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Acoustic America: Iconic Guitars, Mandolins, and Banjos, MIM’s newest exhibition, presents a once-in-a-lifetime collection of 90 historic stringed instruments—mandolins, guitars, banjos, ukuleles, and more—that have shaped generations of American music since before the Civil War.
See unique details on authentic instruments owned and played by banjo superstar and bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs, folk icon Elizabeth Cotten, blues musician Mississippi John Hurt, stars of the Grand Ole Opry, and others. Notably, more than 30 special instruments from the personal collection of mandolin virtuoso David Grisman are on public display for the first time.
Acoustic America illustrates the overlapping histories of exceptional soloists and songwriters, groundbreaking manufacturers, and novel inventions, illuminating how diverse origins combine into enduring traditions.
This banjo is one of the most iconic bluegrass instruments imaginable—it was owned, played, and preserved in its original condition by Earl Scruggs, the world’s most famous and most influential banjo player. Right: Earl Scruggs performs around 1965.
Photograph by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
Blues legend Mississippi John Hurt picked out this guitar before playing it at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. A young John Oates idolized and closely studied Hurt’s music and borrowed this same guitar to record the first two Hall and Oates albums in 1972 and 1973. Right: Mississippi John Hurt plays the Guild guitar.
Loan courtesy of John Oates
Photograph by Bernard Gotfryd, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Folk icon Elizabeth Cotten used this “Herringbone” D-28 to record her famous song “Freight Train” and others for Smithsonian Folkways in 1957. Cotten’s distinctive playing style and songs have influenced countless musicians, including Doc Watson, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, and Rhiannon Giddens. Right: Cotten plays the D-28.
Loan courtesy of Peter McLaughlin
Photograph courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution © John Cohen, courtesy Deborah Bell, New York
This iconic F-5 “Fern” model, notable for its elegant fern-style inlay on the peghead, is one of the most significant instruments from mandolin virtuoso David Grisman’s illustrious career. Right: Grisman plays the F-5 “Fern” mandolin.
Loan and photograph courtesy of David Grisman
Ira Louvin—one half of the influential country music duo the Louvin Brothers—customized this one-of-a-kind mandolin in the flashy style of professional country artists. He played it extensively, including on the Grand Ole Opry stage.
In 1961, influential bluegrass group the Kentucky Colonels performed on The Andy Griffith Show under the alias the Country Boys. Dobro player LeRoy McNees (a.k.a. LeRoy Mack) played this guitar during the show and for many years afterward.
Loan courtesy of LeRoy McNees
Tireless ambassador for civil rights and social justice Peter Yarrow played this guitar when Peter, Paul and Mary joined Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder to sing “Blowin’ in the Wind” at the inaugural celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday in 1986.
Gift of Peter Yarrow
A catalog for Acoustic America: Iconic Guitars, Mandolins, and Banjos will be available for purchase at the Museum Store or online at theMIMstore.org.
Presenting sponsor U.S. Bank
Sponsored by John & Joan D’Addario Foundation, MaryAnn & John Mangels
Supported by Jane & John Guild, Jan & David Wood, Carolyn & John Friedman, Elizabeth Biaett & Gary Dickey, and Babette & Richard Burns
Left: Loan courtesy of Darrell Scott
Center: Loan courtesy of David Grisman