Giant Guitar Has Riverfront Museum Amped Up For New Exhibit

Sep 25, 2020

Peoria Riverfront Museum President and CEO John Morris recalled a classic 1984 music video as he discussed opening a new exhibit in the COVID-19 era.

“There was one by a crazy group whose name was Twisted Sister,” Morris said, “and there was a young man in this video, probably 13 years old, who was learning to play the electric guitar in his bedroom.”

Morris described how the video for “We’re Not Gonna Take It” showed the teen getting berated by his father. When the man asks his son, “What do you want to do with your life?” the boy answers, “I wanna rock!” and sends the father flying through the window with a strum of his guitar.

“So, metaphorically, I was thinking if COVID were the dad, we have the guitar ... and we’re not gonna take it anymore,” Morris said.

The guitar Morris referred to having is the World’s Largest Playable Guitar, the centerpiece attraction in an exhibit opening Saturday exploring “The Instrument That Rocked The World.”

The 43½-foot long Gibson Flying V weighs more than 2,000 pounds. It was built by the Academy of Science and Technology in Houston and certified by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2001.

“When I say ‘playable,’ it has an interesting sound,” said HP Newquist, founder and executive director of the National Guitar Museum in New York. “I wouldn’t consider it music, but you can definitely create sounds with it.”

The exhibit also includes more than 70 electric and acoustic guitars, from the historic--one dates back to 1806--and unusual--one is made out of armadillo shells--to the famous, such as one of B.B. King’s iconic “Lucille” custom-model Gibsons.

“The guitar is arguably the most important modern instrument in terms of expression, individuality, certainly about being American,” said Riverfront Museum curator Bill Conger. “It’s a great time to have this exhibition that really explores the science as well as the design, the art, and the history of this most compelling instrument.”

According to Newquist, the guitar outsells all other instruments combined and more guitars have been sold this year in the U.S. than ever before. He said America’s affection for the instrument is older than the country itself--more than half a millennium.

“It was brought here by the Conquistadores right after Columbus came over,” said Newquist. “The first documented guitar was in 1517 in Florida, which means that after weapons and farm implements, guitars were the oldest thing brought to America.”

The traveling exhibition is making its Illinois debut, with some local components added by the museum. Memorabilia from Peoria natives Steve Gibson, Dan Fogelberg and Gary Richrath are among the items also on display, along with an exhibit telling the story of South Pekin’s Golden Voice recording studio.

The museum reopened to the public on July 1 after the pandemic forced its closure in mid-March. Guests are required to follow COVID-19 health and safety guidelines with face coverings and social distancing.

“Wear your mask, use your hand sanitizers and come out and strum on the world’s largest guitar,” said Morris.

The exhibit is located in the museum’s International Gallery and runs through Jan. 10. Visitors will be entered in a drawing for a real Gibson Flying V guitar valued at $1,400.

The museum, at 222 SW Washington St., is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday; it is closed Monday and Tuesday.

We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WCBU will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WCBU can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.