"For the first time, a major museum exhibition examines the instruments of rock and roll. One of the most important artistic movements of the twentieth century, rock and roll's seismic influence was felt across culture and society. Early rock musicians were attracted to the wail of the electric guitar and the distortion of early amplifiers, a sound that became forever associated with rock music and its defining voice. Rock fans have long been fascinated with the instruments used by musicians. Many have sought out and acquired the exact models of instruments and equipment used by their idols, and spent countless hours trying to emulate their music and their look. The instruments used in rock and roll had a profound impact on this art form that forever changed music. The exhibition is co-organized with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and will present approximately 130 instruments alongside posters and costumes. Many of rock's most celebrated and recognized instruments are featured, representing artists across generations and subgenres. In addition to institutional and private collectors, many musicians are lending their performance and recording instruments. This exhibition explores the instruments that came to define the music. Often an extension of the artists themselves, these objects are designed and engineered to perform both visually and audibly. They are decorated, exaggerated, and, most importantly, beloved—by those who play them and those who watch in awe. They are the link between the artist and the audience, the physical source of a glorious noise. The iconic instruments here were played by some of the most influential musicians across seven decades of artistry. In their own way, they represent the countless instruments picked up by ordinary individuals, inspired by their musical heroes and rock and roll's defiant spirit."
Last December, my daughter Molly and her husband Kyle gave Sweet Loretta and I a wonderful gift; they said they would take us me to see The Metropolitan Museum of Art at a time of our choosing. Well, needless to say, when I learned that there was an upcoming exhibit called Play It Loud: The Instruments of Rock & Roll, I told Molly, "I wanna go to the Met to see that exhibit!" So a couple of weeks ago, we took Molly and Kyle up on their generous offer of a day in the city.
Xue, Kyle & Molly
One thing that made the trip extra special was that Xue, a close friend of Molly's from her days @ Stony Brook University who works in the Photography Department at the Met, was able to get us in to see the exhibit an hour before the museum officially opened to the public. Today, I'd like to share with you all some of the historic instruments that we saw at The Met.
I have to say that the time I spent gazing at this grand exhibit of rock & roll relics was amazing. The vast collection of these treasured instruments brought back a flood of warm rock & roll memories.
Keith Moon's Pictures of Lily Drum Set 1966 - 1967
Artist:Premier Music Intl., Ltd.
Artist:Keith Moon (British, 1946–1978)
Credit Line:Courtesy of The Victoria and Albert Museum. Given by the estate of Keith Moon.
One memory in particular was that of the first rock concert I ever went to back in 1967 at DAR Hall in Washington D.C. where I saw The Who open for Herman's Hermits. The item that sparked such vivid memories was Keith Moon's infamous Pictures of Lily drum set. It was the very same set that I'd seen at that concert 52 years ago! Suddenly, I was that 15 year old kid at that concert again. For me, that was a real time machine moment that I will never forget.
"Keith Moon received this drum set at the beginning of the Who’s 1967 U.S. tour and used it extensively for the performances that followed. The custom artwork features nude photos of Lily Langtry, the subject of the Who’s 1967 single “Pictures of Lily.” The psychedelic design incorporates a Union Jack and the text “Keith Moon Patent British Exploding Drummer,” a reference to Moon’s tendency to pack his drum shells with flash powder and detonate them onstage. The two original bass drums are lost, possibly destroyed by Moon’s pyrotechnics."
Chuck Berry Guitar
Artist:Charles Edward Anderson "Chuck" Berry (American, St. Louis, MO 1926–2017 St. Louis)
Medium:Maple, rosewood, nickel, gold plate, plastic, mother-of-pearl
Credit Line:Courtesy of Joe Edwards, Blueberry Hill, St. Louis, MO
The exhibit got off to a rousing start due to the fact that as you walk into the exhibit, the very first instrument you see is Chuck Berry's guitar!
