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"Martin D. Zehr" <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 10 Dec 2008 22:16:49 +0000
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For those who recently expressed an interest in the subject, I've dredged up
some information on the so-called Twain guitar from my own archives.  The
March, 1996 issue of Guitar Player magazine contains a one-page feature,
including a color photograph, of the suspect, with a brief history.  The
guitar is an 1860s vintage Martin parlor guitar, with its wooden "coffin"
case, then owned by Hank Risan of Washington Street Music in Santa Cruz,
California.  Hank Risan was, and is, an acknowledged expert on the subject
of American acoustic guitars generally.  On the subject of Mr. Clemens,
however, you be the judge.  The accompanying text includes the statement
"Twain must have bought the guitar second-hand to provide himself with
entertainment before leaving on his journey to Angels Camp, California, in
1860,  where he settled for several years at the cabin pictured in the

Twainiacs will of course recognize the errors in the above statement, and
also note that, in Roughing It, the bulky item he mentions taking with him
on the stagecoach from St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1861, is the pesky
dictionary which had a bad habit of shifting position at the least
convenient moments.  It should be noted that a Martin, then as now, would
have been an expensive instrument, even used, although the pictured parlor
guitar, as noted by Chris Gill, the author of the text, is of the "modern"
style that actually dates from the late 1860s.  The text also notes that
"Twain owned this guitar until his death in 1910, yet most historians are
unaware hat he was a guitarist."

I recall that there was a controversy at the time of the article regarding
the guitar's provenance, with a consensus that it was not, there being no
evidence linking the guitar to Twain.  Nonetheless, for those who are
interested in pursuing the possible link, check out page 152 of the March
edition of Guitar Player.

Martin Zehr
Kansas City, Missouri