Museum of Making Music Reveals the Origins of the Electric Guitar

September 1, 2009

IN A NEW EXHIBITION FILLED WITH A STUNNING COLLECTION OF rare gear, the Museum of Making Music is offering an eye-opening look into the earliest days of the electric guitar. ON! The Beginnings of the Electric Sound Generation includes guitars, amplifiers, pickups, and artifacts that demonstrate a clear timeline of electric instrument development. A sampling of the gear on display—much of it from the collection of historian Lynn Wheelwright— includes a 1922 Magnavox combo amp with horn, the prototype Gibson lap-steel from 1934, several pre-WWII electric basses, and a 1935 Slingerland electric solidbody. (That’s right, electric basses and solidbody guitars in the ’30s!) The exhibition also features celebrity pieces from Alvino Rey, Charlie Christian, and Les Paul, plus artifacts from the Forrest White collection including Leo Fender’s workshop telephone. At the exhibition opening, local musicians played some of these early electrics through their original accompanying amps. The sound was good enough to make people wonder aloud just how much things have actually changed in 80 years. ON! The Beginnings of the Electric Sound Generation runs through March 31, 2010 at the Museum of Making Music. Located in Carlsbad, California, the museum is open daily except Monday. Check out the museum at museumofmakingmusic.org.

1935 Regal: This 1935 Regal—a hollowbody with no f-holes—stunned visitors with a sound that was as pleasing as any modern jazz box when played through a period-correct amp.

1936 Gibson E-150: This ultra-clean 1936 E-150 is a perfect example of Gibson’s first popular amplifier, which shipped with early lap-steels and archtops.

1933 Vivi Tone: Developed by the famed Lloyd Loar, Vivi Tone electrics had fake f-holes and unique removable pickup “drawers” in the sides of the body.

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