"Chuck Berry established the electric guitar as the primary instrumental voice of rock and roll. His guitar solos featured expressive bends and double stops that led the way for other rock guitarists and largely replaced other solo instruments such as the piano and saxophone. An electric guitar’s pickups use an electromagnet and wire coil to transmit the vibrations of steel strings to an amplifier as electrical signals. In 1957, Gibson introduced Seth Lover’s patent-applied-for (PAF) humbucking pickups, which have two coils with currents running in opposite directions, canceling (or bucking) an electrical hum that the earlier single-coil pickups could produce. Berry used this instrument to perform his hits, including “Johnny B. Goode,” at many notable performances in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Technical Description: Archtop with F-holes and Venetian cutaway; laminated maple body and neck, rosewood fingerboard; 23½ in. scale; natural finish with white & black double binding, set neck with mother-of-pearl split parallelogram inlays and white binding to fingerboard; mother-of-pearl Gibson headstock logo with crown inlay; two PAF humbucking pickups, three-way selector switch, two volume and two tone controls; gold-plated ABR-1 tune-o-matic bridge, w-shaped tubular tailpiece engraved “ES-350T,” pickup covers, and Kluson tuners, gold and clear plastic knobs, black plastic three-ply pickguard."
Jerry Lee Lewis Piano
Artist:George Steck & Co.
Artist:Jerry Lee Lewis
Medium:Wood, metal, ivory, ebony
Credit Line:Collection of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; Gift of Jerry Lee Lewis
After seeing Chuck Berry's guitar, the next object that presented itself was Jerry Lee Lewis' piano!
"Jerry Lee Lewis was a superstar of rockabilly music, an early style of rock and roll that combined elements of country music with R&B influences. Lewis, along with Fats Domino and Little Richard, was part of a generation of pianists who dominated rock and roll. He was renowned for his high-energy performances that scandalized conservative audiences, playing while standing, pounding his fist or feet on the keyboard, and, according to rock lore, once setting a piano ablaze with lighter fluid before performing “Great Balls of Fire.” The instrument here, painted gold, was Lewis’s home piano from 1957 to 2017."
Muddy Waters The Hoss Telecaster (serial no. 026176),ca. 1958
Medium:Ash, maple, walnut, rosewood, brass, nickel, chrome, plastic
Credit Line:Courtesy of the Estate of McKinley Morganfield pka Muddy Waters
"In 1943, Muddy Waters moved from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago, where he formed the first significant electric blues band. By 1951, his group included guitarist Jimmy Rogers, harmonica prodigy Little Walter Jacobs, and pianist Otis Spann. Waters’s blend of rural blues with modern amplification profoundly influenced a generation of British rock guitarists, including the Rolling Stones, named after Waters’s song “Rollin’ Stone.” This guitar was the primary instrument used by Waters from 1958 until his death in 1983."
Bo Diddley "cigar box" Guitar
"Twang Machine",ca. 1960
Fred Gretsch Manufacturing Company
Next was the instrument of choice of one of my all-time rock & roll heroes, Bo Diddley!
"Bo Diddley built his first guitar from a rectangular piece of wood fitted with a pickup made from Victrola turntable parts. He was one of the first electric guitarists to collaborate directly with instrument makers on adventurous designs, including this “Twang Machine” and other radically shaped guitars based on the modernistic curves of luxury automobiles. Diddley introduced the hambone rhythm to American popular music through his eponymous 1955 hit single. The Bo Diddley beat strongly influenced other early rock and roll musicians, including Buddy Holly, whose hit “Not Fade Away” features the rhythm prominently."
Louis Jordan Saxophone
Artist:Henri Selmer (Paris)
Artist:Louis Jordan (American, Brinkley, AK 1908–1975 Los Angeles, CA)
Classification:Aerophone-Reed Vibrated-single reed conical
Credit Line:Collection of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; Gift of Martha Jordan
Another favorite artist of mine was Louis Jordan whose saxophone was on display. I recently did a blog post on Jordan. He was very influential in the development of rock & roll.
