SEMA News - December 2010

NHRA Museum Celebrates Cars and Guitars

By Tony Thacker
Photography By Colby Martin and Matthew Pearson

  SEMA News-December 2010-Stars & Cars
The Axes and Axles exhibit at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, California, features cars and guitars from icons Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Michael Anthony, Eddie Van Halen, Jimmie Vaughan and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.  
  SEMA News-December 2010-Stars & Cars
Jeff Beck’s Guitar Garage includes his ’32 Highboy roadster.   
Although primarily a motorsports museum that displays everything from early dry-lakes race cars to modern top fuel dragsters, the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, California, had long desired to host a stars’ cars and guitars exhibit. The necessary impetus came with the 60th anniversary of the Fender Telecaster guitar.

According to Cris Mirabella of Mirabella Guitars, “The Telecaster laid the groundwork for many of the modern custom designs of today. And even with all these modern concepts, the original design still remains a very valid and needed instrument.”

The interesting thing about the Tele’ is that its originator, Leo Fender, used the same concept of interchangeability as Henry Ford did with his cars. The body, neck and even the small parts were all designed to be interchangeable and easily replaced when broken. Also, the body was carved from a solid piece of wood so that no time was wasted forming the complicated hollow body of acoustic guitars.

Fender was also hip to the popular culture. Rather than using the staid wood finishes of previous years, by 1954 and the invention of the Stratocaster, he was painting his guitars with new DuPont automotive colors, such as candy apple red, Lake Placid blue and, of course, sparkle, which cars guys called metalflake.
Fender also embarked upon an aggressive advertising campaign that depicted people in everyday situations but with a Fender guitar strapped to their backs. The tag line was, “You won’t part with yours either.” The advertising firmly positioned Fender as the young, hip brand before branding was even a consideration.

Fender also found a burgeoning band of new musicians willing to play the company’s guitars—influential artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards and many more who, in turn, influenced other budding musicians to adopt Fender as the guitar of choice for the new beat generation.

The guitars were easily customizable, and so players began decorating them with ever-wilder graphic treatments. The trend for custom guitars grew to such an extent that Fender established its own Custom Shop in 1985. Much like with cars at hot-rod shops, the Custom Shop builds prototypes and one-off guitars for artists, special events, charities, etc.

The Axes and Axles exhibit will be on display at the Wally Parks NHRA Museum in Pomona, California, through June 2011.  
Because one of the first things musicians often do when they get some money is buy a big car, there is a distinctive synergy between cars and guitars. Also, many of the early rock-and-roll songs were about cars, including “Rocket 88” and “Hot Rod Lincoln.”

It just all fits. And so it was that Fender’s Scott Buehl approached Pete Chapouris of SO-CAL Speed Shop wanting to build a custom Strat using SO-CAL’s distinctive red-and-white livery.

The result was a big hit, and the partnership blossomed when car guy Ritchie Fliegler, Fender’s senior vice president of market development at the time, stepped in. Discussions resulted in SO-CAL using Fender pick-guard material to make dash inserts. More importantly, Fender developed a production guitar styled in the famous SO-CAL colors. The relationship inspired SO-CAL President Pete Chapouris to develop a number of guitars to match SO-CAL cars.

Fast forward to 2010 and the 60th anniversary of the Telecaster. The idea was to use the synergy between cars and guitars to develop an interactive exhibit that would allow children to pick up a guitar and have a go! Guitar teachers would be on hand to show the kids how to hold a guitar and the basics of playing. During the 2010 L.A. County Fair, the museum welcomed hundreds of K-through-12 school children to the exhibit in an effort to introduce them to music and, through music, to cars.

Beyond the Fair, on January 28, 2011, the museum, working in conjunction with Henry Astor of the AMP Education program, will host two adult workshops. Hosted by WyoTech, the workshops—one each in the morning and afternoon—will feature professional car builders, such as Roy Brizio of Brizio Street Rods and Pete Chapouris of SO-CAL talking about their car-building experiences. There will also be some musicians on hand to talk about the other side of it. Practical hands-on demonstrations of guitar and car building will also be part of the program.

Meanwhile, the exhibit at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum will run through June 2011. It is comprised of stars’ cars from Van Halen/Chickenfoot bass player Michael Anthony, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Billy F. Gibbons, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jimmie Vaughan as well as Chip Foose and SO-CAL.

There are also numerous custom-built guitars from the above as well as from Eddie Van Halen, Brian Setzer and others. It’s certainly one of the best exhibits the museum has ever hosted, according to museum executives, and they expressed their gratitude to Fender and the many friends of the museum who are into cars and guitars.

Visit for more information about the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum and its exhibits and events.  

SEMA News-December 2010-Stars & Cars
Former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony showed up for the exhibit opening, signing autographs and bench racing. Blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan was also in the house.  
   SEMA News-December 2010-Stars & Cars
Artist and illustrator Thom Taylor (left) and automotive writer Pat Ganahl were on hand, as were other industry favorites, such as Alex Xydias, Pete Chapouris and Jimmy Shine.

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