The use of plastics for musical instruments became especially popular in the late 1940s and early 1950s with companies using materials such as bakelite to create clarinets, saxophones, recorders, small table-top organs and even small sets of bagpipes. Bakelite had also been used for the bodies of banjos but in the early 1950s guitar designer Mario Maccaferri, using a plastic product called Styron, began to manufacture both arch top and flat top guitars.
Maccaferri, an accomplished guitarist, had been apprenticed to a luthier in 1911. He came to prominance in the 1930s when his radical wooden guitar design, that featured an internal soundbox/diaphragm, began being produced in France by the Selmer company. Played by guitarists including Django Reinhardt it is estimated that less than 300 were produced during Maccaferri's short association with Selmer which ended in 1933 (see Evans, 1977 p.227). The company continued manufacturing a Maccaferri-style guitar during the 1930s but with a far simpler design.
Prior to World War 2, Maccaferri moved to the USA and went on to establish a plastics company, Mastro Industries, which began producing both plastic guitars and ukulele's from about 1953. This instrument, from the museum's collection, is an example of the arch top model G-40 that was produced from about this time. Acquired by the museum in 1954 it shows how alternative materials could be used in place of traditional products such as wood. It is also significant culturally reflecting the growing importance of plastic throughout the world as a relatively new and adaptable material, and one that was collected by a museum of technology to show its benefits. Production of the guitars was short lived and apparently only continued briefly due to the lack of popularity of guitars in this style at the time. The ukulele's however sold somewhat better, apprently with sales of over nine million (Evans, 1977 p.235).
Curator, music & musical instruments
Tom and Mary Anne Evans; Guitars - From the Rennaissance to Rock (Paddington Press, UK, 1977)
Tiesco Del Rae "Off The Wall" in Guitar Player magazine,