his trips, and it sounded like the right job for positive guy like Joe.

Joe was a family man and he is survived by his wife of thirty-five years, Lois, their three children, and four grandchildren. He was also a very religious man. He wasn’t afraid to express his deep Christian faith, and he lived it in the best possible way: always positive, service oriented, free of prejudice, and loving toward his fellow human beings. Joe was a musician who loved people, music, history, and musical instruments, and he will be missed.

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Review: Guitar and Vihuela: An Annotated Bibliography by Meredith Alice McCutcheon

Review: Guitar and Vihuela: An Annotated Bibliography by Meredith Alice McCutcheon

Reviewed by Joseph R. Johnson

Originally published in American Lutherie #9, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



Guitar and Vihuela: An Annotated Bibliography
Meredith Alice McCutcheon
Pendragon Press, 1985
$64 from amazon.com

In 1978 David B. Lyons published his book, Lute, Vihuela, Guitar to 1800: A Bibliography (Detroit Studies in Music Bibliography, 1978). Although the vihuela and guitar were included, the bulk of his information concerned the lute. There was not enough material in the book to satisfy the ever-growing need for information about the early guitar and vihuela. In 1980 James Tyler’s book, The Early Guitar: A History and Handbook, (London: Oxford University Press, 1980), was published, and it too only partially satisfied the need. What was needed was a bibliography that dealt specifically with the guitar and the vihuela.

Ms. McCutcheon’s annotated bibliography is an attempt to fill that need. In her words, the bibliography “is intended to fill the need for an annotated reference tool for the study of the guitar and vihuela. It contains literature on composers, performers, theorists, music and analysis, iconography, and design and construction in both an historical context and in a technical one.”

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This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

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Review: Guitar and Vihuela: An Annotated Bibliography by Meredith Alice McCutcheon

Reviewed by Joseph R. Johnson

Originally published in American Lutherie #9, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



Guitar and Vihuela: An Annotated Bibliography
Meredith Alice McCutcheon
Pendragon Press, 1985
$64 from amazon.com

In 1978 David B. Lyons published his book, Lute, Vihuela, Guitar to 1800: A Bibliography (Detroit Studies in Music Bibliography, 1978). Although the vihuela and guitar were included, the bulk of his information concerned the lute. There was not enough material in the book to satisfy the ever-growing need for information about the early guitar and vihuela. In 1980 James Tyler’s book, The Early Guitar: A History and Handbook, (London: Oxford University Press, 1980), was published, and it too only partially satisfied the need. What was needed was a bibliography that dealt specifically with the guitar and the vihuela.

Ms. McCutcheon’s annotated bibliography is an attempt to fill that need. In her words, the bibliography “is intended to fill the need for an annotated reference tool for the study of the guitar and vihuela. It contains literature on composers, performers, theorists, music and analysis, iconography, and design and construction in both an historical context and in a technical one.”

The wide scope of references included texts about the guitar and vihuela written in Catalan, Danish, English, French, German, Italian, Latin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish (including Central and South American countries), Swedish, and Ukrainian. The exclusion of exhibition catalogs of instrument collections and museum catalogs is a major disadvantage. In light of the ever-increasing interest in early music, it is important that such reference tools include the locations of extant, representative instruments. Considering the diverse language sources listed above, this is a major flaw.

The layout of the book is straightforward. There is a three-section introduction in which the author discusses the historiography of the guitar and vihuela, presents how to identify and locate music for the two instruments, and explains the purpose, contents, and organization of the bibliography. McCutcheon explains that she lists only the general articles about the guitar and vihuela which are found in two major sources, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London: Macmillan, 1980) and Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Kassel: Barenreiter, 1956). “Biographical articles on composers and performers in guitar history with bibliographies of music and literature are also cited in these works,” she notes, but are not listed in her book. The reader is referred, instead, to reviews by Peter Danner and John Duarte in recent issues of Soundboard magazine, for “further evaluation of the inadequacies of Grove.”

McCutcheon also lists where she did her research. All of the libraries — as well as the services of the Guitar Foundation of America, the interlibrary loan system of the New York Public Library, and the resources of University Microfilms International — are located in the United States. There is no mention of
European or South American libraries. This is a major drawback for a reference tool of such scope. For example, only one article about guitar makers of Argentina is included, and it is not Argentine, but rather American (Banjo, Mandolin, and Guitar, LXVI/765, Jan. 1965). The same problem can be cited for Spanish makers, where of five sources only two are from Spain itself.

In chapters II through VII one finds lists of studies of specific individuals. However, individual luthiers are not listed under their appropriate historical period, as are composers and performers, but rather in the last chapter, “Design and Construction.” Among the luthiers included are Joachim Tielke, Antonio de Torres, and C.F. Martin, as well as a long list of 20th century luthiers that includes the Ramírez family, Hermann Hauser, and David Rubio. In the same chapter is a section listing dictionaries of luthiers. Rene Vannes’ well-known book, Dictionnaire universel des luthiers, is listed there, but dictionaries of Italian luthiers are not; they are found under Italy in the second chapter, “National Histories.” Thankfully, every entry is numbered consecutively and cross-references are easily located.

It is difficult to overlook the failure to list American Lutherie, the journal of the Guild of American Luthiers, in Appendix I: “Periodicals Devoted to the Guitar and Other Fretted Instruments.” Another important source not listed is the new book, The Guitar Bibliography, by Werner Schwarz (Munich: K.G. Saur, 1984). On the other hand, it is refreshing to find a source that lists references concerning American popular music. In particular, there are references to the American Guild of Banjoists, Mandolinists, and Guitarists, as well as important American performers within that society such as guitarists William Foden and George C. Krick. Many such references are found in major, turn-of-the-century periodicals that dealt with the then-popular mandolin orchestras, The Cadenza, The Crescendo, and Frets.

In conclusion, Ms. McCutcheon’s bibliography is a good general reference tool, which, although it has flaws, can yield rewarding information. It falls short of being a thorough international bibliography, but will prove valuable to guitar and vihuela teachers, students, and luthiers.

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