Magical History Tours at Musical Instrument Museum

Posted By Mike Padgett


Feb. 22, 2014

PHOENIX – This musical time machine encourages visitors to follow musicians into history. Listen to their stories. Study their instruments.


The multimedia exhibits in the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) include the works of legends. Museum visitors, as they tour the exhibits, will hear music and narratives that likely will revive memories of favorite songs, lost loves or personal journeys.

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The Musical Instrument Museum, 4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix. Photo © copyright by Mike Padgett 

When they look carefully at the instruments, they will see a few scars from concerts and road trips. There are the nicks and scratches Elvis Presley’s guitars received from his large belt buckles. On display is the Martin guitar Presley played in his last concert. It was in Indianapolis in June 1977. He died two months later. The guitar was found in 1982 in a closet at Presley’s estate, Graceland.



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The Elvis Presley exhibit includes a selection of Presley’s outfits, posters and guitars. Photo courtesy of Musical Instrument Museum


And there’s the crack in John Denver’s favorite guitar, the 1910 Gibson his grandmother gave him when he was a boy. She played it when she was a child. Denver said the guitar was cracked when a lumberjack who didn’t like Denver’s singing of a Hank Williams song hit him with it. Denver died in the crash of his private plane in 1997.



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John Denver received his first guitar from his grandmother. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


The MIM, with its two floors of exhibits, is like a candy store for music fans. The 200,000-square-foot museum houses a collection of 15,000 instruments and other items representing more than 200 countries. About 6,000 items are on display at a time. Many are enclosed in clear cases.


One of the museum’s historic instruments is the first Steinway piano ever made. It dates to 1836, or 60 years after the approval of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.



The first Steinway piano. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


My favorite places in this magical history tour are the Artist Gallery and the United States-Canada Gallery. Both galleries are filled with guitars, pianos, costumes and the handwritten lyrics of hit songs spotlighting the achievements of many singers and songwriters.


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Displayed are two of Carlos Santana’s guitars. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


There are guitars played by Eric Clapton, Roy Orbison, Carlos Santana, Dick Dale and others. These legends created memorable melodies from inspiration, dedication and metal strings stretched across hollow or solid body guitars. Imagine the stories these instruments could tell.


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A special treat for visitors is the piano John Lennon played while he composed “Imagine,” a song released in 1971. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


Visitors enjoy the historic concert video clips showing wicked guitar or piano performances of Fats Domino, Little Richard, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, The Ventures, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, to name a few.



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Next to Roy Orbison’s guitar is the Grammy awarded posthumously to him in 1990 for his song, “Oh Pretty Woman.” Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


In the Jazz exhibit nearby are instruments from giants of the Big Band Era. There are clarinets played by Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman. There is a trumpet played by Harry James.


Female rockers

A special exhibit is “Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power,” coordinated by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. Featured are the song lyrics, concert posters, videos and costumes of more 70 female artists, including Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Cher, Melissa Etheridge, Linda Ronstadt, Tina Turner, Donna Summer, Janis Joplin, Madonna and many others.  The WWR exhibit is open through April 20.




“Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power” exhibit at MIM closes April 20. Photo courtesy of Musical Instrument Museum


The MIM is a place where one could spend many hours. As a journalist, I admire the way songwriters can create powerful songs with a melody and a few descriptive phrases.


During a recent visit over two days, I gained a new appreciation of the museum’s collection. I watched visitors gently sway or nod in time to the music from their wireless headphones. I was ready to play my air guitar.


A teenager at the Rock and Roll exhibit nodded in time to the music. Two others approached him from behind, their eyes transfixed on the video. A man stood motionless in front of the C.F. Martin guitar exhibit. He was captivated by the video explaining the family business that was started in 1833.



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The C.F. Martin guitar exhibit highlights the company’s history. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


Music’s impact

Scientists are unsure why music has such an impact on the human brain, but they are gathering clues. A study in 2008 found that children with after-school music classes developed higher IQs.


A 2009 review of 23 studies involving 1,500 patients concluded that music helped reduce the patients’ heart rates, blood pressures and anxiety levels.


A 2010 study concluded that many people have experienced spine chills listening to music.



One could say some music, whether soft or energetic, can become immortal. Listeners experience the music. They feel it. The musical chemistry brings back to life some favorite memories, first loves or sad goodbyes. They remember high school dances. Or a special event, like a wedding, baptism or funeral.


Human physiology can be influenced by a song’s mix of instruments. For example, various instruments in Elton John’s powerful “Runaway Train” paint a mental vision of a powerful train racing along its tracks. This song is an energetic musical journey that includes Eric Clapton on blues guitar and shared vocals. The song is on my list of favorites for inspiration and long drives.



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Eric Clapton’s 1964 Gibson guitar. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


9/11 songs

Inspiration for music is found all around us, from personal adventures to national headlines. It has been estimated that more than 120 songs were sparked by the terror attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11.


One of those songs is “Freedom,” by Sir Paul McCartney. In a 2007 interview, McCartney said he was sitting in a plane on the tarmac at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport when he saw the World Trade Center burning. Before his plane took off, the airport was closed. Across America, all aircraft were grounded for days. The day after 9/11, McCartney began writing “Freedom.”


Bruce Springsteen wrote several of his songs on his “The Rising” album to honor the 9/11 victims, first responders or family members. The album won several Grammys.


But back to the museum’s collection. Visitors should check out its many other instruments. One is a piano its display says was originally made for Czar Nicholas I of Russia. He was Russia’s emperor from 1825 to 1855. The piano is one of only 24 made by Johann August Tischner (1774-1852).



A piano made for Czar Nicholas I of Russia. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett


MIM is on Tatum Boulevard in north Phoenix at 4725 E. Mayo Blvd. It has a restaurant and a 300-seat theater for concerts. The museum was founded by Robert Ulrich, former CEO and chairman emeritus of Target Corp.


Many more details about the museum, its concert list, admission, design and architectural team are on the museum website,


(Copyright @ Mike Padgett, All applicable U.S. and International copyright laws pertain to any and all photographs and other images and articles on this site. Downloading, hot-linking, copying, reproducing, manipulating in any way and/or distribution by print, electronic media or other means is prohibited by law.)




Feb 22nd, 2014

One Comment to 'Magical History Tours at Musical Instrument Museum'

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  1. Peg Hodges said,

    Looks like time for another visit to MIM! As usual, you describe the exhibits in such detail that I want to see them in person, It is an amazing collection covering many years and styles.

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