Of course the center of the musical universe in California is LA — so much so it’s easy to assume San Diego has no status within that industry. But that’s mistaken. I and others have written about Taylor Guitars (and the wonderful free tours offered for so long by the El Cajon-based giant.) Both the Deering and Stelling banjo companies began here, and touring Deering’s Spring Valley facility is still on my To-Do list. Most impressive of all is the Museum of Making Music, which opened in Carlsbad in 2000 and just underwent a major remodel. Seeing the improvements has also been on my list since August, when they were completed. I recently got to it.
The facility is so impressive, an obvious question is: why is it there, on that rather isolated stretch of Armada Drive (just down the road from both Legoland and the ranunculus fields)? The answer is that the museum is the public face of the National Association of Music Manufacturers, the trade group for all those folks who make, buy, or sell all the pianos, guitars, bugles, piccolos, snare drums, harps, and other assorted instruments around the world. (The association claims about 9,000 members internationally). Begun 110 years ago in New York City (then the epicenter for piano manufacturers), it moved to Chicago several decades later, and then to Carlsbad in 1983, as the industry shifted west. The association hosts trade shows (including a gigantic expo in Anaheim every January), and part of its mission is to promote the pleasures and benefits of music-making. On the first floor of the building, the museum serves the latter goal, while upstairs close to 80 employees toil at more prosaic industry-promotional tasks.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10-5, the museum’s general admission costs $8. It takes at least an hour to speed through all the galleries, which present the history of American musical instruments and music making chronologically. You could certainly while away a lot more time here. Some of the instruments are mundane, but some are strange and interesting collector’s items: the portable piano created for shipment to US troops during World War II; weirdly multi-necked guitars; the most famous drum kit in America (supposedly), used to record Return to Sender, Surfin’ USA, Dead Man’s Curve, I Got You Babe, Mr. Tambourine Man, California Dreamin’, Strangers in the Night, Galveston, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and other hits.
The remodeling added a whole new interactive music-making gallery…
The only thing that seems to be missing from the museum was crowds of visitors. Probably they don’t know what they’re missing.