"Louis Jordan was a charismatic saxophonist and bandleader who pioneered the “jump blues” style with his rhythm-driven combo, the Tympany Five, and was known as “King of the Jukebox” for his success with both black and white audiences at a time when the music industry was segregated. His 1949 single “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” with its rapidly spoke-sung lyrics and driving rhythm-section riffs, is considered one of the earliest rock and roll songs. The saxophone was an important lead instrument in early rock and roll, and Jordan used this top-of-the-line Selmer Mark VI during the height of his career. Jordan’s music influenced many later artists, including Chuck Berry."
At this point of walking through the exhibit, my mind was spinning. The various rooms were filled with the tangible feeling of history. I can't remember exactly what instruments came next as I was overwhelmed by the sight of these magical objects. Here's the rest of the instruments I managed to take some pictures of. I couldn't manage to take pictures of every single item at the exhibit but I managed to get a lot of my favorites.
Buddy Holly Acoustic Guitar
Medium:Spruce, mahogany, rosewood, metal, celluloid, tooled leather cover
Credit Line:The Collection of Michael and Barbara Malone
Shazam! Buddy Holly's Acoustic Guitar! The body of the acoustic was encased in leather!
"Though Buddy Holly was famous for performing with a 1954 Fender Stratocaster, he composed many of his hits with this wartime Gibson J-45. It is probably the acoustic guitar used to record 'Everyday,' 'Send Me Some Lovin’,' and 'It’s Too Late.' Holly was likely inspired to add the hand-tooled leather cover, a popular decoration among country-western guitarists, when he saw one on the cover of Elvis’s 1956 debut album. The leatherwork features the titles of several of Holly’s songs and the name of his home state. A leather-tooling enthusiast, Holly probably made it himself."
Don Everly Acoustic Guitar
Medium:Spruce, mahogany, rosewood, metal, plastic
Credit Line:Collection of Don Everly
"The Southern Jumbo is a powerful flat-top guitar favored by many country and western musicians. This one was Don Everly’s main songwriting instrument from the age of sixteen, which he used to cowrite many of the Everly Brothers’ hits, including “(‘Till) I Kissed You” and “Cathy’s Clown.” The duo was famed for their close vocal harmonies and driving rhythm-guitar playing. Their music, including their characteristic open tunings (when a guitar’s open, or unfretted, strings are tuned to a major chord), had an impact on the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Rolling Stones, among others."
James Jamerson Standup Bass
Artist:James Jamerson (American, Edisto South Carolina 1936–1983 Los Angeles, California)
Medium:Laminated spruce and maple plywood, ebonized wood fingerboard, metal
Credit Line:Collection of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
"James Jamerson was the most prolific session bass player in the Motown Records studio. Though he was uncredited on most recordings, his buoyant and melodic lines were a fundamental part of the “Motown Sound.” This was his main instrument in sessions from 1957 to about 1961, when he switched to the electric Fender Precision bass (and on occasional songs thereafter). Jamerson’s background on this bass led to his unusual technique of playing all his lines with his index finger, nicknamed the claw. He may have played this instrument on the Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” (1961), Mary Wells’s 'My Guy” (1964), and Martha and the Vandellas’ 'Heat Wave' (1963)."
Sister Rosetta Tharpe Les Paul Custom Guitar
Artist:Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Medium:Mahogany, ebony, nickel, plastic, mother-of-pearl, gold plate
Credit Line:Collection of Perry A. Margouleff
"Legendary guitarist and gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe used a white Les Paul Custom like this one for her pioneering work in the 1960s. In 1961, Gibson redesigned the Les Paul model with a thinner, lighter body, a flat top, and beveled and pointed double cutaways. After Les Paul rejected the new design, Gibson rebranded it as the “SG” (Solid Guitar) Custom model, and it became the company’s high-end solid body of the early 1960s, attracting other notable players like Jimi Hendrix. Later musicians who championed SG-style instruments include Pete Townshend, Duane Allman, Angus Young, and Tony Iommi."
