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EXHIBIT STRIKES A CHORD WITH GUITAR LOVERS

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There would have been no Spanish flamencos, no cowboys strumming folk songs around a fire and no groovy '60s riffs - but for the guitar.

It's that hollow invention whose twang carried over prairie and mountains and whose signature sound accentuated the blues, changed jazz and shook out rock 'n' roll.Popular music owes a debt to this most humble of stringed instruments, and you need only head to the National Museum of American History to pay your respects.

A new exhibit, "Guitars in American Popular Music," opened Monday and showcases more than a dozen of the guitars in the collection. The exhibit illustrates the changes that saw the guitar to its present state and charts the past 100 years of America's love affair with the instrument.

There are folk, acoustic and electric guitars. There is a resonator guitar, a cigar box guitar, a plastic guitar and a double-necked harp-guitar.

Exhibit curator Bill Yardley called the guitar "one of those rare trends that caught on and stuck."

"The guitar was embraced by popular culture," he said. "It struck a common chord in this country. And in the end . . . these things are still here in our culture."

Introduced to this continent by Spanish settlers in the 1600s, the guitar gradually became the mainstay of American grassroots music.

Guitars evolved greatly in the past 100 years, although the basic shape has changed surprisingly little. But as the need grew for louder sound, the size and other elements changed.

A turn-of-the-century Dobro resonator guitar had a patented silver loud speaker built into the face. Another guitar, the Stromberg, was the largest ever made.

But it was the development of the electric guitar that revolutionized the instrument, and in turn, the sound of music.