Inside the Collection

Maccaferri plastic guitar

Maccaferri plastic guitar
Collection, Powerhouse Museum

As I mentioned this is another of my favourite things in the collection. It was bought by the museum from Maccaferri’s plastics company in the USA in the 1950s as an example of what you could do with plastic, and it doesn’t sound too bad as an instrument either. Despite being made of plastic they weren’t toys but designed as well-made instruments that were cheap but also fairly reliable, as long as you didn’t drop it or turn it into one of Dali’s melting moments by putting it on a hot surface! As the instruction booklet wisely says “DO NOT drop it on a hard surface…it will break.”

Maccaferri was a guitarist and had also done some training with a luthier as a younger man, so knew a thing or two about guitar design. This “inside” knowledge and understanding really shows and is comparable to when a composer for example really begins understanding an instrument like guitar and writing to bring out its unique peculiarities and capabilities, (in the classical realm I think Villa Llobos did this really well and Leo Brouwer being a guitarist has done it in more recent times.) Maccaferri began working with the French instrument company, Selmer in the late 1920s. They began making his radical wooden acoustic guitar that had an internal soundboard which was a way of trying to get rid of wolf notes. (Jose Ramirez III also experimented with this idea – creating the de camera guitar – which is another fave of mine in the collection with a really beautiful sound!!). There were some other features he included such as the shape of the sound hole and tailpiece.

I love the way Maccaferri kept on thinking about guitars even though he went in a seemingly different direction by establishing a plastics company that manufactured reeds. When Maccaferri started making his own plastic guitars in the 1950s he put some of these design features in as well as some more radical features like the way the action (the height of the strings above the fretboard) can be adjusted by moving the tailpiece up or down rather than physically having to cut down or replace the bridge or doing a whole neck adjustment. I also can’t go past the description of the materials in the instruction booklet; “Made of special, highly resounding plastic of ever lasting beauty”.

At the same time he also made ukuleles that apparently sold really well, whereas the guitars didn’t sell very well at all. Stocks of unsold guitars were found in the 1980s and started coming onto the market complete with their instruction booklets. Some wooden acoustic guitars are described as cigar boxes but I’m not sure how you’d describe this one, although the great guitar fashionista of the 1980s Guitar Player magazines, Teisco Del Rey, suggested it had a variety of uses including as a jelly mould.

Michael Lea
Curator, music & musical instruments

3 responses to “Maccaferri plastic guitar

  • I have been asked to do a talk about my guitars to the Plastics Historical Society.
    I wish to place my guitars made from recycled plastics within their historical context – could I please use your image of the Maccaferri (with photo credit) as part of my presentation?
    Many Thanks
    Simon Lee

  • Do you know who holds the parts templates and molds and machinery used to produce the Maccaferri G 40 and G 30 guitars? I currently own a G 40 . Thank you, Dave Rasmussen

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