State of the Axe

Guitar Masters in Photographs and Words

Ralph Gibson; Foreword by Anne Wilkes Tucker; Preface by Les Paul

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In this appealing book, acclaimed photographer Ralph Gibson offers more than sixty intimate black-and-white portraits of guitar masters playing their instruments. Focusing his expert lens on musicians who have lent their unmistakable voices to virtually every musical genre—jazz, funk, rock, acoustic, blues, fusion, classical, and experimental—Gibson reveals in each photograph the intense relationship of the player with his beloved “axe.”  The musicians in turn offer individual meditations on the guitar and insights into the passion they share for it.


State of the Axe features guitarists across several generations, from early jazz greats to hip modern rockers, as they play their widely varied guitars, including traditional six-strings, double necks, ten-strings, and fretless models. Gibson’s images capture the enduring appeal of the instrument and the intense, often rapturous expressions of those who pick, strum, amp, bottleneck, and bow the axe. Fusing his own passions for photography and music, Gibson generates a rhythm of words and images that creates a compelling view of the “state of the axe” today.


Among the featured artists:


Adrian Belew

Nels Cline

Jim Hall

Mary Halvorson

Allan Holdsworth

Bill Frisell

John McGlaughlin

Lou Reed

John Scofield

Mike Stern

Andy Summers

James Blood Ulmer

Ralph Gibson is an award-winning photographer whose works are in the collections of major museums worldwide. His previous books include Light Strings: Impressions of the Guitar (2004). He divides his time between New York City and Paris, France. Anne Wilkes Tucker is Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Les Paul is a revered guitarist.


The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (September 20, 2008 – January 19, 2009)

"The images . . . are quite striking . . . the text is equally interesting. . . . But the strength of the book lies in the ways the pictures and words come together. . . . this is instrumental erotica." —Kurt Gottschalk, All About Jazz
ISBN: 9780300142112
Publication Date: October 28, 2008
Co-publisher: Distributed for The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
184 pages, 8 1/4 x 11 3/4
89 duotone illus.
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