Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on December 13, 2023.
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We are big fans of music, and whenever we travel somewhere featuring a museum dedicated to music in any fashion (be it for an artist, composer, or a single instrument), we are there.
In Phoenix, this led us to the Musical Instrument Museum, considered the largest in the world, with a collection of over 15,000 instruments from nearly 200 countries and regions.
To say that the Musical Instrument Museum is large is an understatement, and it is truly a must-see when in the area!
What Can You See at the Musical Instrument Museum
Although there are many galleries at the Musical Instrument Museum, there were four main galleries that we spent the most time in. They were the Geographic, Artist, Experience, and Mechanical Music Galleries.
The first stop during our visit was the Geographic Galleries, and it was truly the wing we spent most of our visit in because it was, in a word, massive. Each gallery wing focuses on a region or continent with dozens of exhibits showcasing local instruments.
Few, if any, countries or regions are missed here, and you'll be borderline overwhelmed by the hundreds if not thousands of unique instruments and explanations seen in this room. From China to Venezuela, South Pacific islands to Mexico, Lithuania to the USA, and just about everything in between, there is a lot to see here.
But perhaps the highlight is that almost every country or region exhibit also features a television that cycles three to five clips of selected instruments being played in their native land. All you have to do is walk up with your headphones on, and your audioguide will automatically sync up to the closest television so you can hear the instruments in action.
We have to admit that after a while, we would simply walk up and listen to the music that was playing before moving on, as this is the kind of gallery where you would either need an entire day to read every single slide or, if you're more like us, several visits to get a full appreciation to just how vast the exhibit is.
Our second stop was onward to the Artist Gallery. This one reminded us more of exhibits you would expect to find at places like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and featured artist profiles, instruments, stage costumes, and more from performers you may know (Taylor Swift, Elvis, and Prince) to others you may not (which for us included the likes of Tito Puente and Celia Cruz to name a few).
The Mechanical Music Gallery was up next and featured a selection of self-playing music machines, including a 25-foot-long Decap orchestrion that is played every day at noon and 3 pm (although we always recommend confirming before visiting). We, sadly, missed this one, but because we have a museum at home that demonstrates this one (the Bayernhof Museum in Pittsburgh), we weren't too bummed to miss it.
If all of these instruments got you in the mood to play, well, they have a room for that, too! The Experience Gallery is a lovely, albeit smaller, room where visitors to the Musical Instrument Museum can get their hands on several of the instruments you saw in the previous exhibits and get a chance to play around- be it strumming a guitar, banging a drum, or trying your hand at an instrument you only just learned about a few minutes (or hours) prior!
How to Get the Most Out of Your Visit
As the Musical Instrument Museum is a massive place, we have a few tips to maximize your experience.
First, just how large this museum is cannot be repeated enough. Even the fastest visitors here will likely spend several hours exploring, and that is only scratching the surface. If you have any interest in musical instruments, head to this museum early in the day, keep your schedule open, and plan to be there for two, three, or even four-plus hours!
Second, by extension of this, purchase a timed entry ticket to lock in your entry slot. Although guests could buy walk-in tickets during our visit, having a reserved time guarantees entry.
Third, reconfirm hours for any demonstrations or special events that may be going on during your visit. As mentioned above, we missed the demonstration of the Decap orchestrion and only did so by just a few minutes because we didn't even know it was an option! (The Mechanical Music Gallery page can be found here with listed times.) You may want to also check the event calendar and see if any other special experiences are going on (possibly at an extra charge), too!
Fourth, don't overlook any special exhibitions that may be going on. These sometimes require an extra fee, but purchasing with a general admission ticket may save a few dollars over the a la carte price. During our visit in 2023, we got to check out the opening weekend of Acoustic America: Iconic Guitars, Mandolins, and Banjos, which, as bluegrass fans, was an easy sell for us to check out some historical stringed instruments from musicians we love.
Unless you're short on time, the extra exhibits, if anything like this one, are worth a few more dollars for a ticket price and are a great way to round out a visit!
When it comes down to it, the Musical Instrument Museum is one of the most impressive museums we've been to in a while, and our only real downside was that we did not have enough time to spend even longer here. Yes, it is truly that grand and you'll do well to plan for a robust visit to this gem!
The Musical Instrument Museum is located at 4725 E Mayo Blvd in Phoenix, AZ.
About the Author: Jeremy is a full-time travel writer based in Pittsburgh and primary author of this site. He has been to 70+ countries on five continents and seeks out new food, adventure activities, and off-the-beaten-path experiences wherever he travels.