Waukesha: A Popular GuitarTown

Steampunk guitar

Note: The article that follows was originally a five-part series I wrote on a WordPress.com site starting on August 30, 2013.

GuitarTown, Part 1

This morning (I took the day off) I went on my first self-assigned photo shoot outside the boundaries of the lot on which our house sits. I didn’t go very far – just to downtown Waukesha, aka GuitarTown.

For the uninitiated, Waukesha is one of several “GuitarTowns” across the country – the others being Los Angeles, Cleveland, Miami, Orlando, Nashville, and Austin – sponsored by Gibson guitars. Waukesha was chosen since it can claim Les Paul as a native son.

The official Waukesha GuitarTown site lists ten 10-foot-tall guitars as part of the project which was officially unveiled in 2012, but it seems more were added this year.

I was able to photograph 9 of the original 10. One was in a shop that was closed, and the guitar – though in the window – was facing inward. (More on that later.) As if to make up for that one, I did find one of the newer guitars accidentally.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I parked near the Waukesha State Bank and started my circuit with the instrument outside the bank itself.

Carlos y la rana Azteca

This first 10-footer was created by Ben Stark of Milwaukee.

Carlos y la rana Azteca guitar
Carlos y la rana Azteca guitar

The full name of this design is “Carlos y la rana Azteca”. I don’t speak Spanish outside of what I remember from Sesame Street, so I had to use Google Translate to get the meaning. (I had figured out “Carlos” and “Azteca”, but still….)

It means “Carlos and the Aztec frog”. The colors and design are reminiscent of the Aztecs. That includes what’s painted on the back side of the body.

Aztec guitar back
Aztec guitar back

I’m fairly certain that the gentleman pictured at the bottom is Carlos Santana.

Carlos guitar body
Carlos guitar body
Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana

What about the frog? He’s way up there at the top of the neck.

Aztec frog
Aztec frog

Most, but not all, of these guitars have a plaque at the base honoring the designer and naming the sponsor.

Carlos plaque
Carlos plaque

Hummingbird Guitar

A few blocks away on Main Street is the guitar that I think is my favorite. I like birds, and the hummingbird is probably my favorite bird.

Hummingbird guitar
Hummingbird guitar

It’s a simple and cheery design. The body shows the hummingbird over a bright red flower.

Hummingbird guitar body
Hummingbird guitar body

The bird itself looks like it could be the ruby-throated species.

Hummingbird on guitar
Hummingbird on guitar

The neck spells out “hummingbird” in a fancy script.

Hummingbird guitar neck
Hummingbird guitar neck

Unlike most of the body backs, this one has a nifty design all its own showing a large butterfly.

Hummingbird guitar butterfly back
Hummingbird guitar butterfly back

The designer of the Hummingbird is Marcia Schneider. Apparently she had Mary Ford (Les Paul’s wife) in mind when creating this guitar. If you look at some of the pictures above, you might be able to make out “Les Paul and Mary Ford” at the top of the neck.

Hummingbird plaque
Hummingbird plaque

All of these locations, by the way, are just the summer display spots for these guitars. A few of them are indoors even now, but for the winter months, all of them get moved inside for protection from the elements.

In Tune with Wisconsin

This next guitar has a Wisconsin theme. You can already see in this shot that the designer, Bill Reid, inlaid the shape of the state in the body of the instrument.

Wisconsin guitar
Wisconsin guitar

What you might not be able to immediately discern is that the state is made entirely of mirrors. Those are trees, etc. that were behind me that you see reflected in the guitar. As I move in closer, you can see that what’s reflected there has changed. Pretty cool.

Wisconsin guitar mirrors
Wisconsin guitar mirrors

Backing away just a little, you can see various Wisconsin themes around the edge of the state – corn, dairy (Holstein), beer, manufacturing, and more.

Wisconsin guitar body
Wisconsin guitar body

The neck shows the theme in words.

Wisconsin guitar neck
Wisconsin guitar neck

The back side of the Wisconsin guitar is just as interesting as the front. The body is just as fully decorated, showing the state capitol, the state seal, sports, and so on.

I find it slightly ironic that the state motto, “Forward”, is on the back side of the neck. At least it’s not written backward.

Wisconsin guitar back
Wisconsin guitar back

On the right side of the back is a list of guitarists and other musicians who hail(ed) from Wisconsin.

Guitarists on the Wisconsin guitar
Guitarists on the Wisconsin guitar

Way up at the top is the year that Wisconsin achieved statehood.

I couldn’t see what it says on the guitar pick embedded there.

1848 atop the Wisconsin guitar
1848 atop the Wisconsin guitar

The Face in the Window

My next stop led me to a tattoo shop that had a guitar in the window. Unfortunately, the shop was not open this Friday morning and the guitar was facing into the store, so I didn’t try to get a picture of it.

The next guitar too was locked up inside the Springs Building. At least this one was facing the right direction for me.

This was the best shot I could get. It looks kinda scary. Does anyone know any more about Jeff Seymour’s creation?

