In the latter half of the twentieth century, they dominated the Music scene. They could, and still can, be found anywhere- from the intimate settings of campfires to the grand spectacle of arenas. Their roots stem back 5,000 years but typically were not seen on stage till the late 1920’s. Despite that fact, this instrument gave birth to some of the most popular genres of music of last century, including blues, country and rock. I’m talking, of course, about the Guitar.
The Houdini museum in Appleton, properly known as the History Museum at the Castle, has an extensive exhibit highlighting some of the guitars created throughout the years. I have to say, even if I had blogged about this Museum before, this subject was enough to draw me back for another entry. I am a pretty big music fan, and most of the music I listen to includes the six string. As a matter of fact, I have a list of my favorite guitar solos from bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd to Metallica and every one in between.
If there was anything that put a damper on the exhibit, entry to the museum would be my one gripe. In 2017 it was $8. This past week was four dollars more at $12. However, and I must admit, this exhibit is much more eye appealing and features some pretty archaic ancestors to the modern guitar.
So let’s begin, shall we.
I pull the heavy, arched door of the Museum and, immediately as I enter, discover something different about the place. Amongst the preserved walls of the stairwell in which I enter, the admission table stands on a landing of the stairs and the lobby has become part of the New Temporary Exhibit: ‘GUITAR: the instrument that rocked the world.’
I pay my twelve dollars and enter the room, eyeing a few flashy electric guitars that seem to clash with the Masonic fireplace of the reception area. After perusing the limited amount here, I make my way to a darker room where a giant guitar, constructed by students of a Texas College, stretches across the floor. Surrounding the giant marvel are electric guitars Illuminated by meager light in glass cases accompanied by plaques, telling interesting tales of their conceptions.
As I inspect them, I discover all types of materials were used to create these instruments. There are guitars from wood, aluminum, plastic, graphite and more. There are headless guitars, handled guitars, guitars designed by musicians, heck, there’s even an air guitar.
I literally read about every exhibit in the room, and they’re all pretty captivating stories. My favorite involves the blues guitarist B.B. King. Were you aware he named his guitar Lucille? If so, do you know why? It’s Pretty Interesting. This story and more are waiting to entertain you. All in all, as I discover later, there’s over 70 instruments and artifacts. There’s also fun interactive exhibits to indulge in.
I’m satisfied with what I find here and start to leave the museum. Even if I’m pleased with what I just witnessed, I’m debating about skipping the blog. Do I have enough to actually make it more than a 250 word blurb? I doubt it. I pass the lady at the admission counter and tell her I’m delighted and learned quite a bit.
She in turn asks “Have you been upstairs?”
To that I say, “I’ve seen the Houdini portion before.”
She shakes her head. “No, there’s more to the guitar exhibit. Go upstairs and head to your right. You’ll find a room with more exhibits.
I head upstairs and follow her instructions. I discover, if you’re into history, the mother load of ancient instruments. There are melody makers, not all necessarily guitars. They’re all stringed historical cousins of the musical vessel, having a neck, strings and body. Things like the sitar, nyatiti, oud and charango come from places such as Mesopotamia, Nigeria and Peru.
There’s a dobro, harp guitar and more. This, even if I loved the downstairs portion, I find much more compelling. I’ve heard Sitars before but never seen one. Now that I have, I know I will never try to play it. The thing is nearly as tall as me.
What I like best about this portion is that early human creativity and ingenuity are on display. The nyatiti and oud are five thousand year old instruments and the charango uses an armadillo for the body of the stringed invention.
I leave twelve dollars poorer, but a king’s ransom richer in knowledge. I do suggest, and you don’t have to be a guitar nut, that you make your way to Appleton Wisconsin and check out the new Exhibit at the History Museum at the Castle.