Merle’s and Speedy’s Bigsbys at the CMHOF

Apr 16, 2024

This makes me happy—when I put Speedy West’s Bigsby steel guitar on loan at the Country Music Hall of Fame last year, I told them that I really wanted it to be next to Merle Travis’s Bigsby solidbody guitar, in the same display case. After all, Merle and Speedy were best pals, and both of them got their Bigsby instruments within a few months of each other in 1948, Speedy in February and Merle in May. In addition, both instruments represent huge advances in technology for the time. Speedy’s pedal steel was the first “modern” pedal steel guitar—not the first pedal steel, but the first to feature many standard construction features that have been used on every pedal steel made ever since. Merle Travis’s Bigsby solidbody, likewise, is the first “modern” electric solidbody guitar—not the first electric solidbody, but another instrument that brought about so many innovative ideas, it is fair to say that every electric solidbody guitar that has come afterward owes a debt to Merle’s humble instrument.

Well, at the time I loaned the CMHOF Speedy’s steel, they said it wasn’t possible to get Speedy’s and Merle’s instruments in the same display case, but that it might be possible at a later date. So for the last year and a half or so, Speedy’s steel was on display, but in a different section of the exhibits than Merle’s guitar.

Until today! I got an email and this photo from instrument curator Jack Clutter (a truly solid dude), who informed me that Merle’s and Speedy’s Bigsby instruments were now in the same showcase, next to each other. And that’s where they’ll stay for a good long while. That makes me happy. I know that if Merle and Speedy are looking down from the clouds, they’ll get a kick out of it too (especially considering that Speedy’s steel was “lost” for fifty years, turned up in a trash lot in Bakersfield with no case, before getting a full restoration from Todd Clinesmith a few years ago). Sort of a miracle that they both survived. Thanks, Jack!