Book Review: Raggin’ Jazzin’ Rockin’ : A History of American Musical Instrument Makers

Raggin' Jazzin' Rockin'Raggin’ Jazzin’ Rockin’ : A History of American Musical Instrument Makers by Susan VanHecke. Boyds Mills Press. 2011.

Fender probably isn’t a household name for most people, but if you happen to be married to a “guitar geek” (as I am), the name not only rings a bell but you can also tell the difference between a Telecaster and a Jazzmaster. Thanks to Raggin’ Jazzin’ Rockin’: A History of American Musical Instrument Makers, I can tell the difference and tell you the names of the various versions that the Fender Telecaster went through before becoming the Tele we know today. Perfect for impressing my husband and our musician friends!

Leo Fender is just one of many instrument makers profiled in this book. Others were familiar to me, like Ludwig (drums) and Zildjian (cymbals), and others I vaguely recognized but didn’t know much about, like Steinway (pianos), Conn (brass instruments), and Hammond (organs). The stories behind the companies are stories of craft or invention. Leo Fender was not a guitar player; he was an inventor with an interest in electronics. Avedis Zildjian was a craftsman who passed the secret formula for his cymbals down to his sons for generations.

They are also stories of history and economics. These companies had to change a lot through the years to make it through wars, the Great Depression, or family changes. There were mergers, buy-outs, and even buy-backs. It’s a lot of ground to cover in such a small book (especially considering the copious sidebars about the musicians who played the instruments under discussion), but veteran music writer VanHecke (Rock ‘n’ Roll Soldier with Dean Ellis Kohler) keeps the narrative focused with interesting stories and irresistible trivia.

Give this book to the musicians all of ages in your life, but don’t stop there. History buffs, inventors, and others are also likely to find this book fascinating.

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