Museum of the Rockies has amped up the summer with GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked the World, a touring exhibition provided by the National GUITAR Museum that explores every facet of the most iconic musical instrument of the 20th Century. It seems made for Bozeman, home of the world-renowned Gibson Guitar factory and notable independent craftsmen and luthiers. Guitars built here are played by famous musicians around the world, making it no surprise that this exhibit has been an instant hit.
GUITAR delves into every aspect of its namesake, from its role in popular culture to the science of sound, and how its development is enmeshed with the evolution of music genres and crosses cultural boundaries. It is strategically designed for a fully-immersive experience, weaving guests through showpiece models, historical presentations, hands-on interactives, and performance videos. Over 60 guitars and nearly 100 artifacts help to illustrate the transformation of one of the best-loved instruments of our time, from the conception of progressive innovations to their reception by the public.
Each guitar is accompanied by details about its makers, relevance, longevity, and acclaim. Ranging from the rare to the popular, each piece presented played its part to revolutionize music as we know it. A few highlights include: a Gibson “Lucille”, signed by B.B. King; a Fender Stratocaster, whose archetypal horned shape has remained true for over 60 years; a Martin Dreadnaught, embraced by country and folk singers for its big acoustic sound; the oldest surviving Fabricatore six string; a 3-D printed guitar; and the “Rock Ock” 8-neck guitar. Gibson models abound, their ages spanning the company’s history.
Visitors are invited to pluck the strings of a Gibson Flying V replica, certified by Guinness as the world’s largest playable guitar. The 43.5-foot long behemoth sends an unusual sound through the amplifier. Though its 2,240 pounds make a jam session prohibitive, standard-size acoustic and electric guitars are also available to play. Breathtaking photos of world-class guitarists pepper the walls, as do videos and touchscreens that offer fun ways to discover the intricacies of physics, sound, and engineering.
Guests can play the “Diddley Bow” whose notes are made by a metal slide on a single string or use pipes and a striking pad to demonstrate pitch and volume control. Creative tools make sound waves visible and explain frequencies, sound effects, and decibels. A disassembled acoustic guitar reveals how its powerful sound originates from delicate parts, while a newly glued body is precisely wrapped in rope, applying exacting pressure as it cures. A traditional luthier’s workbench is recreated, complete with everything required to build a guitar by hand. For those who prefer to rock, there are plenty of electric guitar demonstrations from electromagnetism to amplification.
In concert with the exhibition, MOR is offering two more opportunities to tune in. At “Music Mondays” (running through August 20th) participants make guitars from recycled materials, listen to local musicians strumming on the Plaza over lunch, enjoy a guided tour of GUITAR, and take an in-depth look inside the instrument. “Evening with an Expert” brings participants together with experts, collectors, and luthiers who have influenced Bozeman’s guitar tradition. Each of four sessions will be spent listening to the stories and handcrafted instruments of a different local master.
Stringed instruments have enriched human life for thousands of years and thanks to our quest for the perfect sound, hundreds of innovations have culminated in the modern guitar. GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked the World explores all aspects of that evolution and every dimension of the instrument. This exhibition appeals to the master and novice, shredder and music lover alike.
For more information and to reserve your place for “Music Mondays” and “Evening with an Expert”, visit https://www.museumoftherockies.org/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/guitar. Music on the Plaza is free to the public.
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