Belmont University in Nashville is the recipient of a large treasure trove of vintage instruments, bequeathed to them by the estate of the late Steven Kern Shaw. The collection includes close to 500 guitars and mandolins, among them specimens of the very best of what 20th century American luthiery produced.
Shaw was the grandson of Jerome Kern, who composed hundreds of popular songs, many of them used in Broadway productions like Showboat and The Ziegfeld Follies. Several of his numbers remain popular today, close to 100 years later, like Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, The Way You Look Tonight, Ol’ Man River, and many others.
Only an amateur musician himself, Steven invested much of the fortune he inherited from his grandfather into high quality instruments, which he played and carefully preserved throughout his life. Knowing the value in today’s market, he arranged for George Gruhn to serve as co-executor of his estate. Shaw’s goal was to see them stay together where they could be enjoyed by many, and not sold off piecemeal to other collectors.
Gruhn said that while they have been donated to Belmont, these instruments will be accessible to others in perpetuity.
“These instruments are to be played and heard in concerts and recordings as well as to be available for students, musical instrument builders and scholars to study, play and learn from association with them. Belmont University was the natural choice for a permanent home for this collection. Belmont draws students and scholars from around the world and is noted for the excellence of its College of Entertainment and Music Business and the College of Visual and Performing Arts which can incorporate aspects of this collection into their curriculum.”
It has taken some time since Shaw’s passing in 2015, but the university has now opened the collection to the public in their new Gallery of Iconic Guitars, or GIG. Within the collection, currently valued at $10.5 million, are such rarities as a quartet of Loar-signed Gibsons (mandolin, mandola, mandocello, and guitar), a 1939 Martin D-45, and a Gibson Les Paul standard sunburst from 1960.
Visitors to The GIG are welcome to browse through the instruments on exhibit, but will need to arrange appointments through management before closely examining or measuring them in detail.
The university has also created a performance space within The Gig, which will be used for intimate concerts among the vintage guitars going forward.
More information about hours, and loads of photos, can be found online.