July 12th, 2019 – The excellent “Play it Loud” exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum in New York showcases some of the most famous guitars in Rock history. Starting at the beginning with the earliest electric guitars from Fender and Gibson and taking you through the nineties it also highlights the players who made them famous. Some of the most famous artists’ stage setups are also on display featuring their gear such as amplifiers, effects and stage outfits. Rightfully so, they have placed the guitars of what’s considered to be the “gods” of Rock guitar – Van Halen, Clapton, Page and Hendrix, in their own walk-around glass enclosures. This enables viewers to have nearly a 360° view of some of Rock’s most iconic instruments. Almost being able to touch these guitars and view them up close makes it seem as though you could just pick one of them up and start playing it.
While a lot of the fanfare in print and online has been about the guitars of the “gods”, the entire exhibit is more or less a history lesson on the beginnings of Rock and Roll though the 90s. It focuses on the artists and the instruments they used to create their music. Some of them were used by their owners like a paint brush on a sonic canvas. Others, like Pete Townsend, also used them to make a statement; smashing them to bits in order to get a reaction from the audience. On display are instruments from a who’s who of Rock legends. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Van Halen and Metallica all had large displays but there were so many more instruments on display. Other guitars included some played by Ronnie Wood, Neil Young, U2’s The Edge, Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley, Duane Allman, Paul Kossoff, plus some historical guitars that were firsts by their respective makers. There are so many I can’t list them all but a majority of them are or will be pictured in this series.
Being that some of the instruments are from the bands/artists had the biggest impact on Rock music, for this article I’m going focus on the “British Invasion” of the early 1960s:
The Beatles: Without a doubt, The Beatles brought the guitar back into prominence in the early 1960s. With just guitars, bass and drums on their early records, they started The British Invasion and soon, a slew of British bands hit it big in the U.S. and around the world. Their Rickenbackers and Gretsch guitars set the tone with their chimey sound. (click on to view larger.)
The Rolling Stones: Not long after The Beatles hit it big, The Rolling Stones soon followed with their bad boy attitude and bluesier sounds. They were gritty, they didn’t mince words and they told you exactly what they wanted with songs such as “Satisfaction.” This was reflected in their sound as well, with Keith playing a ’59 Les Paul on such appearances as The ED Sullivan Show. (click on to view larger)
The Who: The Who were a part of the British Invasion as well and were even more in your face. Playing early Marshall amplifiers and Fender guitars, Pete Townsend was one of the pioneers of distorted amps and feedback, often ramming his Strats into his speaker cabinets. In the late 60s and early 70s he switched to Gibson guitars and was most noted for his numbered Les Pauls. (click on to view larger)
Seeing these guitars and stage displays up close is a much more realistic experience than looking at two-dimensional objects in print or online. It’s as close to them coming alive as you could possibly get. I kept looking for Teddy Roosevelt to ride up beside me and stare in awe of this amazing display. While he never showed, I’m sure if he did he’d shout an approving “Bully!”
Look for guitars and stage setups by Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Metallica and more coming soon! Stay tuned!
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