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Music to Your Eyes

EIU Recording Studio director, a local music legend, lends his collection of rare, quirky guitars to the Tarble Arts Center

Mark Rubel views his guitars as old friends.

He appreciates the uniqueness in each, he doesn't put them on a shelf, and he certainly doesn't like the idea of seeing them displayed behind glass.

That's why visitors will have the opportunity to see a variety of distinctive instruments up close and personal in "Guit(art): Guitars from Mark Rubel’s Collection," an exhibition that will run from Aug. 25 through Sept. 20 in the Tarble Arts Center's eGallery.

"One of the things I like about this is it's not really a collection -- it's a stable of a working studio," said Rubel, who serves as audio director for EIU's Doudna Fine Arts Center and also teaches EIU music classes.

The impressive cache of 35 guitars actually represents only about half of Rubel's guitar inventory, which he began amassing when he opened his renowned Pogo Studio in Champaign in 1980.

"I know all of their personalities and sounds," Rubel said, explaining that it's the producer's job to be able to match the right instrument to the right song to create the right "soundscape." "They're really just like crayons or paintbrushes."

Rubel is drawn to anything out of the ordinary. One of his most unique items -- and that's saying something -- is the guitar fashioned out of the gas can from a U.S. Army Jeep by Tex Wynn of St. Joseph.

"It gets eight notes per gallon," Rubel joked.

When Rubel decided he wanted a bass 50 percent larger than usual, he asked luthier John Gray of Chicago to create one. The result is a monstrous jazz bass with one problem Rubel hadn't anticipated -- it weighs an estimated 40 lbs., making it better suited for photo props than actual playtime.

"It's really fun to play, for about three songs," said Rubel, who plays bass and provides vocals for the popular Champaign-based band Captain Rat and the Blind Rivets.

Most of the guitars are production models, but many have been modified. And all are played on a regular basis.

"I don't collect them for their value. I take pride in the fact that they're working devices, like a car or a tool."

Rubel balked when asked to name a favorite.

"They're all my favorite," he said, likening the question to asking, "Who's your favorite friend or favorite child?"

Visitors will be able to check out iPods to hear an audio tour of the exhibit, narrated by Rubel.

The Tarble Arts Center is located at 2010 Ninth St. on the EIU campus. For more information about exhibition, please call  217-581-ARTS (-2787) or email tarble@eiu.edu.

Other guitars included in the exhibit:

  • Hammertone Mando-Guitar, a short 12-string model that begins at the 12th fret
  • "Sparklecaster" Stratocaster
  • "Interstellarcaster," featuring our solar system's planets on the frets
  • 1956 Electric National Resonator -- Pictured, Top Right
  • 1950s Bronson "Singing Guitar" Lap Steel
  • Italia Rimini
  • Univox Plexiglass
  • Baldwin Hank Marvin Special by Burns of London
  • Electric Tenor Banjo
  • 1965 Gibson ES-345 Stereo, which requires two amps
  • 1967 Gretsch Country Gentleman, featuring Chet Atkins' idea of painted-on sound holes to mimic the look of a hollow-body guitar
  • Hofner 12-string
  • Kay arch-top "Louisville Slugger" -- Pictured, Bottom Right
  • Teisco Del Rey converted to six-string bass
  • 1953 Gibson L7C
  • Pseudo-African Custom Guitar
  • University of Illinois-themed Epiphone Collegiate
  • Eastwood Rocket Bass, featuring a rocket-shaped body designed for The Rokes, a band that was the equivalent of The Beatles in Italy
  • Baldwin Baby Bison by Burns of London
  • Hondo "Target" Longhorn Bass, which Rubel plays in Captain Rat and the Blind Rivets
  • Gibson Custom Shop Firebird I
  • Jerry Jones Electric Sitar
  • Mac G5 3-String Custom Box Guitar
  • Bison Steer
  • Hamer "Acoustic Look" 12-String Bass, popularized by Tom Peterson of Cheap Trick
  • Hondo X-1 "Green Monster"
  • Hondo Coyote, designed by Mark Erlewine and ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons
  • Gretsch Bo Diddley Guitar, featuring a rectangle shape
  • 1966 Rickenbacker 360 12-String
  • Kay K-45 "Hatchet" Guitar with Sustainiac system
  • "Twin Pop" double-neck guitar with PAF pickup, custom built from a coffee table
  • 1973 Gibson SG


Ukelele workshop, sing-along set

To help celebrate the "Guit(art)" exhibition, the public is invited to a free ukulele workshop and sing-along at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 27, in the Tarble Arts Center Atrium.

The workshop will be led by Matthew Thibeault and his students from the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, the Homebrew Ukulele Union. They will teach participants how to play a few well-known songs. Ukuleles will be provided, but bring your own if you have one. After some basic instruction, everyone will convene for a sing-along to perform the music learned. 

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