Electric Love: Guitars at the Musical Instrument Museum

Jason P. WoodburyDecember 1, 2018
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A new installation at the MIM rocks harder than the average exhibit

No one can pinpoint the precise moment when the electric guitar came into existence, but there’s little doubt that the handful of inventors who shaped, crafted and refined it lived in the United States. The country’s relationship with the instrument is the subject of The Electric Guitar: Inventing an American Icon, a new exhibition on display through September 2019 at the Musical Instrument Museum (mim.org). Featuring more than 80 guitars from the private collection of historian Lynn Wheelwright, the exhibition traces the guitar from its earliest usage by artists like Charlie Christian, whose plugged-in guitar thrilled audiences in 1937, to The Who’s impossibly loud Pete Townshend. Here, three of the most intriguing selections.

Alvino Rey’s Electro A-25 (1932) (above left)
Jazz guitarist Alvino Rey was pivotal in popularizing the sound of electrified instruments. His electronic prowess led to him advising Gibson as the company created a pickup based on elements of the one Rey had originally developed for banjo.

Paul Bigsby’s “Standard” Guitar (1949) (above middle)
Pioneering the solid-body guitar, inventor Paul Bigsby provided the “Standard” to Tommy “Butterball” Paige of country singer Ernest Tubb’s band and inspired guitar maker Leo Fender’s standard-setting Telecaster and Stratocaster models.

Bo Diddley’s “The Bad Dude” (1998) (above right)
Rock original Bo Diddley famously possessed enormous hands, which he used to great effect with his percussive riffs on a series of box-shape and offset guitars. The Bad Dude was his “dream guitar,” designed with blues guitarist Charlie Tona a decade before Diddley’s passing in 2008. Complete with a drum machine input, it’s as unique an instrument as Diddley was a player.

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