Guitar building.

Grand Guitar

Field review by the editors.

Bristol, Tennessee

According to his family, Joe Morrell had dreamed for years of building a building shaped like a giant guitar. He was in the country music business, manufacturing dulcimers, running a record shop, even performing under the name Herbie Hootenauger. He envisioned the "Grand Guitar" as a gateway between the interstate and his hometown of Bristol, Tennessee, the self-proclaimed "Birthplace of Country Music." On May 13, 1983, it opened to the public.

Guitar building.

"I've always thought, why would anyone stop at a square building that looked like every other building?" he told the Sullivan County News at the time. "I have a lot of crazy ideas."

The guitar was definitely not like any other building. Seventy feet long and three stories tall, it was painted to resemble a Martin Dreadnought acoustic guitar (Morrell's personal favorite) and was accented with a gargantuan saddle bridge, sound hole, pick guard, finger board, turning keys, and strings. Inside, the building housed a gift shop, a recording studio, a country music AM radio station, and Morrell's personal collection of hundreds of musical instruments, including one made of matchsticks, another shaped like a pig, and a third made from a dead armadillo.

Grand Guitar appeared in National Geographic in 1985, and in 2014 was added to the National Register of Historic Places. But by then Joe Morrell was dead, and the building had been abandoned for years, its paint faded and peeling, its nylon strings broken and sagging. It was purchased by a developer who'd built a shopping plaza -- which he called a "a multi-faceted shopping experience" -- across the interstate, and who vowed to restore Grand Guitar. But years have passed since then, and the building remains empty and forlorn. If it could play a country music song today, it would be a sad one.

Grand Guitar

Address:
3245 W. State St., Bristol, TN
Directions:
I-81 exit 74A. Drive east on US Hwy 11W for a half-mile. You'll see the guitar on the left.
Hours:
Closed, private property.
Admission:
Free
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Nearby Offbeat Places

Where Hank Williams Passed Up A Last MealWhere Hank Williams Passed Up A Last Meal, Bristol, VA - 3 mi.
Birthplace of Country Music MuseumBirthplace of Country Music Museum, Bristol, VA - 4 mi.
UFO And Aliens in YardUFO And Aliens in Yard, Blountville, TN - 6 mi.
In the region:
Big Fries, Hot Dog, Shake, Kingsport, TN - 16 mi.

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