Guitar Book’s $1,500 Price Suits Huge Package, $40,000 Dragons

"The Rawlins" (1700) guitar by Stradivarius. The image of the flat-top acoustic guitar is included in "The Guitar Collection: An Elite Gathering of 150 Exceptional Guitars." Photographer: Marco Prozzo/Epic Ink Books via Bloomberg

She’s a beauty, with an hourglass figure and just a few years over 300.

The honey-hued guitar, which Antonio Stradivari made in 1700 on a break from violins, is the first of 150 exceptional strummables featured in “The Guitar Collection,” an unusual piece of work itself.

It’s 23” wide by 11.25” tall and weighs 21 pounds. As a guitar-loving colleague noted while gawking, this is a coffee-table book big enough to be one.

The 512 pages bear more than 670 images, and the multiple photographs for each guitar include the kind of close-up look you’d never get for many of these rare specimens without steaming up a vitrine.

Add a heavy black leather hard case in which yet another, normal-size book is secreted in a panel of the plush lining, plus a print signed by one of the three photographers -- one print for each of the three limited editions of 1,500. Finger-picking good doesn’t cover it, but $1,500 will.

A group of experts chose the 150 instruments based on historical, aesthetic and celebrity value. Then a lot of negotiating followed to get access from private owners and collections, according to Jenifer Gonzalez, marketing specialist at the book’s publisher, Epic Ink of Bellevue, Washington.

Breakthrough and beauty don’t always coexist. I’d vote “Yes” on the National resonator, with its 1928 metal oddity. I can manage a “Maybe” for the 1937 Rickenbacker featuring the “Doc Kauffman-designed motorized vibrola tailpiece, which used an electric motor, flywheel and solenoid assembly” to create “Hawaiian-style vibrato effects.”

Pink Paisley

As for the pink paisley Telecaster that Fender made for James Burton in 1969, he put it best himself: “Oh, my God, no. This is not me.”

Walter Carter, a guitar historian and sales manager with Gruhn Guitars of Nashville, wrote the main text for the big book, putting flesh on some of the famous names.

For a circa 1834 Martin, Carter notes that Christian Frederick Martin left Germany “to get away from a dispute between the guild of violin makers and the guitar makers, who belonged to the guild of cabinetmakers” and arrived in Manhattan in 1833. Orville Gibson, he writes, worked as a shoe-store clerk in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the 1890s before he started making guitars.

The number of “played by” guitars will impress a range of fans: Tampa Red, Jimmie Rodgers, Gene Autry, Elvis Presley, Lead Belly, Charlie Christian and many more. Here’s the 1928 Gibson L-5 Maybelle Carter played for 50 years, and the 1939 Martin 000-42 Eric Clapton handled for the historic “MTV Unplugged” in January 1992.

Beck’s Fender Esquire

The battered 1954 Fender Esquire with which Jeff Beck played on Yardbirds hits “I’m a Man,” “Shapes of Things” and “Heart Full of Soul” gets its due: “For the first time in pop music, the guitar leads were just as important as the lead vocal -- more important, many would argue,” writes Alan di Perna, one of three writers for the smaller book’s excellent back stories.

Eye candy abounds. A gorgeous inlaid rose by Danny Ferrington graces the 1955 Gibson J-200 played by Emmylou Harris. “Over the top” might describe the Paul Reed Smith double-neck on which two dragons in inlaid mother-of-pearl, abalone, fossilized mammoth ivory and various woods face each other while their tails ascend the necks of the guitar. When it was made as a limited edition item in 2005, it cost $40,000.

The book that gathers all these beauties costs a good deal less, yet bears its own uniqueness, in terms of size and visual access to such rarities, along with a hefty history of the instrument. That’s a treat for any player who sighs at his homely old six-string.

Take heart, though: Nothing in this lovely tome can match the buzz of pulling out old homely after a hard day’s work and hitting the matchless chord that opens “A Hard Day’s Night.”

“The Guitar Collection: An Elite Gathering of 150 Exceptional Guitars” is published by Epic Ink Books (512 pages, $1,500; the first 10 numbered copies for each edition cost $3,000 and number 11 to 100 cost $2,000). The book can be ordered at, John Varvatos stores and

(Jeffrey Burke is an editor with Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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