July 21, 2019 – In Guitars Come to Life at The Met Museum Part 2 I will focus on the Rock guitarists of the late sixties (part 1 can be viewed here.) Starting with the incendiary Jimi Hendrix, a plethora of innovation followed which wouldn’t be seen again until 1978 when Eddie Van Halen set the world of Rock guitar on it’s ear once again.
Jimi Hendrix: When Page, Beck, Townsend and Clapton first heard Jimi Hendrix in London in 1967 they were sent back to the drawing board looking for ways to innovate. Page started play his guitar with a violin bow, Clapton made use of the wah pedal to color his sound. Townsend went into the studio and created the first Rock opera –”Tommy”. Beck focused on being more of a blues-rock purist until he unleashed a more fusion-based sound in the mid-seventies with “Wired” and “Blow by Blow”. Hendrix changed the guitar playing world forever, supercharging the blues at first but then using his Fender Stratocaster to make other-worldly sounds on such songs as “Third Stone from the Sun” and “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return.)” He later played the Gibson Flying V shown below with his “Band of Gypsys.” (Click to view larger)
When Eric Clapton formed Cream in 1967 he was already established as a guitar hero in England. When Clapton heard Hendrix however, it led to experimentation with different guitar sounds as well as effects. His “woman tone” became more pronounced, playing primarily with the neck pickup of his guitar. His psychedelic-looking “Fool” guitar – a Gibson SG became his main instrument. A companion bass with the same paint scheme was made for Cream bassist Jack Bruce. After Cream disbanded, Clapton began playing Fender Stratocasters; his most famous Strat became a black one – appropriately named “Blackie.” In this interview from 1968, Clapton plays “The Fool” guitar while he explains the different sounds he achieves with it.
(click on to view larger)
Jeff Beck: Almost completely absent from the exhibit were instruments from Jeff Beck. Beck, along with Townsend and Dave Davies (and arguably Link Wray), pioneered the use of distortion and feedback before Hendrix took it to another level. In fact, Hendrix borrowed Beck’s use of the mic stand – rubbing it along the guitar strings while it was still upright, as an effect with an outrageous sound. Known for playing Les Pauls early on and Stratocasters in the seventies, the only instrument attributed to Beck on display is this 1954 Fender Esquire (pictured above.)
Led Zeppelin: In the late sixties, Led Zeppelin emerged from the ashes of The Yardbirds and brought a darker, heavier sound to Rock. They along with Black Sabbath were considered the first “Heavy Metal” bands, a genre that continues in various sub-genres today. Jimmy Page joined the Yardbirds in 1966 and stayed with them until they disbanded in 1968. During that time Page played the Fender Telecaster shown here and continued to use it in the early days of Led Zeppelin. Shown is an early stage outfit along with the Fender Telecaster he hand painted along with his Supro amplifier, converted from a 2×12 to a 1×12. The bow he used on “Dazed and Confused” is also in the display. He also used a 1960 Gibson Les Paul Custom (shown) until it was stolen in 1970. The guitar was returned to him in 2015. His most famous guitar though is his “Number 1” – a 1959 Les Paul given to him by Joe Walsh. His use of this guitar sent prices of vintage Les Pauls skyrocketing, so much so that they are still the most sought after (and most expensive) vintage guitars in the world.
In the mid-seventies, Page was known for his “Dragon Suit” – a black silk outfit with a Dragon monogram that went nearly the entire length of his leg. It’s shown in the photo below with his famed Gibson EDS-1275 doubleneck guitar used on “Stairway to Heaven.” His stage rig, consisting of three Marshall Super Lead 100 watt heads that sat atop five Marshall extension cabinets are on static display along with two Echoplex units and a Theramin. The Theramin; a device used in conjunction with the Echoplex was used by Page to create those eerie sounds in the middle of “Whole Lotta Love.” He used this setup throughout the seventies.
Next in the series will be original guitars from the fifties as well as star’s guitars used during their heyday.
Still no Teddy Roosevelt sightings!