Georgia Institute of Technology, B.S.,
History, Technology, and Society, 2003;
University of Delaware, M.A., History, 2005.
History of technology, business history, music and sound recording, material culture studies, 20th century U.S. social and cultural history, the American Southwest
"The Acoustic Guitar in American Culture, 1880-1980"
From the glistening all-metal instruments made by the National String Instrument Corporation to the traditionally crafted products of C.F. Martin, the acoustic guitar is perhaps one of the most iconic images in American culture. This project examines the interplay between makers and users in the social construction of the acoustic guitar, an object that became the instrument of choice for the American masses in the 20th century. Over the course of nearly a century from 1880 to 1980, American manufacturers and musicians influenced the composition, appearance, style, and sound of a series of acoustic fretted instruments.
The result was the creation of a uniquely flexible and distinctly American guitar that was easy to play, hard to break, and extremely portable. Musicians, both amateur and professional, learned and developed the skills that allowed the guitar to be adapted by and interwoven through a myriad of musical genres that include blues, country, folk, and, most notably, rock and roll. An instrument initially identified with the 19th century middle-class parlor, the guitar evolved over time to become one of the most popular and ubiquitous instruments in the United States. This story promises to enrich historians’ understandings of how industrialization changed the production, meaning, and use of this distinctive artifact.
To make sense of this complex story, I have organized the dissertation into three thematic and chronological sections. The first section utilizes a comparative analysis of the innovations, manufacturing methods, and marketing techniques of three prominent late 19th century guitar makers: the immigrant luthier C. F. Martin, the innovative woodworker Orville Gibson, and the established music house of Lyon and Healy, the maker of Washburn guitars. The second section explores the influence and impact of ethnic musical traditions and innovations, such as the mandolin, ukulele, and Hawaiian steel guitar, on both musicians and manufacturers. The third section investigates how musicians in the 20th century playing in various musical styles adopted the guitar and turned it into an instrument of mass culture amidst the rising popularity of the electric guitar. My research utilizes a variety of sources including musical instruments, business ephemera, oral histories, periodicals, sheet music, and sound recordings. This project will encompass perspectives from the fields of business, social, and cultural history as well the study of material culture and the history of technology.
“Andy Bozanic explores the history of the acoustic guitar” podcast, Prototype Online: Inventive Voices podcast series from the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., July 2009.
“Six-Shooters and Six-Strings: How Cowboys and Rural Musicians Made the Acoustic Guitar the Instrument of the American Masses, 1920-1960,” presentation for the University of Delaware Department of History Workshop, December 2011.