The art of the guitar on show at Grainger Museum

June 17 / 194

The Grainger Museum is showcasing a number of rare and beautiful guitars as part of an exhibition charting the instrument’s rise in popularity during the early 20th century.

Instrument of Change: Visions of the Guitar in the Early Twentieth Century explores the international fascination with guitars and fretted instruments and the different ways Australian musicians, instrument makers and artists engaged with the guitar.

The exhibition also includes photographs, musical scores and artworks by iconic Australian artists such as Tom Roberts and Russell Drysdale. 

Co-curator Dr Ken Murray, head of guitar studies at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, says many forms of the guitar vied for popularity in the newly emerging global context, as well as competing with banjos, ukuleles, mandolins and any number of hybrid plucked instruments.

Both an enthusiastic guitarist and composer, Percy Grainger wrote for the guitar in a number of his chamber pieces. By adapting some of the techniques he'd observed, Grainger invented distinctive ways of playing and tuning the instrument, and created the sonorities that underpinned some of his most experimental music.

Fellow co-curator, musicologist and Percy Grainger expert from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Associate Professor Michael Christoforidis says the craftsmanship of the guitars being exhibited, especially the use of inlay and unusual design features, is very popular.

“A favourite for many visitors is the enormous Gibson harp guitar from 1910 that was made in the pre-amplification period to project the sound at a greater volume,” he says.

“Rather than denoting a single well-defined instrument, the guitar encapsulates a range of designs, sounds, repertories and playing styles, from the Spanish classical guitar to the Hawaiian slide guitar and the Art Deco styling of the jazz-band instrument.”

The exhibition is currently on show until 31 August and was co-curated by Michael Christoforidis and Ken Murray from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, with creative co-ordination by Brian Allison.

Bookings for the exhibition’s free public programs, including guitar concerts, can be made on the Grainger Museum website.

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