World-renowned Australian composer and pianist Percy Grainger was also an enthusiastic guitarist and wrote for the guitar in several chamber pieces. He also invented distinctive ways of playing and tuning what is now the world’s most played instrument.

Now, the Grainger Museum at the University of Melbourne is showcasing several rare and exquisite guitars as part of an exhibition charting the instrument’s burst of popularity in the last hundred years.

Instrument of Change: Visions of the Guitar in the Early Twentieth Century explores the widespread fascination with guitars and other fretted instruments, and the different ways Australian musicians, instrument makers and artists engaged with the guitar.

Co-curator, musicologist and Percy Grainger expert from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Associate Professor Michael Christoforidis, says the craftsmanship of the guitars, especially the use of inlay and unusual design features, is very popular with visitors.

“A favourite for many visitors is the enormous Gibson harp guitar from 1910 that was made in the pre-amplification period to project the sound at a greater volume,” he says.

“Rather than denoting a single well-defined instrument, the guitar encapsulates a range of designs, sounds, repertories and playing styles, from the Spanish classical guitar to the Hawaiian slide guitar and the Art Deco styling of the jazz-band instrument.”

The exhibition also includes photographs, musical scores and artworks by iconic Australian artists such as Tom Roberts and Russell Drysdale.

Co-curator Dr Ken Murray, head of guitar studies at the MCM, says many forms of the guitar vied for popularity in the early 20th century, competing with banjos, ukuleles, mandolins and a number of hybrid plucked instruments.

The exhibition is on show until 31 August. Bookings for the exhibition’s free public programs, including guitar concerts, can be made on the Grainger Museum website: