Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix

  If you plan to visit the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix you should schedule more than one day to do so!  It is the largest museum of its kind found anywhere in the world.  The 200,000 square feet, with galleries on 2 floors, house a collection of over 15,000 instruments and related objects.  Also included is theater and concert hall that can seat almost 300 people.

Opened in 2010, the story of how it came to be is quite interesting.  We scheduled a day to visit.  We should have arrived earlier, and showed more endurance to stay until closing….though we almost made it!  We heard that for a slight up-charge you can snag a two day ticket.  I would advise doing so.

Our day included exploring the galleries on the first floor, light lunch at the Cafe, and a 90 minute orientation tour after lunch.

The first floor had the Acoustic America Exhibit that will be there until September.  Then you can visit the Artist Gallery, the Mechanical Music Gallery the Experience Gallery and the Conservation Lab.

The second floor houses musical instruments from around the world.  There are galleries for Africa, the Middle Ease, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania, Latin America, Europe and the United States and Canada. It could take days to fully explore this floor.

 The Acoustic America exhibit explores the history of the Guitars, Mandolins and Banjos that form the heart of American Music.  Country, Folk, Blues, Bluegrass and Rock.

That’s Earl Scrugg’s banjo in the middle.

Peter Yarrow, from Peter, Paul and Mary played this guitar when he joined Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder in singing “Blowing in the Wind” at the inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday in 1986.

The banjo evolved from a single string, gourd instrument found in Western Africa.  This gourd banjo, owned and played by Dom Flemons, is a reproduction of those plantation styled instruments played by the slaves that brought the instrument to this country.

Mississippi John Hurt and his guitar.

Uncle Dave Macon’s open-back banjo

Bill Monroe’s Mandolin

David Grisman narrates much of the history of these instruments.  Musician, historian and collector he owns many of these legacy pieces found on display.

The Artist Gallery showcases instruments, performances and the history of musicians from around the world.  A favorite of mine were the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.  Seeing them in the movie Paint Your Wagon, and then happing upon the first Will the Circle Be Unbroken album made me a fan. 

I am partial to harmonica’s.  These were played by Jimmie Fadden.

Hal Blaine was one of the most recorded musicians in history.  He was the leader of the Wrecking Crew and playing on over 35,000 studio tracks.  From Herb Alpert to Frank Sinatra toe Simon and Garfunkel, he played drums on every Grammy-winning record of the year from 1966 to 1971.

Elvis’s guitar played during his last live performance in 1977.  the guitar was restored by the MIM restoration lab.

Across the hall you find the large windows that let you look into the Conservation Lab.  Here, scientist/craftsman work to conserve and restore the instruments on display here.

The Mechanical Music Gallery houses an extensive collection of instruments from phonographs, music boxes, and player pianos.  Many of these instruments were designed and crafted by watch makers. 

This is an Arranging Piano used to make the master roll to produce the piano roll for Player Pianos.  It took hours to produce the master for a two minute song.  There was no playback capability, nor any way to correct a mistake.  Perforce production, the master whole go to the editing desk for any corrections.

The Editing Desk

The Appalonia Orchestration instrument is an automated dance organ, used mainly in Europe from the late 19th century into the 1960’s. When it fires up, you know it!

The Appolonia couldn’t play without these “play books”.

Your Museum tour should begin at the Orientation Gallery.  It gives you an excellent overview of what to expect as well as showcasing several unique instruments.  This one, being an Octobass.  One of only a few that exist, it is considered the largest of the bowstringed instruments.  This one stands at nearly 12 feet tall.  This, as well as all other musical instruments on display here can, and are playable.

At almost 2 inches long, Hohner’s Little Lady harmonica might just be the smallest instrument on display.  In 1965 a Little Lady was the first musical instrument played in space.  I had several of these in my collection.

The Robjohn Pipe Organ

Also found in the Orientation Gallery is perhaps the only instrument that anyone, and most likely everyone, can play.

It is the Air Guitar!

Speaking of harmonica’s, found in the German section of the Europe Gallery is a section dedicated to Hohner.

The box for my Echo Harp is held together with tape, and the plates are held in place with thumb tacks, but the vibrato sound is still inside.

This display, found in the United States/Canada Gallery is found with other instruments critical to playing The Blues.

Ever wonder about the view from behind the drum set?  Found in the United States/Canada Gallery.

The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura tells the story of how you really can make good music with almost anything.

I am partial to Steinway & Sons Pianos, mostly because my Dad, who among other things was a pretty good piano player.  Largely self taught, but encouraged by his Mother, he had dreams of one day being a concert pianist.  
He always desired a Steinway, but instead played on an old upright in the front room of our house in Boulder.  He played for family and friends, and mostly at church.

For his 50th Birthday, his family, church and community surprised him with a used Steinway Baby Grand Piano.  He honored that gift by playing even better.  Frequently I would fall asleep, laying underneath that piano, as he played on into the night.

The Steinway display at the MIM brought back some good memories for me.


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