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The history of the Golden Guitar Awards trophy

05 January 2022

Barry Harley has a long history with the Tamworth Country Music Festival. He has been involved in many different facets of the event since 1974 and today is the Festival Manager at Tamworth Regional Council.

Did you know that the Golden Guitar trophy stands 24 centimetres high and weighs 1.5 kilograms? Let’s dive in and find out why this special trophy is the way it is, and is so coveted by the Australian Country Music Industry. 

In the late 60s and early 70s, as country music was transitioning from principally an acoustic form of music through to an electric form, it was decided that the award or icon that was to be given away as the trophy for the awards should reflect those changing tones in music. For this reason, a single, cutaway, semi-acoustic electric guitar was chosen.

“There was a bit of discussion about whether it came from a ‘Les Paul Gibson’ or whether it came from a ‘Gretsch’, but both guitars have a similar model where it is acoustic,” says Mr Harley. 

”And so you see the ‘f’ holes cut into the body of the guitar which allows for acoustic playing but it also has two electric pickups. And so that was designed. I’m not sure that when [Awards Founders] John Minson and Max Ellis and co [sic] were thinking about what the award should look like, they were thinking that 50 years on we would still be looking at the same guitar!”

The original sketch of the Golden Guitar Award trophy

The Golden Guitar trophies have been poured by the same bronze company in Sydney with the same cast for the entire history of the awards, starting in 1973 and continuing on to the upcoming awards this January.

“Although they are finished a little different nowadays – in the early days they were a bit rougher but now they are a much shinier finish – they are significantly still exactly the same plug, exactly the same pattern and exactly the same company,” says Mr Harley.

Keith Urban and Anne Kirkpatrick with their Golden Guitar Awards in 1992.

The base also has a story of its own.

“The base started life with some black butt that was sent through by a country music fan in Tasmania. And [the Awards’ founders] thought it would be a fitting tribute to have the Golden Guitar sitting on a very Australian tree, and to that end the same timber has been sourced right the way up to the 50th anniversary,” says Mr Harley.

Troy Cassar-Daley and Slim Dusty together on stage after Troy won a Golden Guitar Award in 1996

Originally John Minson who was one of the founders of the Awards and Festival was responsible for putting together the trophies and finishing them with their plaques. Since 1982, Noel Smith who was a local cabinetmaker at the time has carried the work out, and still continues today.

“So they have basically been in the same set of caring hands since 1973,” says Mr Harley. 

The 2021 winners group of the Golden Guitar Awards

Tamworth Regional Council acknowledges the Gamilaroi/Kamilaroi people, who are the Traditional Custodians of this land. We would like to pay respect to Elders past and present, and extend that respect to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in and visiting our region.