She Wrote the Book on Fakin' It


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She brought the guitar into vogue. She created the first “fake" books designed for regular folks who didn't want to or were unable to invest the time and effort to master the guitar. Who was she?

Catherina Josepha Pelzer was born in 1821 in Mulheim, on the Rhine. She was the daughter of Ferdinand Pelzer, a leading German guitarist during the early part of the 19th Century. Ferdinand began tutoring his daughter when she was quite young - a task made easier by the fact that young Catherina was quite the musical prodigy. She made her London concert debut at the age of seven. Soon after, her family moved from Germany to England where she received much critical acclaim and gained fame as a performer. Her concerts and recitals inspired people all over to pick up the guitar. Catherina later became much sought after as a guitar teacher, instructing the likes of the Princesses Louise and Beatrice, among others. In 1854 Catherina Pelzer married a renowned flautist and composer, and took the name by which she is more commonly remembered - Madame Sidney Pratten.

After some time as an instructor, she realized that many people were not inclined to invest the necessary effort to master the guitar. Many others simply did not possess the skills to do so. She had the solution, which came in the form of several publications. Her most popular and successful manual, Learning the Guitar Simplified, included easy exercises, each of which was followed by a simple song, along with diagrams of the fingerboard to show where the notes were found. She created another publication that color-coded each note in the diatonic scale. This was known, logically enough, as Colored Diagrams of the Notes of the Fingerboard of the Guitar. And for those who had very little time to practice, she put together Instructions for the Guitar Tuned in E Major. One tuning. No muss, no fuss.

Mme. Pratten died in 1895, leaving behind a wonderful legacy. She had brought the guitar into popularity by showing the world how beautifully it could be played and by making it easier for the average person to play it well - or at least close enough for rock and roll.

Alyce Chiles is the manager and official “appraisal typer-upper" of - a site for the vintage guitar enthusiast specializing in online guitar appraisals and vintage guitars in general. On the side she also writes freelance articles on everything from Prozac to Parenting. Learn more about Alyce and Vintage Guitars by visiting


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