Home » Jazz Articles » Immortal Axes: Guitars That Rock

Book Review

Immortal Axes: Guitars That Rock


Sign in to view read count
Immortal Axes: Guitars That Rock
Lisa S. Johnson
388 pages
ISBN: # 978-1648960239
Princeton Architectural Press

Sometimes a guitar is just a guitar. More often, however, it's a talisman or a totem, a combination of toy and weapon, simultaneous object of love and hate. Above all, though, it's an eternal object of fascination the likes of which inspired Lisa S. Johnson's Immortal Axes.

In its three-hundred ninety hardbound pages measuring just shy of twelve square inches, this sequel to 108 Rock Star Guitars (Glitterati, 2013) constitutes a suitably hefty, weighty homage to what is arguably the most versatile of all musical instruments. The given range of sounds available within its acoustic and electric configurations certainly outnumbers the entries that comprises this table of contents, but ostensible omissions aside based on personal taste (power popster Matthew Sweet?), there's hardly a famous name missing.

Regardless, Guitars That Rockis a feast for the eyes. In fact, it's well nigh impossible to direct the attention away from the stunning color photos and read the accompanying text authored by Johnson, related to the history of the objects as well as her photo shoots (more than one error appears in the copy for Duane Allman's Les Paul Goldtop though). Difficult as it thus may be to fathom, the stories of how these various instruments were manufactured and/or customized is equally enlightening.

Whether it's the pretzel-shaped axe of the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia or the double-neck Gibson of Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, the combination of images and prose illuminate the utilitarian aspect of the objects as much as the creative component. And, as with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh's Alembic instrument, the most ornate of structures built into the respective pieces can also reflect the potential for subtle, sophisticated sounds.

Particularly for those who automatically think the word 'electric' when hearing the word 'guitar,' there are surprises aplenty within Immortal Axes. And that's apart from the gazing at the design of and reading the backstory about the three-neck bass of Yes' Chris Squire of the fretless model used by Rick Danko of The Band. California folk-rock's poet laureate Jackson Browne's acoustic Gibsons, like Stephen Stills,' may epitomize the 'wooden' instrument, but those photos don't prepare a reader for the sight of Elvis Presley's many such instruments or his long-time guitarist James Burton's dobros, those in addition to his Telecaster.

Such is the range of artists included here, most but not all of which are readily-recognizable names. Steve Salas is one of the least handily identifiable, but then his role is one of a largely behind-the-scenes session musician. Yet his appearance is indicative of the broad scope of this book, the breadth and depth of which matches the variety of designs of the instruments, many of which are distinguished by their vintage nature. The well-worn 1961 Fender of late great Irish bluesman Rory Gallagher's is one of those, as is Jeff Beck's of the same make, dating from the decade prior. In fact, all manner of icons populate these pages, among which Freddie King and B.B. King, along with John Lee Hooker, are just three: the custom-made Gretsch Chet Atkins plied as the tool of his trade is included too.

Supervised by 'Guitar World' magazine's long-time editor Brad Tolinski, the fundamental beauty of Immortal Axes lies in such multiple distinctions. Ergo, the many different ways to enjoy it. Most obviously is processing the content through the photos alone or via the text by itself. But those are only the most obvious means: fans can seek out their favorite players or scan by genre as well. And then there's just investigating the names that pique the curiosity, like Pantera's Dimebag Darrell. Fame (or lack thereof) apart, the passion abides regardless of the profile(s) under discussion. And that is as it should be, because allegiance to the art of music itself is the primary inspiration for this compendium of insight and information.

Nick Steinhardt's skeleton-cum-zombie skull image on the front of Immortal Axes somewhat belies its eclectic reach, as does its subtitle Guitars That Rock. Between the foreword from Peter Frampton and the afterward from Suzi Quatro, Lisa S. Johnson documents instruments of choice from a broad range of stringed-instrument wizards in the rock country, pop and jazz fields and, in doing so, illustrates how devotion to craft transcends a given individual's chosen field. The devoted effort of every personage represented in this tome, whether musician, luthier or collector, reflects the pride they take in their work, a dedication in turn mirrored by the woman whose byline adorns its cover.

Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.

Post a comment




Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and includes upcoming jazz events near you.