Books You Should Read
December 11, 2007
by Neville Marten
Naming a book Guitar Heaven is a ballsy move, to be sure. Considering that “Guitar Heaven” is a place most of us have dreamed of at one point or another, the title of this book sets up some incredible expectations from the outset, without really explaining what it is. Is this book some sort of postmortem recollection of history’s greatest rock guitarists? An exploration of what happens to guitars when they’re past their prime? Or is it just a lot of guitars, assembled together for our viewing pleasure?
It turns out there’s a little bit of each in this book, published by Collins Design and encased in a gloriously colorful hardcover package. Written by Neville Marten, editor for both Guitarist and Guitarist Techniques magazines, this book strives to tell the story of the instrument and its evolution, right alongside popular music’s maturation.
Billed as “a fascinating collection of stories of 50 legendary electric guitars,” Guitar Heaven spans the gamut from intriguing (the Burns Marvin) to tired (the Les Paul and Stratocaster) to the downright questionable (the Yamaha Pacifica) in 220 highly-colored, glossed-out pages. Of course, that’s not to say that readers won’t be able to glean some cool info here; the story behind Brian May’s Red Special is fun for those who haven’t heard it before, and seeing unique guitars like the Parker Fly up-close-andpersonal is always a plus. But when it comes to absolute legends like the Gibson Les Paul or the Fender Telecaster, the stories have all been told before and in greater depth.
That’s not a slag on Marten, mind you. The intended audience is most likely not interested in wiring schematics or seeing original factory production records; this book is designed to sit conspicuously on your coffee table and provide guests with some beautiful eye-candy. Purists and tech-freaks can look elsewhere; Guitar Heaven simply celebrates the guitars and the culture behind them. -AM
The Soul of Tone: Celebrating 60 Years of Fender Amps
By Tom Wheeler
Tom Wheeler’s latest tome takes nothing for granted, which this far into the vintage craze is an accomplishment unto itself, deftly educating unenlightened readers on the subject matter’s inherent triviality while never once holding up those more studied. But despite these achievements, The Soul of Tone suffers from an identity crisis of sorts – it can’t quite decide if it wants to be a light-hearted coffee table affair or serious reference book. The book’s reverential tone is set in a candid and loving forward by Keith Richards and carries through the rest of the book with more than a few great quotes from contributing heavyweights along the way. One of the many standouts includes Victoria Amps’ Mark Baier, who offers, “The guy who drew those schematics was the Michelangelo of electronic draftsmen.” Another occurs in the forward, while Keith recounts his first run-in with a Twin, “Oh yeah! There it is! Meet the wife!”
Those two quotes also point out the dilemma of a book of this scope. It vacillates between being about the product of Leo Fender’s labor and Leo himself. Acknowledging that one could never exist without the other, it still wanders more than its fair share. Insightful quotes from those who worked closely with Leo are featured early on, a polite and non-assumptive primer on basic tube circuits follows a couple of chapters later, and then it’s back to fawning over the man who made it all possible, comparing him to such giants of design as Raymond Loewy and Henry Dreyfuss. Still later, we’re facing more technical details, albeit beautifully photographed ones, before having the token famous Fender users traipsed out again.
Aren’t Mr. Fender’s designs worthy of such accolades? Certainly. But in its effort to cover so much ground, The Soul of Tone ends up becoming almost daunting for the casual reader, with plenty of engaging photography and a fetching layout still unable to mask the reality that this book is ultimately too broad in scope for a simple coffee table read and not easy enough to navigate to be proper work of reference. -JE