JOHN LENNON 12 StringGuitar
Artist:Rickenbacker, Inc. (American)
Artist:John Lennon (English, Liverpool 1940–1980 New York City)
Medium:Maple, padauk, chrome, plastic
Credit Line:Courtesy of Yoko Ono
Pictured above is the 12 string that John used @ the Shea Stadium concert!
"Shortly after John Lennon used a Rickenbacker guitar in the Beatles’ first Ed Sullivan Show appearance, Rickenbacker built him this one-of-a-kind twelve-string version of his Model 325. Lennon played the guitar throughout the Beatles’ North American tour in 1964 and during the recording sessions for A Hard Day’s Night and Beatles for Sale; it is probably heard in the introduction of Ticket to Ride.”
Ringo's Drum Set
Artist:Ludwig Drum Company / Artist: Zildjian Company
Artist:Boosey & Hawkes
Credit Line:Courtesy of Jim Irsay
George Harrison's Guitar
Artist:Höfner Gmbh & Co.
Artist:George Harrison (English, Liverpool, 1943–2001 Los Angeles)
Medium:Spruce, maple, rosewood, ebony, brass, steel, plastic
Credit Line:Courtesy of The Karsh Family
The aforementioned John Lennon 12 string guitar was part of this cool Beatles tableau which also featured a 1963 Ringo Star Drum Set and George Harrison's Hofner Electric guitar.
Ringo's Drum Kit: "In postwar Britain, American-made instruments were rare and desirable. The Beatles’ Ringo Starr, seeking his first American drum set, purchased this Ludwig kit from London’s Drum City music store in 1963. The shop’s owner, Ivor Arbiter, designed the Beatles’ “drop-T” logo on the bass drum head so Ringo could also retain the Ludwig logo, demonstrating proof of its American provenance. He used this kit for European performances from 1963 to 1964."
George Harrison's Guitar: "George Harrison acquired this Club 40, his first electric guitar, in 1959, at a time when he, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney were moving away from acoustic-guitar-driven “skiffle” music toward an American pop-influenced electric sound. He used the Club 40 in shows at Liverpool’s Casbah Coffee Club, where the young Beatles had their first residency as the Quarrymen. In 1966, Frank Dostal, the guitarist of the German bands Faces and the Rattles, won this guitar as a prize in a competition. The signatures on the guitar were actually written by Neil Aspinall, the Beatles’ road manager."
Keith Richards "Micawber" Telecaster,1954
Artist:Keith Richards (British, born Dartford, Kent, 1943)
Medium:Ash, maple, chrome, brass, plastic
Credit Line:Collection of Keith Richards
"Richards received this guitar from Eric Clapton on his twenty-seventh birthday in December 1970 and first used it to record Exile on Main Street, in 1971. During the session for that recording, Richards removed the low E string and tuned the five-string guitar in an open G chord (GDGBD), a technique that became part of his signature sound. He went on to use the guitar for most of his songs in open tunings. In the 1980s, Richards named the instrument 'Micawber' after a character from Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield."
Jimi Hendrix "Love Drops" Flying V,1967
Artist:Jimi Hendrix (American, 1942–1970)
Medium:Mahogany, rosewood, metal, plastic, nail polish
Credit Line:Collection of William C. Butler, Vanderpool, TX
"Though known for playing Fender Stratocasters, Jimi Hendrix played this Gibson Flying V extensively from 1967 to 1969. He probably used it on his 1967 BBC Radio 1 sessions and 1968’s Electric Ladyland, notably for his solo on 'All Along the Watchtower'. Hendrix modified the nut and strap button and painted the instrument himself using nail polish. When Hendrix gave the guitar to Mick Cox of the Irish band Eire Apparent in 1969, Cox refinished it in black and removed the original design. In the 1990s, session musician Dave Brewis acquired the instrument and restored Hendrix’s original paint job."
