The Story of the Electric Guitar

Take a glimpse into the untold history of the electric guitar at MIM

The Musical Instrument Museum’s newest exhibition, “The Electric Guitar: Inventing an American Icon,” shares the untold story of the invention of the electric guitar, an instrument that revolutionized music and popular culture forever. Based on the private collection of guitar historian Lynn Wheelwright, the exhibition will be on display through Sept. 15, 2019.

Pete Townshends Gibson Les Paul Deluxe

This exclusive exhibition showcases more than 80 of the rarest electric guitars and amplifiers in the world ― from some of the first ever heard to those played by the most famous electric guitarists known today. The show encompasses the history of the electric guitar from the very beginning, including its most experimental period of the 1930s and 1940s, its impact on music and culture and its current iconic status.

“The Electric Guitar: Inventing an American Icon” gives a glimpse into the electric guitar’s influence on genres that defined American music, including Hawaiian music, dance orchestras, western swing, jazz, and rock and roll itself.

This early history of electric amplification celebrates the bold inventors, adventurous performers and radical instruments responsible for making sounds that, literally, had never been previously heard. Even though these early electric instruments and amplifiers were developed nearly 90 years ago, many of them remain technologically, aesthetically and musically sophisticated today.

The exhibition’s collection features the personal instruments of groundbreaking artists who were among the first to play and popularize the electric guitar, such as Alvino Rey, Charlie Christian, Les Paul, Bo Diddley and Eldon Shamblin. Guests will also see authentic guitars played by next generations of influential musicians, including Pete Townshend of the Who and Ron Wood and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, who continued to transform the sound of the electric guitar while cementing its international reputation.

The electric guitar plays an integral role in American music and culture and inspired emulation worldwide. “This will be a memorable exhibition, revealing the deep history of the electric guitar and its impact over the years,” says Richard Walter, PhD, MIM’s curator for United States, Canada and Europe. “Some of these guitars launched entirely new genres of music!”

The Electric Guitar: Inventing an American Icon

Through Sept. 15, 2019

Musical Instrument Museum, 4725 E. Mayo Boulevard, Phoenix

For more information, visit


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