CHATTANOOGA: SONGBIRDS GUITAR MUSEUM

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To celebrate Bruce’s birthday, we hit the road to Chattanooga for a three-day visit.  Located less than three hours away, it was a very doable drive for a short get-away.  The draw?  Songbirds Guitar Museum, located in the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo complex.

As a former drummer, harmonica player, and singer with Anthem, a 1970’s-era San Diego-based rock band, Songbirds pulled on Bruce’s heart strings.  This was the perfect opportunity for Bruce to be in his happy place on his birthday.

As the Songbirds website states, “The Songbirds Guitar Museum not only brings our unparalleled collection of guitars to life through audio accompaniments, but the exhibits also embed these fretted instruments in pop culture vignettes with period-specific items of historical significance and relevance to the development of the guitar.  Guitars are grouped by brand, time frame, and linear progression.  Acoustic, electric, jazz, bass, mandolin, banjo and mandocello models- their stories are here for you.  Songbirds Guitar Museum is historically accurate, educational and fun for both guitar enthusiasts and those new to guitars.”

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The exhibits cover fretted instrument history from the 1920s to the 1970s, with a heavy focus on collector favorites like custom color models and other rarities from Fender, Gibson and Gretsch.  At any given time, there are over 300 instruments on display.  In all, the museum owns a collection of over 1,700 instruments, and the exhibits rotate on a regular basis.

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The combined value of the collection is worth over $200 million, with the value of individual pieces ranging from $10,000 USD to $1 million.

This incredible American-made collection is owned by the Songbirds Investment Group, a group that includes David Davidson, a partner with We Buy Guitars in New York City.  He worked for years to build the collection and find it a home.

Guitar aficionados consider the collection to be the premier private collection of rare guitars in the world.  Some of the crown jewels of the collection include 34 Gibson Les Paul “Bursts” from 1958 to 1960 (about 2% of all the “Bursts” in existence), around 300 custom color Fenders and 75 custom color Gibson Firebirds, rare early Gibson Flying V and Explorer specimens, a 1941 Martin D-45 and a set of instruments all made on the same day by legendary luthier Lloyd Loar.

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This 1958 Gibson Les Paul Sunburst was displayed in a glass case in the Vault, a highly secured room only accessible while on a guided “All Access Tour.”  This is where the museum’s most valuable guitars are displayed in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment.  This particular model guitar sold for a few hundred dollars when it was new and is now valued in the mid-six figures.  Read more about these vintage guitars here.

The best way to see and enjoy the museum is to spring for a guided “All Access Tour” ($38) that includes the Green Room and Vault.  On the day we visited, there were just two other people on our tour that lasted almost two hours.  (Normally, the tour lasts about 90 minutes; however, our guide was happy to answer all the questions we threw at him!)

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This is the Green Room, only accessible on the guided All Access Tour.  The highly-secured Vault is in the back of the room.

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The Vault had the most elaborate (and expensive!) security I had ever seen outside of a bank.  The most valuable guitars in this room were worth up to one million dollars!  Since only 300 instruments are displayed at any given time in the museum, the remaining 1,400+ instruments are stored somewhere off-site.  The location is a highly guarded secret.

The stories behind the guitars in the Green Room and Vault were fascinating, even for the two of us non-guitar players.

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These are prototypes.

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