Books about music and musical instruments

MusicBooks Press publishes workshop manuals s on how to build stringed musical instruments and books on musical instrument history.

The Bouzouki Book was published in 2004 and is a guide to building Irish (flat-backed) bouzoukis and citterns. It is available as a print publication and an ebook.

That was followed in 2008 by The Mandolin Project. This covers the construction of four different styles of mandolin, from a simple flat mandolin to a fully carved A style instrument. This is also available as a printed book and an ebook.

The Mandolin - a history was published in 2016 and is the first comprehensive history of the mandolin around the world. It is over 400 pages with more that 350 colour illustrations. It is available as printed book as well as in ePub and Kindle formats for computers, tablets and readers.

The most recent publication has been The Ukulele - an illustrated workshop manual. This has information on building five different styles of ukulele, from a soprano ukulele in the style of the Hawaiian builders of the late 19th century to a contemporary styled concert size, a tenor ukulele and a baritone. In print and ebook formats.

There are a couple more books in preparation.

MusicBooks Press is distributed in the US and Canada by the Independent Publishing Group, based in Chicago, so any of these books should be available through any good bookshop. For Australian buyers there are copies of The Mandolin Project and The Ukulele Book available, but the other will need to be ordered through Amazon or other on-line retailers.

It is always good to get reviews, especially when they are favourable. Here is a review of The Ukulele from guitar and ukulele builder Fred Casey:


First things first. Before I actually start talking about this book, I feel full disclosure is in order. The next few paragraphs are going to be about me.

First of all, I love the `ukulele. I’ve always loved underdog stories, and for sizeable chunks of its 140-year history the uke has been about as under a dog as could be. (Especially in the post-Tiny Tim, pre-Jake Shimabukuro period.) This little instrument is so beginner-friendly, yet capable of the highest levels of virtuosity. In the last ten years or so, `ukuleles have made up about 85% of my production.

Next, I’m a bibliophile. Books have always been important in my life, so much so that for thirty-odd years my day job was as a teacher of English Literature. Next to a good jam session, a good read is just about the best thing there is.

Finally, I’m a huge fan of Graham McDonald. He blends a deep respect for tradition with a mind open to new things and different approaches. Add to that a capacity for meticulous research, and you’ve got a winning combination. Plus, he’s eager to share what he has learned: his previous books, “The Bouzouki Book” and “The Mandolin: a History”, as well as the articles he’s contributed to this journal, amply attest to that.

So when `ukulele-book-Graham McDonald come together, you might say I’m favourably pre-disposed. I’m going to have to work to keep my biases under control here.

“The Ukulele: an Illustrated Workshop Manual” is that, and more. McDonald begins with an overview of the four most common sizes of `ukulele. This is followed by an eight-page history of the instrument, beginning with the arrival in Hawaii in 1879 of immigrants from the Portuguese Madeira Islands, who brought with them the machete, the little four-stringed instrument that would quickly evolve into the `ukulele. It’s a fascinating story, involving royal patronage, vaudeville entertainers, pioneering plastics manufacturers, and more.

After the obligatory chapter on tools and materials, the author gets into the meat of the work, and this is where things really get fun. You see, he doesn’t just limit himself to one approach to building; he covers four, which he characterizes by the type of neck-to-body connection each uses. In case you’re wondering, the four are Spanish solera style; violin-type tapered mortise; bolt-on (two versions); and, the one that grabbed my attention,  a building style documented in a short silent film made by the Ford Motor Company in 1917. Why Ford would be making a flick about ukulutherie (ooh! I just invented a word!) is anybody’s guess, but McDonald suggests that this may have been the construction method used by the earliest uke makers in Hawaii.

McDonald then goes on to illustrate each of these building styles by documenting the construction of each of the different sizes, using one or other of the methods. Actually, the book covers the building of six `ukuleles: two styles of soprano (the wasp-waisted early style and the wider-bodied version most of us would recognize as a soprano); two tenors (a 12-fret and a 14-fret version); a concert and a baritone. He also includes chapters on rosettes and binding, bridge styles, and tuners.

By now you’ve probably gathered that I’m enthusiastic about this book, so I should find a few blemishes to carp about lest I be accused of shilling for Graham. For one thing, the introductory passage to a book is a “foreword”, not a “forward”. I was a bit surprised to see the dovetail neck connection not covered. And there must have been at one point the intention to use colour photos in the book, since a couple of times the captions refer to the colours of things as if we could see them! (That being said, the b&w photos are clear and sharp.) 

And another thing .... Nope, I’ve got nothing. I liked all the rest.

As I said at the beginning, I’ve built quite a few `ukuleles in the last decade. So I think I can lay claim to knowing a bit about the subject. In spite of that, I’m very glad I decided to buy this book. Different approaches to things, little refinements to techniques, there’s plenty to learn from here. I’m especially excited about trying out the “old island style” building method; it looks like fun!”

Graham McDonald Stringed Instruments

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                        Phone: 0402 026 962   +614 02 026 962

                        PO Box 365 Jamison 

                        ACT 2614 Australia