At 770 pages, Vintage Fretted Instruments is a hefty tome full of eye candy photography, instrument history and the science of tone. Readers will better understand the construction and tonal difference between various competing makes of guitars, mandolins and banjos. Helpful information for creating an instrument collection is provided as well as insights into the effects of age and long term playing on the tone of fretted instruments.


From the staid Victorian parlor to Woodstock, sweeping cultural changes in America have been accompanied by new musical styles and instrumentation. The simple handmade fretless banjos of minstrelsy gave way to the modern, often exquisitely crafted, fretted banjos of the classic banjo orchestra and later the powerful resonator banjos of the jazz era. Carved top mandolins were created in the early twentieth century for the popular mandolin orchestras and clubs of the day but by the 1940s would join the banjo in defining the emerging sound of bluegrass. The guitar was transformed dramatically from the small gut string guitar to steel string flattops and archtops and later the electric guitar. The steel guitar and ukulele gave voice to Hawaiian music. With the rise of jazz, blues, country, bluegrass and rock, builders large and small competed to meet the needs of musicians with constant innovation and novel designs. This continual refinement has produced a diverse assortment of classic fretted instruments with unique and inspiring voices. Vintage Fretted Instruments celebrates this musical legacy with an informative and practical reference for collectors of old guitars, mandolins and banjos. Topics are wide ranging including construction differences between makes, historical overviews of the different instrument manufacturers and helpful information for amassing and maintaining a collection. Suggested tunings, string types and gauges for a host of unusual instruments are also furnished. Portraits of mandolin, guitar and banjo family instruments are provided along with detailed photos, including x-ray and infrared images where needed, to illustrate finer construction details. Psychological motivators for collecting are discussed along with a summary of recent research on the effects of age and long term playing on the tone of vintage instruments.

About the Author

Over the years, Matt has developed a keen interest in soundhole dust bunnies. While he loathes describing himself brag-idociously in the third person, he is, in fact, a fine picker who has been collecting and studying old guitars, mandolins and banjos since before anyone called them “vintage.” Born in Galax, VA, home of the Fiddler’s Convention, and raised in the small cotton mill town of Draper, NC, he has an abiding love of the old time folk and southern gospel music passed down to him by his parents and grandparents. He has traveled and lived abroad, and while his writing has a home spun style, he presents technical material in a user friendly easy to understand fashion. With a touch of geekiness about physics and acoustics, Matt intrepidly ventures upon troll infested water to compare competing instrument designs and to tackle the oft’ debated questions of why and how tone changes as string instruments age and are played.

Finally, we should add that Matt has had a "real" career working in the quality, safety and environmental compliance field.  He is a two time alum of dear ole UNC with a graduate degree in environmental engineering and for some years kept his hair coiffured and close-cropped to hide his true identity as a garage band weekend warrior from his fellow corporate execs. On a personal note, Matt and his wife Nivine have two remarkably kindhearted kids, Jacob and Rowan, whose images are shamelessly used in the book, and a wagly butt dog of boundless energy named Yogi.  Jacob created and manages this website.

Contact: matthewswoods@hotmail.com