The Grand Guitar, located between I-81 and State Street in Bristol, was completed in 1983. The mimetic building is meant to represent a C.F. Martin Dreadnought acoustic guitar and was designed by musician, entrepreneur, and building owner Joe Morrell. The two-and-three-story, seventy-foot-long building began drawing interest from tourists before it was completed and soon became an iconic landmark for Bristol, the city marketed as the Birthplace of Country Music. Morrell operated the building as a museum, recording studio, radio station, and store.
Morrell attempted to transform guitar parts into building elements: the sound hole becomes a window, for example. Mostly, however, the guitar parts are painted or ornamental. Below the sound hole/window is a painted area that mimics a pick guard. West of this, the strings end at a facsimile of a guitar’s saddle and bridge. Inside, the guitar is divided into museum space on the second floor, offices on the third floor, and a radio station/recording studio and receiving area on the first floor. A map inside the building displays the area’s country music heritage. Originally covered in wood siding, the guitar was covered with metal sheeting in the mid-1990s.
Before the Grand Guitar opened in May 1983, travelers were snapping photos of the building, which was readily visible from the interstate. In 1985, the Grand Guitar was photographed for the “On Assignment” section of National Geographic magazine. The building was open until Morrell’s death in 2006. Morrell’s papers and historic instruments that were in the museum section of the Grand Guitar were archived and catalogued by Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Virginia. In 2014, a local developer purchased the dilapidated structure with the intention of restoring it, but the Grand Guitar was demolished in 2019.
Stager, Claudette, “Grand Guitar,” Sullivan County, Tennessee. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, 2014. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Sorrell, Robert. "Landmark Grand Guitar Building Demolished." Bristol Herald Courier (Bristol, TN), August 17, 2019.