A Martin acoustic guitar made in 1939 and valued at $350,000… a Lloyd Loar-signed mandolin from the 1920s considered to be even rarer than a Stradivarius violin… A 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard Sunburst Electric guitar worth $225,000… These are just a few of the instruments on display at the new Gallery of Iconic Guitars (GIG) at Belmont, which held its official grand opening Tuesday on the campus of Belmont University.
The event at the vintage instrument museum featured performances from legendary country artists Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs, along with current Belmont graduate student Ben Valine, a commercial guitar performance major from Forest Lake, Minnesota.
The GIG is the result of a gift to Belmont University of nearly 500 historically significant instruments and supporting endowment—amounting to a total value of approximately $10.5 million—from the estate of the late Steven Kern Shaw. Shaw was a collector, philanthropist and the grandson of Jerome Kern who was one of America’s foremost composers of musical theater and popular music (responsible for such classic songs as “Ol’ Man River,” “The Way You Look Tonight” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”).
Belmont President Dr. Bob Fisher said: “I’ve played guitar since I was a teenager so to have these prized instruments on this campus is a true joy for me personally. But the real value of these historical treasures comes with the educational opportunities they present to our students and faculty as well as visitors to the museum. I am grateful to the Shaw Estate for entrusting Belmont with these iconic pieces of music history, allowing us to host what will certainly be inspiration for generations of musicians and instrument makers to come.”
The James B. and Lois R. Archer Charitable Foundation serves as the presenting sponsor for The GIG, providing support to undergird the museum’s operation, special projects and educational programming. Mr. Archer said, “We are so excited to work with Belmont University on this project. Music is such a fundamental part of our lives. It inspires creativity, and we hope that the gift will inspire future generations of students who have endeavored to devote their careers to the performing arts.”
Steven Kern Shaw family friend George Gruhn (founder of Gruhn Guitars and vintage instrument expert) serves as co-executor of the estate and noted that Mr. Shaw’s will specified his desire that the instruments be donated to an institution capable of properly exhibiting and caring for them, preferably in the Nashville area. Beyond conveying the important history and design of these instruments, the Gallery of Iconic Guitars will foster future opportunities for many of the instruments in the Shaw Collection to be played by both well-known and student musicians, bringing the instruments alive for a new generation.
Gruhn noted, “An instrument is not a servant to a musician, but rather a partner. The really great instruments are alive, and they make suggestions. Sometimes you lead them and sometimes they lead you … Belmont University was the natural choice for a permanent home for this collection since it draws students and scholars from around the world and is noted for the excellence of its music programs. I look forward to seeing how these instruments will be given new life and will help lead young musicians as they are incorporated into Belmont’s curriculum.”
Highlights of instruments currently on display include:
- 1939 Martin D-45 Normally located in the Crown Jewels exhibit and valued at $350,000, this acoustic guitar was played by Vince Gill at the Grand Opening.
- 1923 Gibson F-5 Mandolin signed by Lloyd Loar Normally located in the Crown Jewels exhibit and valued at $200,000, this is one of several Loar-signed F-5 mandolins in the GIG and was played by Ricky Skaggs at the Grand Opening.
- The Loar Quartet exhibit There were only about 275 F-5 mandolins signed by Loar, but the number of Loar-signed mandolas, mandocellos and guitars is even more limited. There are under 20 of the H-5 Loar mandolas known to exist, and approximately six K-5 mandocellos and 50 of the Loar signed guitars known to exist in good condition. In view of the fact that there are approximately 650 genuine Stradivarius violins known to still be in existence today, it is worth noting that many of the instruments in the Shaw collection are more rare than a Stradivarius violin.
- Lyon & Healy Trio exhibit The trio of Lyon & Healy mandolin, mandola and mandocello is extraordinarily rare and of superb quality. The GIG may be the only museum to have either a Loar quartet or a Lyon & Healy artist model trio on display.
- 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard Sunburst Electric Guitar From 1958 to 1960, Gibson produced one of the most iconic and enduring electric guitars in history, the Les Paul Standard. With its brilliant red sunburst finish and PAF (“Patent Applied For”) Humbucking pickups, it is visually striking and superb sounding. The series was named after, and endorsed by, brilliant and visionary guitarist Les Paul and has found its way into the hands of nearly every notable rock guitarist. It is located in the Crown Jewels exhibit and valued at $225,000.
The Gallery of Iconic Guitars is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. andSunday from 1-5 p.m. Admission is $5, and free for children under 12 as well as Belmont students, faculty and staff. Visit thegigatbelmont.com for more information and to purchase tickets.