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Reuben H. Fleet Science Center to Rock Balboa Park with New Exhibit, Guitar: The Instrument that Rocked the World!

In the midst of assembling the exhibit, in the upstairs rotunda gallery, HP Newquist, the founder and Executive Director of the National Guitar Museum , walked through and discussed (while overseeing the installation) what to expect in the newest exhibition in the Park, set to open December 20th.

“The aim of the exhibit is to show that the guitar isn’t just the instrument of your favorite songs, but that there is a history and a science that has effected pop culture for hundreds of years. Everyone from Chaucer to Shakespeare wrote about guitars,” explains Newquist. 

Newquist, an award-winning author, documentary director, broadcast producer, and the former Editor-in-Chief of GUITAR Magazine, created the exhibit and not only founded but oversees the development of The National GUITAR Museum —the first museum in the world dedicated to the history, evolution and cultural impact of the guitar. The exhibit has been on the road for two years - touring like the rock stars that are featured in the exhibition. Coming most recently from Idaho Falls, the Fleet will host the West Coast Premiere of the exhibit and will remain at there through April 6, 2014 before moving on for two years and finally settling in a home of it’s own.

The exhibit starts with the history of string instruments, dating back to around 3,000 B.C. Featured is a Tanbur from the Middle East, that fashioned 3 fretted strings, as well as a Nyatiti from Africa, with 8 strings that are tunable but not fretted. Then there is the ancestor to the guitar, the Oud, from North Africa – which features both a neck that is fretted, and tunable strings.

From there you will see a motley crew of guitar-like instruments, that didn’t quite fit the bill. Looking at instruments from across the globe, including a sitar, charango, and banjo, visitors will learn of the various techniques and materials used to make these stringed instruments, and how they took shape from region to region.

Harvey took great pride in showing the evolution of the guitar as we know it - pointing out a vihuela - the first instrument with in-curved sides. As he moved down the family tree he lit up as he pointed out a Rickenbacker “Frying Pan” from 1934 – the first mass produced electric guitar – a precursor to the Fender and Les Paul.

The last part of the display features exploration in design changes and electronic changes. Have you seen a guitar made of aluminum or acrylic? We hadn’t either! You can even see a 3D printed guitar made last year!

While the 60+ guitars and 100+ historical artifacts could easily have stood alone as a comprehensive exploration of music and the science behind it, there was more!On the other side of the rotunda, kids of all ages, can play with all of the interactives that illustrate how sound works! Aside from the history and effect the guitar has had on our culture, the interactives - which include a device that shows how the strings on a guitar make and change wave forms, and a video explaining the physics of sound – is a prime example of what Newquist calls stealth science – learning without even knowing it! Oh, and did we mention there is a Guinness record-breaking 43 ½ foot long guitar? While it may be a little difficult to play, Newquist invites people to try, as it is fully functional!

Aside from a great exhibition with with tons to see and learn and a concert series that promises to be cranked past 11, the first 100 guests each day will get a free air guitar! This exhibit, jam packed with history, pop culture, science, and interactives proves to be anything short of guitarrriffic! Be sure to check it out while it’s here from Friday, December 20, through April 6, 2014.

-- Andrew Mandinach