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Great American Guitars

at the National Music Museum

Gallery Opening and Conference

October 14 - 15, 2005

D'Angelico signature from NMM 10772. Plectrum Guitar by John D'Angelico, New York, 1937.
Poster, Great Guitars at the National Music Museum

Click on the following links for:

Photographs of the Gallery Opening and Conference

Schedule of Events (also available in PDF format )

The National Music Museum on the campus of The University of South Dakota in Vermillion, celebrated the opening of a permanent exhibition, Great American Guitars, with a concert by Thom Bresh, one of Nashville's leading guitarists, and a two-day conference that featured guitar makers, historians, and players from around the country, Friday-Saturday, October 14-15, 2005.

Thom Bresh and Johnny Cash

Thom Bresh and the late Johnny Cash hold a 1969 Martin guitar, once owned and played by Thom's father, the legendary Merle Travis. It was later owned by the country music star, Marty Stuart, then by Johnny, who exhibited it in his House of Cash in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Shortly before his death, Johnny gave it to Thom, saying, "Play this guitar, son. There could be a day when you may want to sell it. If you play it, when that day comes you'll be able to say, this guitar was owned and played by three great musicians and a poet."

The exhibition in the Tom and Cindy Lillibridge Gallery, named for the NMM trustees who underwrote the renovation of the space, highlights the newly acquired D'Angelico/D'Aquisto/Gudelsky Workshop Collection—given in memory of Paul Gudelsky (1963-1996)—which includes the workbench, tools, forms, ledger books, and other related items from these legendary craftsmen of the archtop guitar, along with instruments built by each of the men.

With the re-created workshop as a backdrop, the exhibition features superb acoustic guitars and fretted instruments by the leading 20th-century makers and companies, including C. F. Martin, Orville Gibson, Elmer Stromberg, John D'Angelico, James D'Aquisto, Fender, Grammer, Stuart Mossman, and others. It is just a few steps down the hall from the NMM's exhibition of great Italian stringed instruments built by three generations of the Amati family, Andrea Guarneri, Antonio Stradivari (including one of two Stradivari guitars and the only Stradivari mandolin to be seen in a museum setting), and many other master craftsmen.

Visitors can trace the lineage of the world's greatest luthiers from the 16th through the 20th century, in a way not possible anywhere else. On the NMM's second floor, a new exhibit in the Margaret Ann Everist Gallery will examine the rise of the electric guitar, including early experimental instruments by Lloyd Loar, a "frying pan" lap steel by Rickenbacker, a Gibson electraharp pedal steel, and the first of only two electric upright bass guitars produced by Gibson before World War II.

June Carter Cash's Hummingbird model Gibson guitar

That exhibit also showcases celebrity instruments once owned and played by Roy Acuff, Bill Anderson, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash (see pick guard of her Gibson Hummingbird model guitar at left), Spade Cooley, Danny Chauncey, Bob Dylan, Howdy Forrester, Tom T. Hall, Barbara Mandrell, Webb Pierce, Tom Swatzel, Merle Travis, Ray Whitley, and others.

With the opening of the two exhibitions, the NMM has become home to the most important permanent exhibition devoted to the American guitar industry to be found in a public museum setting.

The Great American Guitars celebration began on Friday, October 14, with a brown bag lunch program by Ray Guntren, arch-top guitarist from Sioux City (sponsored by Ray's MidBell Music, Sioux City), followed by panel discussions and presentations by nationally known experts and collectors, including John Barmeyer, Walter Carter, Brian Fischer, George Gruhn, Chris Martin, John Monteleone, and others. Paul Schmidt, author of Acquired of the Angels:  The Lives and Works of Master Guitar Makers, John D'Angelico and James L. D'Aquisto, was the keynote speaker.

The conference continued all day Saturday, with a noon brown bag lunch program by John McNeill, well-known South Dakota guitarist, and culminating with a free concert at 8:00 p.m. in Slagle Auditorium (next to the NMM) by Thom Bresh, a Hall of Famer and one of today's leading guitar players, whether it be country-western, folk, or jazz. He played the Merle Travis guitar and Johnny Cash's Bon Aqua, both from the NMM's collections, as well as his own Super Dualette by Del Langejans. T. Wilson King of Vermillion was the opening act.

Conference participation was imited to the first 100 registrants.  

Link to: Checklists of American Guitars at the National Music Museum

Link to: Checklists of Plucked Stringed Instruments at the National Music Museum

Note:  The checklists provided above represent only a portion of the Museum's encyclopedic collections.  Persons interested in obtaining a checklist, generated from the Museum's inventory database, of a group of plucked stringed instruments not represented in the following lists, please contact the Museum at

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Most recent update: April 4, 2014

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