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Eddie Van Halen, 1985 (Fabio Nosotti/CORBIS)

The Electric Guitar's Long (And Louder), Strange Trip

By Monica M. Smith, Zócalo Public Square

The original article, written for Smithsonian Magazine, can be found here.

I remember the first time I saw Eddie Van Halen on MTV, the way he played two hands on the fingerboard during his short "Jump" guitar solo. I loved his cool "Frankenstein" guitar, so named because he cobbled together a variety of guitar parts and decorated his creation with colored tape and paint. Even as a 13-year-old who grew up primarily listening to, and playing, classical music, I felt compelled to run out and buy his band's "1984" LP at my local Tower Records store.

Rock 'n' Roll is an industry that's continually pushing musical, social and cultural boundaries, and the electric guitar is its iconic instrument. The acoustic version has been around since at least the 16th century. So when I first started working with co-curator Gary Sturm on an exhibition about the invention of the electric guitar at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, our driving question was: why electrify this centuries-old instrument? The simplest answer: Guitarists wanted more volume.

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