Guitar exhibit will rock the Carnegie Science Center
A new set of guitar heroes may step forward as a first-of-its-kind exhibit opens a summer-long run Saturday at the Carnegie Science Center.
The world's most popular and iconic instrument is being celebrated in myriad educational and entertaining ways in “Guitar: The Instrument That Rocked The World,” through Sept. 30.
The National Guitar Museum, billed as the first museum in the U.S. dedicated to the history, evolution and cultural impact of the guitar, created it. The exhibit is touring in advance of the National Guitar Museum finding a permanent home.
The fun kicks off Saturday evening in the science center's atrium with the All-Star Acoustic Jam over-21 party, featuring a rare gathering of Pittsburgh greats: Joe Grushecky; Rick Witkowski of the B.E. Taylor Group; Rob James of The Clarks and Billy Price of the Billy Price Band.
The evening also spotlights the private guitar collection of Rich Engler, former Pittsburgh concert promoter. It also will be displayed from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday.
“We have not had an exhibit that merged topics in the way that this one does, the science, the art and the history (of the guitar),” says Dennis Bateman, the science center's director of exhibit experience. “It's an experiment for us, and we're eager to see if the community responds to this new approach. It was something that looked like a sure-fire winner.”
Music, he says, is very much a science topic “and an excellent way of showing the merging of the arts and the sciences.”
The 5,000-foot traveling display, launched a year ago, explores all aspects of the instrument over the past 400 years, including its role in popular culture and the science of creating sound with wood and steel. It also references the origins of the guitar, descending from instruments that have been around for more than 5,000 years, such as the oud, tanbur and nyatiti.
“It will be great to open people's eyes to the range of instruments that fall under the simple moniker ‘guitar,' ” Bateman says.
The collection features more than 70 guitars, from the early sitars of the Middle Ages to modern electric guitars.
“We'll have guitars from 16th-century Spain and 19th-century Germany; the classics from Martin and Gibson; into the electric age with the Rickenbacker Lapsteel, the Fender Stratocaster, and into the electronic gaming age, with ‘Guitar Hero,' ” he says.
Johnny Winter, Adrian Belew, Steve Vai and Joe Bonamassa are among real guitar heroes who have loaned instruments for viewing.
“I hope people will have a new understanding of the guitar, and a greater appreciation for what it takes to build one, as well as how the guitar works and how it has evolved,” says HP Newquist, founder and executive director of the National Guitar Museum. He is a musician and former editor-in-chief of Guitar magazine. He also wrote the screenplay for the award-winning documentary, “Going Home,” featuring guitarist Robbie Robertson, and wrote and directed “A Portrait,” a documentary featuring John Denver.
“I hope this exhibit inspires people to play. There really is something unique about playing the guitar that can be part of you throughout your entire life,” Newquist says.
The exhibit includes 17 interactive stations, where kids and adults can learn about vibration, pitch, soundwaves and engineering.
“It will allow them to spin, pluck, touch and experience different components of the guitar,” Newquist says.
Touchscreens are built into guitar amplifiers inviting visitors to test their memories using guitar riffs and to learn about decibel levels. “An amplified electric guitar is one of the loudest things ever created,” Newquist says.
From time to time, the science center will demonstrate “Reuben's Tube,” a way to visually see sound waves using gas flames. “It's basically like hooking your Stratocaster up to your gas grill,” Bateman says.
There also are “some crazy things,” he says, like the Rock Ock, an eight-neck guitar with 51 strings, playable with eight of your very close friends. Bateman likens it to “Twister for guitar.”
Not to be missed is the “world's largest playable electric guitar,” certified by the Guinness Book of World Records, more than 43 feet long, with aircraft cable for strings.
“Everyone has something different they've told us they like about the exhibit,” Newquist says.
At least an hour is recommended to tour the exhibit.
Special programming through the summer hopefully will encourage repeat visits, Bateman says.
In addition to acoustic concerts by noted local artists, there will be a range of events, including on-site group guitar lessons, and an expert evaluating the collector guitars.
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-226-4664.