The instrument that rocked the world

Berkshire Museum's exhibit on the guitar runs through Sept. 4


PITTSFIELD — There are a lot of reasons why people pick up a guitar and start playing. But local jam guitarist Tor Krautter has a theory based on his own experience.

"I realized that guitar players get all the attention," said Krautter, better known as leader of the Rev Tor Band. "I started out as a drummer, but when I saw how cool people looked when they played guitar, that's what I wanted to do."

The history, evolution, design and lore of what most believe is the most popular musical instrument in the world, the guitar, is the focus of a new interactive exhibit at the Berkshire Museum. "Guitar: The Instrument That Rocked the World," opens Saturday and will run through Sept. 4.

Veteran local guitar player Randy Cormier, who plays solo shows, as well as with local combos Xavier and Whiskey City, said that the allure of the electric guitar, for him, was a basic one.

"When I started writing songs, I had melodies in my head, and playing a guitar was the best way to get them out," he said. "I started playing the drums when I was a little kid, and you can't play melodies on drums. I loved that outlet, of writing a song and being able to play it."

"It was a creative outlet for me when I started writing songs," Krautter said.

"It was the rock and roll thing," said guitarist Jack Waldheim, who works at Wood Bros. Music in Pittsfield. He's a solo artist, as well as the leader of Jack Waldheim and the Criminal Hearts. "That's how I started. But another reason is that I learn something playing the guitar every time I play it. I think you can play a guitar for years and you'll always learn something."

The exhibit will feature more than 70 instruments, including the world's largest electric guitar, 43.5 feet long and 16 feet wide. That guitar is a scale model of the Gibson Flying V, only 12 times the size of the real thing. It weighs about 2,000 pounds.

"[The exhibit] will cover the science, sound and cultural impact" of the guitar, said Lesley Ann Beck, communications manager for the museum.

Visitors will be able to handle and hear different wood and string guitars, from maple to catgut, that give different guitars their distinctive sounds.

"We'll have several interactive exhibits," Beck said. "People will bee able to see how strings resonate on wood, as well as the kinds of stress the wood itself undergoes," she said.

Visitors can also test their memory by playing riffs on a virtual fretboard that will test their ability to recall complex guitar patterns.

Electricity was first used in guitars in the 1930s, she said. Visitors to the exhibit will see how magnetic coils capture the vibrations of the strings and turn it into amplified sound.

There will be regular-sized examples of the sitar, oud and lute, Beck said, as well as European and Asian stringed instruments from as far back as the Middle Ages An oud is an 11- or 13-stringed guitar from the Middle East.

Krautter and Waldheim both said they plan to take in the exhibit.

"Sounds pretty cool," said Cornier, who is presently playing gigs in North Carolina. "I'll be back next week. I want to see this."


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