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Playing the guitar is an art, but it’s also an exploration in science. How can a few pieces of wood and some metal strings combine to create a diversity of sound that has given us musical styles as varied as flamenco and rock-and-roll? The answer: a little bit of engineering, some physics, and a dash of math.
Starting on November 19, Guitar: The Instrument That Rocked The World exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) will connect the dots between art and science by exploring the cultural and physical evolution of this iconic instrument. The touring exhibit, which was developed by the National Guitar Museum and has been shown in dozens of museums across the country since 2011, features more than 60 guitars. But Coloradans will dig that the team at DMNS customized the exhibit by including seven guitarists from the Centennial State.
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“We have musicians and guitarists in Colorado who are well-known throughout the world and who also contribute to our vibrant local scene,” says Lindsey Housel, the experience developer and educator for the display, which runs through April 17, 2022. “It’s really wonderful for people who are really big into music and are guitar aficionados, but also people who are really interested in physics or how the natural world works, things like frequency and sound waves.”
Below, we give you a preview of the Colorado faces—and sounds—you might recognize while wandering through the exhibit.
How you know him: Has a guitar model named after him: the Otis Taylor, made by the Santa Cruz Guitar Company.
Musical style: “Trance blues” genre of music, a style of blues that’s infused with psychedelic rock and a hint of folk/country (check out one of his albums, like Hey Joe Opus Red Meat, to hear for yourself).
Colorado tie-in: Born in Chicago, raised in Denver, and now based in Boulder. Hosts the annual Trance Blues Festival in Boulder each November.
How you know him: Won a Grammy for his 2004 album Unspeakable.
Musical style: “He’s truly a living legend known all over the world and it’s cool that we can kind of claim him as our own,” says Housel. “He’s a real guitar master and innovator in the jazz world who’s worked with hundreds of artists.”
Colorado tie-in: Grew up playing the clarinet as a child in Denver in the 1950s. Switched to guitar and studied music at the Denver Folklore Center and University of Northern Colorado.
How you know her: Experimental music as heard through albums like Songs with Words and T H I S C L O S E.
Musical style: Known for using metal rings, rocks, rulers, rubber balls, hammers, and other items to coax different sounds out of her instrument, a technique known as “prepared guitar.”
Colorado tie-in: Based in Denver but “known globally for this kind of work that she does,” Housel says. “People flock to her and want to play with her because she really pushes the boundaries of what guitar playing can be.”
How you know them: Together, brother-sister duo Miguel and Brenda Aviña make up two-thirds of the Denver band iZCALLi, named for their hometown just outside of Mexico City (they play with drummer Luiggy Ramirez).
Musical style: Miguel plays guitar and sings, while Brenda plays bass, creating their signature Spanish-rock sound.
Colorado tie-in: They organize the Rock de Mayo music festival in Denver each spring. “Their music is really about representing their Mexican heritage but also is undeniably rock-and-roll,” Housel says.
How you know him: El Javi’s been a supporting act for Diego El Cigala, one of the top flamenco singers, and Ziggy Marley, the son of reggae icon Bob Marley.
Musical style: El Javi takes bits and pieces of flamenco, folk, world, classical, and progressive rock and makes them his own.
Colorado tie-in: The Denver-based composer and producer was also featured in the “My Climb, My Music” national showcase by Coors Light in 2017.
How you know him: Lead member of Big Head Todd and the Monsters.
Musical style: Jam band-style country rock. Mohr’s self-described “most important guitar”—a 1940 Gibson L-0 he got before the band launched a 2011 tribute tour for blues pioneer Robert Johnson—will be on display at the exhibit.
Colorado tie-in: Todd Park Mohr and his bandmates first met at Littleton’s Columbine High School in 1982.
If You Go
In addition to the ongoing exhibit, DMNS plans to host several related events and open-to-the-public programs.
For these Guitar Sessions, Colorado Public Radio’s Indie 102.3 deejay Alicia “Bruce” Trujillo, who also works as the concert director at Swallow Hill Music and is executive director of Colorful Colorado Collaborations, an organization that connects BIPOC musicians and small businesses, will chat with a variety of Denver musicians throughout the winter and spring about what inspires and motivates them. Tickets are $20 for members, $25 for nonmembers in person; $5 for members, $10 for nonmembers virtual.
- January 6, 7 p.m.: Anna Morsett of The Still Tide, live from the Guitar exhibit
- February 3, 7 p.m.: Stevie Gunter of Waiting Room and TuLips, live from the Guitar exhibit
- March 3, 7 p.m.: Jen Korte of LadyGang and Jen Korte & The Loss, live from the Guitar exhibit
- April 14, 7 p.m.: Felix Fast4ward, live from Gates Planetarium
The Greater Debate: Guitars Edition!
In collaboration with Denver’s Buntport Theater, the museum is pitting nonexperts against one another for a totally unscientific (and intentionally ridiculous!) debate about which is greater: the stratosphere or Stratocasters. Jan. 18, 8 p.m. on Zoom. $5 for members of the museum or Buntport Theater, $10 for nonmembers.
Indigenous Film: Hawaiian Steel Guitar: An Evening with Alan Akaka
Alan Akaka, guitarist and music educator at Ke Kula Mele Hawai’i School of Hawaiian Music in Kailua, Hawaii, will explore the history, significance, culture, and science of the Hawaiian steel guitar. February 9, 7 p.m. on Zoom, free to attend.
For more information, visit dmns.org or call 303-370-6000.