MIM opens new electric guitar exhibit featuring the oldest, rarest guitars


SCOTTSDALE –The electric guitar is typically associated with popular music icons like Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and Pete Townshend. However, decades before the Rock and Roll Era occurred American musicians were experimenting with electric amplification, ultimately inventing the instrument that would revolutionize music and pop culture forever.

The Musical Instrument Museum’s (MIM) newest exhibit The Electric Guitar Inventing an American Icon, shows this instrument in a completely new context, showcasing more than 80 of the rarest electric guitars and amplifiers in the world. Including instruments from the its most experimental period of the 1930s and ‘40s.

Photo courtesy of MIM
Photo courtesy of MIM

“The electric guitar is the perfect example of people embracing new technology to make music,” said the curator of the exhibit, Rich Walter, as he explains that the invention of the radio spurred musicians to experiment with the new technology for new and unique sounds. “There are some extraordinary rare and though provoking instruments.”

The exhibit is displayed in three main parts almost in chronological order, shedding light on how the electric guitar was an evolving experiment. Telling lesser known stories of the pioneers who were integral to the instrument’s evolution, to the influential musicians who would later make the instrument iconic.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is Alvino Rey’s Electro A-25 from 1932, which is likely the first electric guitar ever played on a national broadcast. Rey is considered the “Father of the Electric Guitar,” and directly contributed to research and development of amplified instruments for brands like Gibson and Fender.

Another striking thing about the exhibit is how many of the earlier examples of electric guitars hardly resemble the instrument today, with some truly looking like a science experiment. While some of the oldest guitars in the exhibit are considered Hawaiian-style that were large and laid flat on a musician’s lap. Other guitars bordered on folk art.

Another remarkable piece the MIM procured is Pete Townshend’s “#5” Gibson Les Paul Deluxe from 1976 that was a staple of his live performances as he elevated the drama of Rock and Roll.

By far and large though the best part of this new exhibit is all the names and instruments you’ve never heard of or seen before, and learning the untold stories of musicians who dared to become radical inventors. These instruments and people ultimately shaped American music – all music – forever.

“This will be a memorable exhibition, revealing the deep history of the electric guitar and its impact over the years,” said Walter. “Some of these guitars launched entirely new genres of music!

The exhibit also features audio and video footage throughout to compliment the rarest collection curated of electric guitars and amplifiers. It also includes a variety of other amplified instruments like a zither, ukuleles and more.

Some other highlights include:

  • Audiovox model 336 Duo double-neck (circa 1936)
  • Charlie Christian’s Gibson ES-250 (1940)
  • Paul Bigsby “Standard” guitar (1949)
  • Bo Diddley’s “The Bad Dude” (1998)
  • The “Goldtop” (1952) Gibson’s first version of the Les Paul

If you are a musician, rock and roll enthusiast or a lover of history do not miss out on “The Electric Guitar: Inventing an American Icon,” which is open from now until September 15, 2019, and will also include supplemental programming.

Visit our website at TheFoothillsFocus.com to see video footage of the new MIM display.

For information, tickets or questions visit MIM.org.

Video courtesy of MIM


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