“It was born at the junction of form and function,” country guitar ace Bill Kirchen sings in “Hammer Of The Honky Tonk Gods.” And though he was referring to the Fender Telecaster, H.P. Newquist made it clear in his speech on the opening night of the exhibit “Guitar: The Instrument That Rocked The World – A Brief History Of The World’s Most Popular Instrument” at the Museum of Science and History in Fort Worth, Texas, that the same could be said of virtually any model of electric guitar.
The founder and executive director of the National Guitar Museum, Newquist pointed out that, despite cosmetic variations, the electric guitar’s basic design has changed very little compared to that of telephones, computers, and automobiles.
The exhibit, which runs through May 6, has interactive elements – for instance, planks of maple, rosewood, and mahogany vividly demonstrating their different tones – along with a replica of the workbench used by luthier Bob Benedetto and instruments running the gamut from an 1806 parlor guitar to a 1970s Guitorgan, built in Waco by Bob Murrell.
Though the N.G.M. has no physical building, a photo montage/timeline picturing classical piano virtuoso Van Cliburn next to R&B guitarist Ray “Linda Lu” Sharpe, both Fort Worth natives, hinted that the city could be in the running.
“We’re at roughly 270 guitars,“ Newquist said. “The significant thing about that number is that there are only a few models where we have more than one representative instrument – specifically, Les Paul, Strat, Tele, Martin D-28, SG. Everything else has been collected so as to be singularly representative of the history of the guitar, from the various European luthiers of the 1800s and the oddball Cold-War-era Russian electrics to evolutionary steps like Danelectro’s Amp-in-Case and Mario Maccaferri’s plastic designs. So, there’s one A-22 Frying Pan, one Tonika, one Fabricatore, one J-200, one Ibanez Iceman, etc.”
In February, the N.G.M. announced that Bonnie Raitt was the eighth recipient of its annual Lifetime Achievement Award – the previous seven being David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Roger McGuinn, B.B. King, English session man Vic Flick, Buddy Guy, Tony Iommi, and Glen Campbell. Newquist’s statement read, “There has not been a more visible female player of the electric guitar in history. Bonnie’s extraordinary skill and her inherent passion for electric blues – along with her mastery of slide guitar, one of the most difficult musical styles to play well – are second to none in modern guitar.”
Raitt thanked the Museum, saying, “I am so glad to be part of a tradition that is encouraging people to keep the blues alive and keep roots music vital and important. If people like me have been inspirations for young people, especially girls, picking up the instrument, I’m very proud.” – Dan Forte
This article originally appeared in VG‘s June 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.