Room to Vroom
By Arrissia Owen Turner
Eric Geisert pointed to his Telecaster. It’s on display at the “Axes and Axles: the Art of Building Cars and Guitars” exhibit at the Wally Parks National Hot Rod Association Motorsports Museum, and he was talking to guitar great Jimmy Vaughan at the VIP launch luncheon for the exhibit.
“Do you remember signing it?” Geisert asks.
“Oh yeah, in a parking lot in Salinas,” Vaughn says within seconds, giving the mid-’70s original cherry sunburst Telecaster stripped of paint its due. Along with Vaughan, the guitar boasts sigs from fellow guitar greats Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons and Chuck Berry. All but Berry have cars in the exhibit.
There is something about cars and guitars that often go hand in hand. The Telecaster, Fender’s first solid-body electric guitar, celebrates 60 years, and it’s the inspiration for the guitar-centric exhibit. Telecaster was introduced as the world’s first commercial, mass-produced, solid body Spanish-style electric guitar body.
The museum rolled in custom hot rods and more guitars, as well as Van Halen’s Michael Anthony’s chili pepper bass. Anthony’s 1933 Ford Roadster is on display, a black and flamed rod designed by Chip Foose and built by Boyd. Vaughan, Beck, Billy Gibbons, Eric Clapton, Brian Setzer, Eddie Van Halen and Kenny Wayne Shepherd contributed to the collection.
“Axes and Axles: the Art of Building Cars and Guitars” runs through June 2011, at the L.A. County Fairgrounds. The upside is that before and after the testosterone-fueled love-in courtesy of the NHRA, you can spend the rest of the day stuffing yourself with fried Twinkies and riding the Ferris wheel. What could be more American?
The exhibit highlights the synergy between guitars and cars, a la axes and axles, plus it breaks down how a Fender is built—highlighting the various ways they can be customized. Both use many of the same techniques and materials, and the first Telecasters used DuPont paints, the same used for many cars during the 1950s and ’60s.
At times, viewing the exhibit is like walking into Beck or Setzer’s garage with old-school hubcaps on the walls, rock posters, Fender banners, guitars and car parts scattered.
The exhibit was about four years in the making, with museum Executive Director Tony Thacker gassing it the last two months. “This was a push for us,” Thacker says. “We know cars, but pulling the guitar part off was tough.”
It’s particularly difficult since Clapton isn’t listed in the White Pages. To get to someone like Clapton, you have to go through many of his people. But once he got through, it wasn’t a hard sell.
“They got it right away,” Thacker says. Clapton’s burgundy Chevy ’47 woody wagon is on display, completed the day prior to the luncheon by Roy Brizio Street Rods.
There were some guitarists’ strings that were less hard to pull, reaffirming the crossover between guitars and cars. Thacker is friends with Billy Gibson and Michael Anthony through car collecting. Jimmy Vaughan found out about the exhibit through attending car shows.
Vaughan’s enthusiasm for classic cars goes back to his childhood, starting at age 12. The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ guitarist didn’t pick up his first guitar until three years later. The two make sense to him, too.
“It just goes with the cars,” Vaughan says. “It’s all so American. It’s all I’ve ever done.” Vaughan, whose ’61 Cadillac Coupe de Ville Ironic Twist is on display, and Gibbons, whose 1958 Ford Thunderbird Mexican Blackbird and the 1946 Cadillac Cadzilla are also featured, bonded by age 14 over cars and guitars.
Thacker grew up on the same street as Beck in England, he says. Giving up a ’32 Highboy Roadster probably wasn’t that hard since Beck owns at least a dozen Fords. And, you know, it’s for the kids.
“We need young people to work in the industry,” Thacker says. “The exhibit is to teach kids about guitars as an entry into the car world.”
The guitar part pretty much takes care of itself. Kids are drawn to making noise naturally. Thacker enjoys working the kids into a Fender frenzy. “Before the Telecaster, that was just a wooden box with a hole in it.”
“Axes & Axles: The Art of Building Cars and Guitars” at the NHRA Motorsports Museum, 1101 W. McKinley Ave., Pomona, (909) 622-2133; www.museum.nhra.com. Thru June 2011. $1 with paid admission.