State of the Axe – Ralph Gibson – Book Review

Guitar Masters in Photographs and Words (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)

It is not often you pick up a book about guitarists and find 12% of them play fretless guitar, or have at least had a track or two using fretless guitar.

State of the Axe

Ralph Gibson

Is a famous and highly skilled photographer who splits his time between New York and Paris. I was lucky enough to meet him briefly at the New York Fretless Guitar Festival in 2008. He was there to present his book to Elliot Sharp, Marco Oppedisano and Michelle Webb.

Ralph Gibson

Ralph Gibson – by Andrea Blanche 2013

State of the Axe

Ralph is known for working in Monochrome and this collection of pictures of guitarists is no exception, he is capturing the relationship between the musician and their instrument, but the book is more than just pictures. Each guitarist talks about this relationship and each story is a compact insight into their music and philosophy.

The Preface of the book is by Les Paul, and the Foreword by Anne Wilkes Tucker, which shows how respected Ralph Gibson is in both the musical world and the world of photography.

Let’s get back to 2008 and how I found out about the book, I was interviewing Michelle Webb (now Marcus Webb) about her work and she told me about the photo-shoot for Ralph Gibson and gave me this picture to use in the interview. It is not the picture used in the book but it gives you an idea of the power of Ralph’s work.

Michelle Webb

Picture by Ralph Gibson

The book was not released until a couple of months later and my chat with Ralph was prior to the interview so I didn’t realise who he was at the time, but we did have a nice chat about Elliot Sharp.

Who will this book appeal to? Well I would say anyone interested in the art of photographing guitarists, anyone interested in how guitarists view their instruments, and anyone with couple of hours to spend reading a gem of a book that is a pleasure to dip into again and again.

Fretless Guitarists appearing in State of the Axe.

Adrian Belew, Andy Summers, David Fiuczynski, Elliot Sharp, Fred Frith, John McLaughlin, Marc Ducret, Marco Oppedisano, Michelle Webb, Philip Catherine.

More Guitarists appearing in State of the Axe.

Al Di Meola, Alan Licht, Allan Holdsworth, Amanda Monaco, Andre LaFosse, Antoine Berthiaume, Apostolos Paraskevas, Arto Lindsay, Ava Mendoza, Badi Assad, Ben Monder, Ben Verdery, Bern Nix, Bill Frisell, Brandon Ross, Bruce Arnold, Charlie Hunter, Chuck Zwicky, David Byrne, David Torn, David Tronzo, Dom Minasi, Dominic Frasca, G. E. Smith, Gene Bertoncini, Gyan Riley, Hans Tammen, Henry Kaiser, James Blood Ulmer, Jef Lee Johnson, Jeff Parker, Jeff Richman, Jim Campilongo, Jim Hall, Joe Morris, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, José Luis Beltrón Diaz, Keith Rowe, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Larry Coryell, Leni Stern, Les Paul, Liberty Ellman, Loren Connors, Lou Reed, Marc Ribot, Mary Halvorson, Michael Gregory, Mick Goodrick, Mike Stern, Nels Cline, Pat Martino, Ralph Towner, Raoul Björkenheim, Reggie Lucas, Rhys Chatham, Sheryl Bailey, Simone Massaron, Steve Cardenas, Terrence McManus, Thomas Toivonen, Tim Miller, Tisziji Munoz, Trey Gunn, Uwe Kropinski, Vernon Reid, Vinicius Cantuária, Wayne Krantz, William Brown, Wolfgang Muthspiel.


Paperback: 192 pages high quality paper.
Publisher: Yale University Press (2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0300142110
ISBN-13: 978-0300142112
Dimensions: 20.8 x 2 x 29.5 cm (8 1/2 x 11 3/4 inches)
Cost (RRP) £14.99 $24.99


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