Exploring Randy Bachman’s love of and obsession with guitars
The Randy Bachman: Every Guitar Tells a Story exhibit opens May 5 at Studio Bell
Randy Bachman is an undeniable legend of Canadian music, and Calgarians are in for a treat with his new exhibit at Studio Bell. // Jarrett Edmund
Back in 1956, you could buy a Silvertone Sunburst F-Hole acoustic guitar from the Sears catalogue for a mere $34.95.
Randy Bachman was just 13 years old when he purchased that very guitar.
Now, it’s one of more than 80 instruments from the Canadian music legend’s collection on display at Studio Bell.
The Randy Bachman: Every Guitar Tells a Story exhibit opens on May 5.
“Since I picked up a guitar for the first time, it’s been hard to put down,” states Bachman in a press release about the exhibit.
“This is the largest exhibition from my personal collection that I’ve ever shared.”
Guitars with history
Bachman’s 1959 Gibson Les Paul electric guitar—which he acquired in a trade with a young fan in the early days of The Guess Who—is part of the exhibit.
That guitar would go on to become one of the most famous axes in Canadian rock and roll history, helping Bachman create the signature sound behind hits including “American Woman” and “These Eyes”.
Fans can also see one of Bachman’s beloved guitars which was stolen in the mid-70s and ultimately recovered 45 years later after it was spotted being played by Japanese musician Takeshi in a YouTube video.
“The guitar is the most personal instrument of them all—it’s right against your heart and soul,” Bachman says.
“This exhibition will give my fans a sense of how my love—and obsession—for guitars began and evolved.”
This 1957 Gretsch electric guitar was recovered 45 years after it was stolen. // Jarrett Edmund
Studio Bell a fitting home
Bachman is good friends with Studio Bell president and CEO Andrew Mosker, and he was an early champion of the National Music Centre (NMC).
In fact, Bachman played a special show for construction workers as a thank-you before the NMC opened, according to studio and electronics engineer Jason Tawkin.
Therefore, Studio Bell is a very fitting home for Bachman’s beloved guitar collection.
Tawkin worked with Bachman at NMC’s recording studio a few years ago, and he collaborated closely with the musician to put together the exhibit and care for the guitars.
“When we first worked together in 2017, [we] found out that we grew up in the same neighbourhood in Winnipeg. So there was definitely a kinship that we formed out of that,” Tawkin tells Calgary Citizen.
“There was some talk about him downsizing and moving his large collection of guitars here in the hopes of actually doing an exhibition in the future.”
A collaborative effort
After a lengthy and collaborative process, the exhibit is nearing its opening day.
Tawkin says the sheer volume of Bachman’s collection was the biggest challenge in getting the exhibit ready.
“The initial collection that came to us was almost 350 guitars,” he says, adding a five-tonne truck was packed to the brim.
“Just the logistics of moving a collection that size, and then actually navigating it, keeping it organized, making sure that guitars don't get mixed up. It's a daunting task when you have that much volume.”
Tawkin says he’s excited that the exhibit has finally come together, and that people will get to see years of hard work on display.
“[The guitars] have a real presence as a collection… You wouldn't see this many rare guitars all in the same room anywhere else, which is really exciting.”
Fans have a chance to get up close and personal with Bachman’s guitars. // Jarrett Edmund
Gathering the stories
Along with the time it took to physically organize Bachman’s collection, Tawkin says the team also spent a lot of time cultivating stories about the guitars.
“Randy is such a great storyteller,” Tawkin says, adding the exhibit includes videos of Bachman telling tales from throughout his career.
“He witnessed through the course of his career the birth of rock and roll and all the changes from the late 50s all the way to the present day, and he was kind of around for it all and has stories to match it.
“It's pretty amazing to hear the stories of these guitars and that time period, and the music that went along with it, and connecting it all with someone that was actually there. It's pretty cool.”
Visitors can also partake in interactive video guitar lessons and jam sessions with Bachman, with four kiosks for a range of skill levels.
“If you've never played guitar before, Randy will take you through the anatomy of a guitar, how to hold it, how to play, how to tune it,” Tawkin says, adding more advanced players can learn three of Bachman’s songs and virtually play along with him.
“It goes with our message [that] music is for everyone. Music is accessible, anyone can create music, and so I'm really excited to finally see all these aspiring guitar players get some lessons from a real dignified pro.”
Diving deeper into the guitars
Randy Bachman: Every Guitar Tells a Story is included with paid admission to Studio Bell, and will run from May 5 to Oct. 1.
Bachman will discuss the exhibit, his guitar collection, and his career, and play some of the guitars for guests.
“It's really a chance to dive deeper into a number of guitars that are on display, and some of the intricacies and details of the stories, as well as some of the reasons for collecting and the choices and all that stuff,” Tawkin says.
Meanwhile, fans have a chance to see Bachman live when he comes back to Calgary on Oct. 13 for a show at Grey Eagle Event Centre.
Bachman shows off some of his extensive collection. // Jarrett Edmund