Pete Townshend "No. 6" Les Paul Deluxe (serial no. 133592),1975
Medium:Mahogany, maple, rosewood, nickel, plastic
Credit Line:Collection of David Swartz
"Pete Townshend is known for his aggressive showmanship, which includes his “windmill” strumming technique and destruction of his instruments. This guitar was one of nine numbered guitars used on tour with the Who in 1975, each set to specific tunings and capo settings for various songs. This organization, along with a customized strap-lock system, was developed by Townshend’s guitar tech Alan Rogan. The headstock for this instrument snapped off after a December 23, 1975, show at London’s Hammersmith Odeon as the guitar came flying out of a second-story window, breaking into two pieces when it hit the ground. In 2002, the body and headstock were reunited and restored by luthier Cristian Mirabella."
Peter Townshend Smashed Gibson SG Special preserved in Lucite,ca. 1973
Medium:Lucite, Mahogany, rosewood, metal, plastic
Credit Line:Courtesy of Penske Media Corporation/Rolling Stone
This item caught me eye as it once again reminded me of the 1967 concert I'd mentioned earlier on in this post. At that show, Townshend and Moon destroyed their instruments with demented glee. Townshend's smashed guitar is encased in lucite which made it difficult to get a clear photo of it.
"While a student at Ealing Art College in London, Pete Townshend studied with Gustav Metzger, a founder of the Auto-Destructive Art movement. Embracing material destruction as a protest of capitalist production, Metzger’s philosophies guided the rebellious anger behind the musician’s smashing of instruments. Townshend destroyed this example during a photo shoot with Annie Liebovitz for Rolling Stone that resulted in 'How to Launch Your Guitar in 17 Steps'. This sculpture made from the remains has been on display in the Rolling Stone office building for decades since."
Eric Clapton "The Fool" SG,1964
Artist:The Fool Collective
Artist:Eric Clapton (English, Ripley, Surrey b. 1945)
Medium:Mahogany, rosewood, metal, mother-of-pearl, plastic, oil-based enamel paint
Credit Line:Private Collection
"In 1967, Cream’s manager Robert Stigwood commissioned Dutch artists Marijke Koger and Simon Posthuma to create a custom-painted set of psychedelic instruments, costumes, and posters for the band’s upcoming U.S. tour. This guitar became known as “the Fool” after the art collective that Koger and Posthuma later founded. Eric Clapton received the guitar from George Harrison before it was painted and went on to use it as one of his main instruments with Cream, playing it while recording Disraeli Gears (1967), Wheels of Fire (1968), and Goodbye (1969). “The Fool” was restored after 1972 by former owner Todd Rundgren."
Jack White Airline Res-O-Glas,1964
Artist:Valco Manufacturing Company
Artist:Jack White (American, Detroit, Michigan b. 1975)
Credit Line:Courtesy of Jack White
"Jack White used this guitar extensively in his live performances and recordings with the White Stripes. The Valco Airline, with its unusual design, plastic composition, and red color, became a key element in the duo’s look. It appears in numerous music videos, including those for “Seven Nation Army” and “The Hardest Button to Button,” and was featured in animated form during White’s cameo on an episode of The Simpsons."
Jeff Beck Esquire "The Ugliest Guitar"
Credit Line:Collection of Seymour W. Duncan - Chairman, Seymour Duncan Pick-ups, Santa Barbara
"Jeff Beck used this Esquire in his brief but influential work with the Yardbirds in 1965 and 1966. While the Yardbirds were on tour with the Walker Brothers in 1965, Beck purchased it from the latter’s guitarist John Maus. Among other modifications, the Esquire’s slab body had been sanded down and contoured to imitate the ergonomics of the Fender Stratocaster, exposing the ash woodgrain underneath. On 'Heart Full of Soul', an important song in the development of psychedelic rock, Beck played this instrument with a fuzz pedal to simulate the buzzing harmonics of a sitar."
Joan Jett Melody Maker 1977
Artist:Joan Jett (American)
Credit Line:Courtesy of Joan Jett
"Joan Jett was a founding member of the Runaways and, later, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Seeking a lighter instrument than her Les Paul, she bought her first Gibson Melody Maker from Eric Carmen of the Raspberries and used it to record hits such as 'I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll' and 'Bad Reputation'. This example was Jett’s touring guitar from the 1980s to the present day. It is decorated with stickers celebrating feminism and gay identity, including a lesbian love symbol, a leather pride flag, and one that reads 'girls kick ass'."
