The Guitar and a Changing Nation


The Guitar and a Changing Nation

Presented by The National GUITAR Museum

February 10 – May 11, 2024

For anyone who feels the power of music to soothe, challenge, and unite, this exhibition is a must-see. For those interested in Mississippi’s history and Meridian’s rich musical heritage, it will be a revelation. For guitarists, it offers up-close looks at historic rarities and recent experiments.

How Mississippi Shaped American Music, 6 Strings at a Time

More than any other state, Mississippi contributed to the ascendance of the guitar. The very name of the exhibition – America at the Crossroads – nods to the legend that, late one night at a Mississippi crossroads, Delta bluesman Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for otherworldly mastery of the instrument.

In 1961, 23 years after Johnson’s death, Columbia Records released an album of his recordings. The 20-year-old Bob Dylan couldn’t believe his ears: “From the first note, the vibrations from the loudspeaker made my hair stand up.”

Young British musicians had never heard anything like Johnson’s unearthly wail and scorching guitar licks. Eric Clapton, a pre-Led Zeppelin Robert Plant, Brian Jones, and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, and many others tried to reproduce that heart-wrenching sound.

Meanwhile, Mississippi plantation workers had headed north, seeking opportunity in Memphis and the bustling cities of the Midwest. Many brought their guitars, like John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Chester “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett, and McKinley “Muddy Waters” Morganfield. From Chicago nightclubs, Delta blues spread worldwide via 45-rpm records.

America at the Crossroads tells many such stories of how the guitar – inexpensive, portable, relatively easy to learn – became a voice for disenfranchised and unrecognized populations. The 1930s invention of the electric guitar turned up the volume on new possibilities for commanding attention and making statements. The guitar began to rock.


Check out The MAX’s permanent displays to see additional guitars played by Mississippi musicians:

  • Bo Diddley’s rectangular red Gretsch G6138
  • Charley Pride’s Airline Harmony acoustic parlor guitar
  • Jimmy Buffett’s Martin Little Marlin
  • B.B. King’s “Lucille” Gibson ES-355
  • John Lee Hooker’s wine red Gibson SJ-200
  • Muddy Waters’ Gretsch Synchromatic.

Visit The MAX’s centerpiece Hall of Fame rotunda to learn more about some guitar-playing greats: Diddley, Pride, Buffett, King, Hooker, Waters, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Marty Stuart, Jimmie Rodgers, and, of course, Elvis Presley.

Perfect for school field trips and special group rates are available for 10 or more people.


Instruments Featured

  • Vihuela
  • Banjo
  • Mandolin
  • Ukulele
  • Spanish guitar
  • Martin parlor guitar
  • Gibson L-1 guitar
  • Gibson harp guitar
  • Benedetto archtop
  • Martin D-28 guitar
  • Gibson J-200 guitar
  • National Reso-Phonic resonator guitar
  • Guild 12-string guitar
  • Rickenbacker A-22 lap steel guitar
  • Fender Precision Bass guitar
  • Fender Telecaster guitar
  • Fender Stratocaster guitar
  • Gibson Les Paul guitar
  • Gibson Flying V guitar
  • Gretsch White Falcon guitar
  • Gibson SG guitar
  • Gibson ES-355 “Lucille” guitar
  • Sears (Emenee) Wing-ding guitar
  • Rostov-na-Donu Stella guitar
  • Dan Armstrong acrylic guitar
  • Ovation roundback acoustic guitar
  • Aluminum guitar
  • Ibanez JEM guitar
  • Steinberger headless guitar
  • B.C. Rich guitar
  • Guitorgan
  • Roland G-707 synth guitar
  • Ztar MIDI controller
  • Air Guitar
  • Guitar Hero/Rock Band controller
  • Visionary Instruments Tele-Vision guitar
  • Cochran Boostercaster guitar
  • Mercury Lab Rezentine resonator guitar
  • Frankenstrat guitar
  • Ernie Ball Music Man St. Vincent guitar
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