A face on a guitar
A face on a guitar

Read a Book While Admiring Steampunk

The next guitar has a steampunk theme and is located in the public library. You might not expect it, but I kinda like steampunk. It’s really Victorian with a twist.

Steampunk guitar
Steampunk guitar

Most, if not all, of the gears and other mechanisms you see are only decorative rather than functional, as far as I know.

Steampunk guitar body
Steampunk guitar body

My apologies for not trying to eliminate the guard rail and for the slightly out of focus shot. Being in the library, I wanted to get these taken quickly so as not to disturb the library’s patrons.

Being a keyboardist, I really appreciate the neck on this unusual guitar. There are at least 88 keys – more, I think. (Update: I went back and counted. The full 88 are there.)

Steampunk guitar keyboard neck
Steampunk guitar keyboard neck

The text of the explanatory board below isn’t very legible here, but you’re not missing much.

Steampunk guitar description
Steampunk guitar description

Heading Back Out into the Sunshine

Next stop was the First Federal Bank which hosts a brightly-colored Gibson suitable for your favorite flower child.

Flower guitar
Flower guitar

You can see a nice welcome sign in the background. (I’m thinking of shooting various murals around town once they’re all done.)

Up close this guitar only gets brighter and more flowery.

Flower guitar body
Flower guitar body

I like how the four tuning knobs are integrated into the design.

This is another guitar where the artist really put a lot of work into the back side too.

Flower guitar back
Flower guitar back

Even the sides of this one got some love.

Flower guitar side
Flower guitar side

Credit goes to…

Flower guitar plaque
Flower guitar plaque

GuitarTown Goes Down Under and Gets Red Hot

My next two stops on my guitar tour of downtown Waukesha showed me guitars that were not as elaborately painted as most of those I’d seen previously. They are fine designs in their own right, but I can’t say they’d be the first instruments I’d show you if I wanted to brag about the GuitarTown project.

Heading Down Under

I’m not sure why the artist chose to put a kangaroo on the front of this guitar, but there it is. I’m not sure what the number 15 represents either. Maybe this is supposed to remind you of an album (LP) cover that I’m not familiar with. Can anyone help me out here?

Kangaroo guitar
Kangaroo guitar

The closeup of the body may give you more clues.

Kangaroo guitar body
Kangaroo guitar body

This guitar was quite close to the Freeman (the Waukesha newpaper) building, so I had to take the shot of the back side at a bad angle (without trying to get too fancy).

Kangaroo guitar back
Kangaroo guitar back

Red Hot, But Not Chili Peppers

The next instrument is called Red Hot Red. Again, if that refers to something else in particular, I’m not familiar. Let me know in the comments if you are.

Red Hot Red guitar
Red Hot Red guitar

Strangely, the body of this guitar is not red.

Red Hot Red guitar body
Red Hot Red guitar body

This one does come with a plaque crediting the designers.

Red Hot Red plaque
Red Hot Red plaque

The name is up here on the neck. Notice the nifty tuning “knobs”.

Red Hot Red guitar neck
Red Hot Red guitar neck

A Surprise and a Tiger by the Tail

Finally, my tour of downtown Waukesha and the 10-foot guitars found therein comes to an end. I have just 2 more guitars to show here. The first one is the unexpected guitar I mentioned earlier.

I’m not sure what to call it. It seems to have stickers all over it that promote various locations past or present in the city. It gives me the feeling of an old suitcase that has stickers on it from a world traveler.

Bonus Travel guitar
Bonus Travel guitar

This guitar was located at the corner of Main and Gaspar at the beginning of the walkway on the north side of Main.

Travel guitar body
Travel guitar body

If you stand in that walkway, you can see the back of the guitar as you look out onto Main Street.

Travel guitar back
Travel guitar back

Meow Meow Moon Meow

I think the official name for this final guitar is supposed to remind you of an old cat food commercial – with a twist, but it’s not a kitty that’s painted here.

Tiger guitar
Tiger guitar

Located next to the county museum, this black and orange guitar was entirely in the shade in the morning. I didn’t mind that at all, since I was dripping quite steadily by this time.

Tiger guitar body
Tiger guitar body

Here’s a closeup of the “kitty”.

Tiger guitar tiger
Tiger guitar tiger

Credit for this instrument goes to Gene Evans.

Tiger guitar plaque
Tiger guitar plaque

On the back side you can see where the name comes from.

Tiger guitar back
Tiger guitar back

All done! There you have it. I hope you enjoyed the trip.

There are more guitars in the Waukesha collection, but you’ll have to visit in person to see them for yourself.

Summary
Waukesha: A Popular Guitar Town
Article Name
Waukesha: A Popular Guitar Town
Description
A tour of the artistically painted guitars in downtown Waukesha
Author
Publisher Name
My Musical Picks
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Author: Gary Sonnenberg

Gary has been playing keyboards since he was very young. He started on a chord organ because that's what his father liked. He's played guitar since he was a teenager, and he recently learned he could keep the beat on a drum set.