Denver Photographer Jeff Pistana

Photographer serving Denver, Boulder, Colorado and beyond

Please call: 303-665-7504E-mail

The Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, California

On my most recent visit to southern California, I discovered several small museums that aren't well known, but are amazing little gems surrounded by much more popular attractions.

The first one is the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, north of San Diego. The museum is operated by NAMM, which some musicians will recognize as the National Association of Music Merchants, the organization which hosts a major trade show each year where manufacturers of musical instruments show off all their newest gadgets and gizmos. The museum is on the ground floor of the building which houses the NAMM headquarters, located upstairs.

Most anybody interested in music and history will enjoy this museum. Or perhaps you just really enjoy alliteration. The museum is not large and only takes an hour or less to visit, but there's plenty to see. Exhibits include musical devices of many types, primarily from America and Europe. Some of the instruments are over one hundred years old, and a few of them are extremely rare and valuable.

There are also electronic instruments, and related items like old radios, and so on.

Most of the instruments are in glass display cases, but a few scattered throughout the museum are ready and willing to be plucked and strummed by visitors, which the museum encourages as an interactive hands-on learning experience.
Trumpets and brass instruments on display at the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, California.

The museum includes brass and string orchestra instruments, pianos, organs, electronics, percussion and more. Here is a Moog synthesizer from the 1970s:
Vintage Moog Synthesizer from the 1970s
Gibson Mandobass from the early 1900s.What on Earth is this monster at left? It's a Mandobass! This one was manufactured by the Gibson musical instrument company in the early 1900s, when instruments like this were more popular. As the name suggests, a mandobass is the largest member of the mandolin family, and yes, it's really as big as it looks. It was designed to be played upright, supported by a peg like a larger double bass.

The museum features many vintage guitars and other stringed instruments, notably a Gibson harp guitar from around the same time period.

Here's an old vacuum tube powered radio from around the 1940s, the Radiograph II:
Vintage vacuum tube radio

Let's stop beating around the bush and get to the good stuff. Deeper in to the museum exhibits, in the mid-century period area, are a few electric guitars that will astonish just about anybody interested in the history of the instrument and the history of Rock and Roll music, the genre most closely associated with and defined by these instruments.

First up is this 1952 Gibson Les Paul with the gold top finish. 1952 was the first year the Les Paul appeared, making this instrument one of the very first to bear the name of Les Paul and to feature the design style and innovations that influenced so much of what came afterwards.

This Les Paul guitar, along with the first Fender guitars, were among the first solid body guitars ever created, and Les Paul himself was instrumental in the design of the instrument.

This particular guitar shows its age, as the finish is cracked and scratched. The trapeze bridge and P-90 pickups were typical of these earliest first generation Les Pauls.

When this guitar appeared in a music store back in 1952, rock and roll as a genre was in its infancy as a child of the rhythm and blues music of the 1940s, by musicians like Louis Jordan. The term "rock and roll" had only first been uttered the year before in 1951.

What an amazing piece of history this guitar is!
1952 Les Paul gold top guitar
1954 Fender Stratocaster guitar serial number 0002So you liked that Les Paul and it got your mouth watering a little bit, eh? Well, prepare to have your mind completely blown by this next one.

This is a Fender Stratocaster from 1954, serial number 0002. Let me repeat that: Stratocaster serial number 0002. Great googly moogly! Not only is this one of the very first Fender Stratocasters ever made (0002!), it's in amazingly pristine condition and shows only minor wear.

If you've ever researched Fender serial numbers, you know that are mostly arbitrary and are not really very good indicators of when a particular instrument or amp was built, but it's hard to argue with number 0002. I've seen (and played) dozens and dozens of Strats over the years, but I've never seen one like this. To a casual observer, the differences are neglible and barely noticable, but Strat freaks and afficianados will notice on closer inspection that the control knobs, 1-ply pickguard, and pick up covers are slightly different than more familiar later models. And of course the tailpiece cover only appeared on early models.

This one was (is) obviously owned by Curtis Ray Young, who is still alive(?) and has kindly loaned this incredibly historic instrument to the museum.

When this guitar was made, the Fender Company was still Leo Fender's baby, and I'd say there is a darn good chance that Leo himself handled this very guitar.

When this guitar left the Fender factory, no one had ever heard of Elvis Presley, and John Lennon was just 14 years old.
Here is a closer view of the pickquard and electronics on this 1954 Fender Stratocaster:
1954 Fender Stratocaster pickguard close up

The museum also featured an early Fender "Nocaster", but since I've never liked Telecasters very much, I wasn't nearly as excited about that guitar as I was about this Stratocaster. Also of interest was a Rickenbacker "frying pan" lap guitar.
The Museum of Making Music is located in Carlsbad, California, just east of the I-5 highway, next to Legoland! Other nearby features include the Carlsbad Premium Outlets shopping complex, as well as The Flower Fields, a fifty acre hillside covered with colorful flowers (in season). So there's plenty to see and do nearby.

The address of the Museum of Making Music is:

5790 Armada Drive, Carlsbad, CA 92008


They have plenty of free parking but there is an admission charge to enter the museum. It's worth it!

The museum is open 10am to 5pm daily (closed Mondays) as of this writing.

Check it out!

Right down the street is another museum of interest at the Gemological Institute of America, which I also visited. It's full of precious beautiful gemstones and minerals which will delight anyone interested in those items. However, it is by appointment only, so be sure to call first to check availability. You can't just show up and walk in.
Fender Stratocaster guitar, serial 0002 description tag
Please call:  303-665-7504Email:
All photos and text copyright 2002-2017 Jeff Pistana
Do not use photos or text, or any other content, without permission.