“I’m just an overgrown cheerleader for cool, old guitars,” said Vince Gill, the Grammy-winning country star and songwriter. “They shaped my life. They’re my DNA. They’re my whole reason for making me want to be musical.”
That passion led Mr. Gill to join the new Songbirds Guitar Museum as an ambassador, which primarily involves helping bring attention to the museum. Tucked into the Chattanooga Choo Choo complex in the southern Tennessee city, the museum houses a massive collection of rare and vintage guitars that showcases the evolution of the instrument.
“It’s fun to be around other people who are that interested in guitars,” Mr. Gill said. “They’re just like art, but they make a joyful noise. When something can be that beautiful and entice you to write a song, it’s game over for me.”
Below are edited excerpts from a conversation with Mr. Gill.
Tell me what you like about the Songbirds Guitar Museum.
It was a private collection and no one really knew about it. The [anonymous] gentleman that started it has been amassing it for twenty years. It’s just stunning. It’s all really top-notch, high-quality instruments. They’re instruments that shaped our musical history. They have prototypes of great Fenders. They have the custom colors that Gibson did every once in a while. They were like a great paint job on an old car. They have a D45, which is considered the holy grail of acoustic guitars. There are some that are so rare it’s just something to see.
It is an out-of-the-way place. But this area of the world is pretty historic. Country and blues has deep roots in this whole region. And it’s where the guy lives that acquired the collection. It’s neat that he’s willing to share and doing something for the community.
I think there are a lot of great museums in places you wouldn’t expect. There’s the National Music Museum in South Dakota. And there’s a new one in Nashville at Belmont University [the Gallery of Iconic Guitars].
What are some of your other favorite museums?
I’m not really the museum type. Unfortunately. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland is pretty cool. I was just in my hometown, Oklahoma City, and they have a cowboy museum [National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum] that was interesting.
Here in Nashville we’ve got the Frist museum, which is wonderful. It’s a funky little thing. The Country Music Hall of Fame is my absolute favorite. I’m so astounded by what they’ve accomplished there. They just made it free for all kids under 18. It has a big education component to it. It’s a beautiful space.
Nashville is home for you. What are some of your other favorite spots there?
I go to eat breakfast at the same place every morning. It’s called Noshville. Everyone’s on a first-name basis. It’s “Cheers” with a side of eggs.
Do you have favorite restaurants when you’re on the road?
I’m a pizza nut. If I go to New York all I eat is pizza. The first job I ever had was making pizza as a kid. I don’t eat it much around here, but when I go to New York I’ll have it for breakfast and dinner. In Oklahoma City, I go to Ted’s Escondido. It’s about my favorite Mexican meal.
You travel a lot for your tours. What’s the best and worst part of working the road?
The best part is that you’re knocking around on a bus with your friends. You’re laughing a lot. You’re playing music every night. It’s completely intoxicating. There’s nothing better. The downside is your family life. You don’t get to have as much time with them as you’d like. But no whining allowed.
Where are your favorite places to perform?
There’s Red Rocks in Colorado. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever played music. The Gorge in Washington State is a magnificent place. I’ve gotten to play Carnegie Hall, Royal Albert Hall. I’ve played a few ballparks over the years: Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park and Dodger Stadium. The Troubadour in Los Angeles is a historic place where a lot of people got started — James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt. It was neat to play there 30 or 40 years later. It’s nice when something holds a great memory for you — a place, a friend.
Every Monday night I play in a 10-piece band, the Time Jumpers, at 3rd and Lindsley [in Nashville]. It’s fun when you can be part of a place that’s a destination. But our Ryman Auditorium is probably my favorite place to play. There’s something magical about how music sounds in that place. It’s a tabernacle. [Mr. Gill and Ms. Grant play a series of “Christmas at the Ryman” concerts in November and December.]
Where would you like to go again?
I played at a cowboy bar in Jackson Hole, Wyo., for a few weeks when I was 18 or 19. I went out on the river. That mountain climate was magical. About two years ago Amy [Grant, Mr. Gill’s wife] and I went back and spent four or five days there. I went back to the bar, bought a T-shirt and told him I played here in 1976. It was really neat to reminisce. And the mountains were still magical.
Published online/Nov. 8 and in print/Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017: Written by Kelly DiNardo