The acoustic guitar is as American as apple pie. It's what puts the melancholy in our country melodies. What gives us those ultra-thoughtful looking moments on sappy music award shows. It's also brought to us by an immigrant.
A new book points to evidence that the acoustic guitar was actually a creation of — gasp! — the original Hispanic immigrants, Spaniards in New York City.
It’s all documented in the lengthy-titled academic tome, Inventing the American Guitar: The Pre-Civil War Innovations of C.F. Martin and His Contemporaries.
Martin himself was an immigrant to New York City, arriving from his native Saxony in 1833. Already a luthier, he became known for European-style guitars of the time, marked by scrolled headstocks and intricate decorative elements.
But attendance at some Spanish guitar performances changed it all for Martin. He soon partnered up with a Spanish guitarist and luthier, John Coupa, who encouraged him to morph his style into a more Spanish one, with a flat top.
That soon became the vaguely X-shaped acoustic guitar design we recognize today, which became popular with a non-Spanish audience around the 1840s in part because of Martin’s influence. We gladly invite racists and anti-immigration musicians to ponder that as they strum their instruments at their next misguided rally.
Soon, fans can also check out more of these early designs at an accompanying exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Early American Guitars: The Instruments of C. F. Martin” opens there in January 2014, and you can read full details at martinguitar.com.
Arielle Castillo is Fusion's culture editor, reporting on arts, music, culture, and subcultures from the streets on up. She's also a connoisseur of weird Florida, weightlifting, and cats.