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Homeless National Guitar Museum keeps working the road

July 09, 2012|By Chris Barton
  • A museum-goer strums as her parents hold down strings on the frets of the 40-foot long 1957 Gibson Flying V electric guitar that is part of the touring National Guitar Museum at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh.
A museum-goer strums as her parents hold down strings on the frets of the… (Keith Srakocic )

Like one of its many practitioners who just needs a place to stay between gigs, the National Guitar Museum is in need of a permanent home.

But instead of crashing on couches with mumbled excuses about cruel landlords and past-due rent money, the director of the museum, H.P. Newquist, is taking the exhibit on the road as it searches for somewhere to take root.

A former editor of Guitar magazine, Newquist has auditioned Louisville, Orlando and Pittsburgh (where it is currently part of the Carnegie Science Center), and plans for future stops in Virginia, Massachusetts, Idaho and New Jersey.

With a full collection of more than 200 guitars, the museum's traveling incarnation features 70 instruments including the first electric guitar, early precursors to the modern instrument from Persia and a 40-foot version of Gibson's iconic "Flying V" that would've made an intriguing companion to Tom Hanks' floor-length keyboard from "Big."

While the museum's collection of guitars sounds intriguing, its hands-on policy with the instruments may be the most appealing aspect to music lovers. "Guitars are meant to be played," Norquist said. "I didn't want this in any way, shape or form to be a memorabilia exhibit."

Newquist told the Associated Press that he is looking for "a thriving musical community" to set up permanently, and though his heart seems in the right place, the odds are against him with state, federal and private donations for museum funding in decline. Ford Bell, president of the American Assn. of Museums, reportedly liked Newquist's idea, but his overall outlook struck a sour note.

"The question is, what's the sustainable model?" Bell asked. "Every idea does not deserve a museum."

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