Rick Nielsen's Custom 5-Neck Guitar 1981
Artist:Richard Alan "Rick" Nielsen
Credit Line:Courtesy of Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick)
"An unusual five-neck guitar has been a feature in guitarist Rick Nielsen’s performances with Cheap Trick. After a period of playing live with multiple guitars strapped on simultaneously, he began collaborating with Hamer in 1981 to combine all of his needs into one outlandish instrument. This guitar, Nielsen’s first of its kind, was built by laminating together the bodies of five Hamer Specials. Nielsen went on to commission and perform with several other five-neck instruments, each with a different configuration."
In addition to some of the well known artifacts at this exhibit, there were also some period pieces; instruments that were popular in the hazy years of the 60's!
Coral Sitar, Model 3S19,ca. 1967
Credit Line:Courtesy of Steve Miller
"The sitar became a popular sound in the late 1960s, especially after it was used by George Harrison on the Beatles’ 'Norwegian Wood' and by Brian Jones on the Rolling Stones’ 'Paint It, Black'. Working for Danelectro’s Coral line, New York studio musician Vincent Bell developed a guitar with an elongated bridge that creates a buzzy, sitarlike tone without requiring guitarists to learn another instrument. Steve Miller has used this example in recordings and live performances of his song 'Wild Mountain Honey' since the 1970s."
Rolling Stones Mellotron MkII,ca. 1964-67
Artist:The Rolling Stones
Artist:Brian Jones (British, Cheltenham 1942–1969 Hertford)
Credit Line:Collection of Mick Jagger
Wow! An actual mellotron! I'd always wondered about this instrument which was used extensively by The Beatles and The Moody Blues among other rock artists of the mid-sixties era.
"The Mellotron uses prerecorded three-track tapes to reproduce a variety of orchestral instrument sounds, rhythm tracks, and special effects. When a key is depressed, it plays a recording from a sample library that includes string sections, flutes, brass, and vocal choirs for up to eight seconds. This is one of two Mellotrons owned by the Rolling Stones; Brian Jones played one on '2000 Light Years from Home' and 'She’s a Rainbow' from Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967) and on several songs from Beggars Banquet (1968). The Mellotron’s atmospheric sound became popular with psychedelic and progressive rock bands."
In addition to the instruments on display there was a cool room whose walls were covered with some historic rock & roll posters!
The Rolling Stones & Jerry Lee Lewis at Ricky Tick R&B Club, Windsor, England 1964
Ay! Caramba! That's all of the instruments that I was able to photograph because the battery in my camera died! Since I couldn't photograph any more of the instruments, I ending up spending most of my time studying the minutia of each instrument I came across. Some of the artifacts I missed photographing included such guitars as "Eric Clapton’s “Blackie”; Eddie Van Halen’s “Frankenstein”; Jerry Garcia’s “Wolf”, St. Vincent’s electric guitar, which Annie St. Vincent Clark designed in collaboration with Music Man in 2015; and Jimmy Page’s dragon-embroidered costume (Los Angeles, 1975)—the elaborately hand-embroidered suit took over a year to complete and Page wore it during Led Zeppelin’s live performances from 1975 to 1977."
If you haven't stopped by The Met to check this exhibit out, I highly recommend that all of you rock & rollers out there make a point of catching this unique exhibit which will be at The Met from April 8th to October 1st 2019...you won't regret it!
Here's a link to The Met website if you want to purchase tickets:
The Play It Loud Primer sets the stage before you go. Check out some of the iconic instruments and watch interviews with legendary musicians, as well as new rock stars. Dive deeper with Spotify playlists and concert posters throughout the ages, and experience some of the defining moments of rock and roll. Get ready to rock!
Available Now @ The Following Locations: