Guitar Mania 

Story and Photos by Mark Greenawalt,©2005


Originally published in Contact Magazine, (December 2005)

In 1954, Leo Fender introduced the Stratocaster guitar. Since then, amazing things have been done with these electrical instruments. Notable legends Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton and Yngwie Malmsteen have all used Fender Guitars. With such renowned fans, the Fender “Strat” has remained a popular choice among modern musicians. Now these well-known musical instruments will be immortalized as works of art, right here in Arizona. This winter, dozens of these guitars will “grow” to stand 10 feet tall and invade the streets of Phoenix.

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle by Jim Cook and sponsored by Waste Management.This public art project is collectively known as GuitarMania, benefiting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona (BBBS), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum education fund. Brian Hassett of BBBS explains, “Our mission has been to raise money and awareness by having sponsored artists transform 90 guitars and place them on public display throughout the valley for five months. Then the project will culminate with a live auction at the Dodge Theater on February 4, 2006.”

The project is already on the way to success, earning endorsements from many big-name celebrities. Music industry spokespeople including Stevie Nicks, The Gin Blossoms, Eddie Van Halen, Nickleback, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers and Sam Moore are all supporting this cause. Alice Cooper, international music legend and hometown hero, is taking part as co-chair of GuitarMania. The musicians are joined by local sports greats Luis Gonzalez, Steve Nash and Wayne Gretzky. Even political figures are taking part in this project. Senator John McCain is a supporter and Mayor Phil Gordon is the honorary chairman.

While famous names help publicize the project, retailers such as Guitar Center have been instrumental in promotional efforts. According to information provided by BBBS, “Guitar Center’s early embrace of GuitarMania contributed greatly to getting the ball rolling quickly. As a result, we’ve been able to cover a hundred percent of the costs of the event (over $400,000), meaning that the proceeds of the auction will go completely to charity.”

Sponsors and artists are credited on the website at along with brief artist bios and commentary. For a limited time, Phoenicians have the opportunity to see each guitar up close. Guitar locations are listed on the website. The Alice Cooper, Steve Nash, Luis Gonzalez and Sam Moore guitars are near the main entrance of America West Arena. Four others, including Wayne Gretzky’s design, can be viewed at Sky Harbor International Airport. Other downtown Phoenix locations include Arizona Center, Chase Field, Patriots Square Park and City Hall.

Each unique guitar boasts one-of-a-kind artwork and creativity. Gonzo has autographed baseballs fashioned as tuning pegs and a miniature baseball diamond for a base. Michael Levine’s Welcome to the Machine is incredibly dramatic and Heidi Dauphin’s Rock n’ Penny Roll makes use of about 10,000 pennies (heads on the front, tails on the back). Viewing these public works of art is a rare opportunity, as once they are sold at auction, many of them will be available only for private viewing. An exception to this will be the Phoenix Coyotes guitar, which will be permanently displayed at the Glendale Arena.

The roots of this project go back to the 1998 Cow Parade in Switzerland, when artists painted fiberglass cows for public display. Americans recreated this idea with similar cow sculptures in Chicago, buffalos in Buffalo, pigs in Cincinnati and fish in Baltimore. A similar event, the Trail of the Painted Ponies, started in Santa Fe, but now is headquartered in Scottsdale. A pair painted horses from this event is currently on display at the Hall of Flame museum near Papago Park. Another public art project called Kaleidoscope Horses currently hosts a stable of painted horses on display at the Arizona State Fair.

In 2001, Cleveland also created iconic city statues. The home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame chose a rock ‘n’ roll theme, and thus GuitarMania was born. The Cleveland project raised $1 million to benefit the United Way Services. It is projected that the Phoenix encore project will match that number for local beneficiaries.

This year, guitar level sponsorships are available for a donation of $7,500. This is the largest public art display and public art auction in the history of Arizona. For information, call 602.393.4117. Find out how you can take home a 10-foot piece of history.


Ms Vemma Rocks by Jeffery Lowe and Charlie Sytek sponsored by Vemma Nutrition Company. Arizona Diamondbacks Guitar by Doug Alkire.


This article can also be found on-line at 
The GuitarMania official website is 

Mark Greenawalt