In the Sega Age, the notion of a piano as the primary source of family entertainment requires a highly developed sense of nostalgia. Yet, around 100 years ago the player piano was the second highest-selling consumer product in the United States (outsold only by the bicycle). It was the predecessor to radio and television as the modern-day campfire.
Carlsbad's Museum of Making Music (MOMM) is based on the intrigue behind such useless and fascinating facts. MOMM boasts five galleries chock full of vintage musical instruments and historical anecdotes about the development and evolution of musical hardware over the last century.
“The whole idea started in the late '90s,” explains Carolyn Grant, Executive Director of the museum. “NAMM (The National Association of Music Merchants) decided to build a museum of 100 years of their history. Once the museum was researched, designed and completed, I came on board, and instead of being for the music industry alone, it became more open to the public, because there's such an inspirational story there.”
Grant and her colleagues created their own non-profit board of directors that was wholly separate from NAMM. After a few years of preparation, they were able to open their doors in 2000. Upon doing so, they switched their mission statement to focus on education.
As you enter the museum, the physical history lesson begins in the late 1800s with the sound of John Phillip Sousa and the marching band era. Just around the corner is the gramophone, a predecessor of the record player, which played music on wax cylinders, as opposed to vinyl discs.
Fast-forward about 20 years and you find yourself standing in front of the Theremin, the first known electronic instrument and grandpappy of the modern synthesizer.
“It's an electronic instrument that was invented by a Russian scientist that was working on surveillance equipment,” Grant explains, showing her quick reflex for the historical narrative.
“We have fun with it because we like to tell kids who come to the museum that it's an instrument you can play without strumming, touching, or blowing,” she says.
Take another right turn, and you'll end up in front of one of the first electric guitars, a Bigsby guitar developed in the 1940s.
“(The Bigsby) is arguably one of the first solid-body electric guitars,” explains John Alexander, head of Artifacts and Research. “It was made around the same time Leo Fender developed the Telecaster, first called the Broadcaster. It's hard to say which came first.”
Go three decades further, and you'll discover a drum kit that's been used as the backbone for literally thousands of songs from the likes of The Beach Boys, Elvis and Sinatra. It belonged to session drummer Hal Blaine.
“We're not really a hall of fame-type museum, but we do have a drum kit used by Hal Blaine, who is one of the most recorded drummers of all time,” Alexander says. “He played on a bunch of hits in the '60s and '70s. He was on a ridiculous amount of number one singles.”
There are a few other exceptions to Alexander's comment about being a hall of fame museum, including a guitar played by jazz great Wes Montgomery, and a set of woodcarving tools used by Leo Fender, founder of Fender Guitars.
After passing by the Blaine drums and the mellotron and Fender Rhodes organ that flank it, you end up in the '70s, where many different synthesizers are on display, including a Moog and LEO-the Live Electronic Orchestra-not to be confused with the band who once famously demanded the world don't bring 'em down.
“It's sort of hard to describe,” Alexander says. “There's several keyboards and drum machines on it. It basically gave engineers the idea for MIDI, and it was sort of how MIDI was developed.”
“It's really what the museum is all about,” Grant explains. “It's innovative and it led to the development of other instruments and technological advances. It served as a catalyst for Ikutaro Kakehashi, who started the Roland corporation in Japan.”
While auto-didactics can educate themselves through the exhibits in the museum, MOMM also caters to those who prefer to learn by instruction, offering various educational programs and classes for the inquisitive public.
“We have some K-through-eight programs that reach out to schools that allows kids to have an interactive, hands-on experience with music,” Grant says.
The museum itself is enough to hold the interest of music lovers, but special events, like the upcoming exhibit dedicated to the very first electric guitar, are the museum's way of attracting return visits.
“We will be showing the prototype of the first electric guitar, made by Rickenbacker,” Grant explains. “They call it the ‘frying pan,' because of how it looks. It's only been displayed twice in public before.
“Rickenbacker's based up in Santa Ana,” Alexander adds. “Most people don't know that early electric guitars were developed in Orange County.
“It all happened right in our backyard.”