The Story Behind The National Guitar Museum

Until 2009, there wasn’t any particular museum or traveling attraction dedicated to the guitar and its history, but thanks to former Editor-In-Chief of Guitar Magazine HP Newquist, who’s now the Executive Director of The National Guitar Museum, that void has been filled.  

And to think, it all started with a “playdate” for his daughter.

In August 2008, an eventual employee of The National Guitar Museum who ended up designing its electronic interactive components stopped by Newquist’s house to drop off his daughter for a playdate with Newquist’s daughter. Upon his arrival, he noticed all of the guitars on the wall and said to Newquist, “Whoa…this looks like a guitar museum!”  That comment really got the gears working.

“That got me to thinking, ‘I’ve never been to a guitar museum!’” said Newquist.  “So I called all of my contacts in the industry and said, ‘Do you know if there’s a guitar museum anywhere? There’s got to be one.’ But as everyone kept thinking about it, they were like, ‘You know what? There isn’t one!’  There’s barb wire museums and dollhouse museums and ventriloquist dummy museums! I thought, ‘If there isn’t one, there ought to be one!’”

Currently, there’s no permanent home for The National Guitar Museum, and it’s comprised of two traveling exhibits:  “Guitar:  The Instrument That Rocked The World,” which is about the science and evolution of the guitar itself and “Medieval To Metal,” which focuses specifically on the art and evolution of the guitar from the lute.

One thing to understand about The National Guitar Museum is that it’s about the instrument, not the player.

“We always have to put out a disclaimer in that when we started the museum, we really wanted the idea of a guitar museum to focus on the instrument,” said Newquist.  “Players are certainly important; a guitar doesn’t do anything if it’s not played, but it was more, for instance, about the [Fender] Stratocaster and why was the Stratocaster itself chosen by Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, as opposed to them and an instrument they might have played.”

There’s also a number of historical guitars on display including a 1806 Fabricatore, one of the first six string guitars ever made, and a 1934 Rickenbaker Frying Pan Lap Steel Guitar, which was made of cast iron and the first mass-produced electric guitar, and it was produced specifically for Hawaiian musicians so they could hear themselves over other instruments being played.

Not Blues…Not Jazz…Not Rock…But Hawaiian musicians used the first mass-produced electric guitars.

Of course, that’s not saying they don’t have pieces in their exhibits from iconic guitarists.  The National Guitar Museum also includes guitars from Tony Iommi, Steve Vai, B.B. King and Joe Bonamassa.

To see all of these guitars and more, head over to where you can find out the touring schedule of each exhibit.


Erica Banas is a rock/classic rock reporter who never leaves home without her iPod, because to her, there’s something very comforting about carrying around every piece of music she’s ever owned in her life.