August 2, 2019 – So far I’ve covered some of the guitars and the stars who made them famous. In Guitars Come to Life at The Met Museum (Pt 3.) I’d like to take you back to where it all started. Prior to the electric guitar, guitars were acoustic instruments that tended to get drowned out when played as part of a band or orchestra. They had big, hollow bodies to help capture the sound and make them louder. Some would have microphones placed in front of them to keep them from being drowned out on stage. It wasn’t until the early twentieth century when people like Les Paul and George Beauchamp experimented with the first pickups that guitars could keep pace with louder instruments of the day. Les Paul designed several prototype guitars that he experimented with for both solid body guitars and pickups. The most famous of Paul’s designs is “The Log”; a guitar neck mounted to a solid piece of wood that he grafted an upper and lower body onto so that he could get Gibson to build it. It “sustained for days” according to Paul and he regularly used it on gigs back in the day. “The Log” resides at The Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Another experimental guitar he designed is “The Klunker” shown here in the exhibit.
Paul was friends with Leo Fender and Leo was aware of Paul’s experiments with solid body guitars. This became Leo’s inspiration for the first Fender guitar (shown below.) It had a uniquely shaped body and a bolt on neck. This prototype became the basis for the Broadcaster (after altering the neck to the Tele style headstock) and eventually renamed to the Telecaster.
These guitars along with the 1952 Gibson Les Paul, set the stage for what would become the tools of Rock and Roll from the 1950s until the late 1970s when Edward Van Halen started a revolution in guitar construction and modification.
Guitars from the fifties: Included in this collection are two revolutionary Gibsons; a 1958 Gibson Flying V owned by Neil Young and a 1958 Gibson Explorer. They did not sell well initially – the Explorer was one of only 19 shipped in 1958 according to Gibson’s shipping records. A similar one was owned and played by Eric Clapton before being sold at auction in 1999. The guitar nobody wanted in the fifties sold for $120,000 that day. The Flying V sold only marginally better (some hung in dealer windows as Gibson signs) and was discontinued after 1959. It was reintroduced in 1967 when its cool factor clicked with players of the day. Both models became favorites of Hard Rock and Metal players beginning in the seventies because they reflected the heavier attitude of the music. (click on to view larger)
Guitars from the 60s and 70s: Before there were signature models, (besides Chet Atkins and Les Paul in the fifties) artists played guitars that were pretty much the same as one you or I would buy at a music store. They became famous at a certain concert or event that caused controversy or because the artist customized it. One example of note is the Fender Stratocaster that Bob Dylan played at the infamous Newport Folk Festival gig in 1965. This was the first time an electric instrument had been played at a Folk concert and the crowd promptly booed Dylan from the stage. The guitar disappeared after the gig, never to be seen again until recently. Don Felder’s Gibson became famous because he used it on the Eagles’ “Hotel California”(single.) Paul Stanley was probably one of the first to have a signature model in the seventies. Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead had a guitar built for him by Doug Irwin in the seventies that he used exclusively until his death in 1995. It was never put into production so it is not a signature model per se.
Guitar from the 90s and 2000s:
Most of the collection consists of guitars from the fifties through the early eighties but there were a few guitars from the 1990s and later. I showed Tom Morello’s static display in Part One of this series featuring his”Steelcaster”; a Tele-bodied guitar made of steel and his late seventies Explorer. A Strat copy nicknamed “Soul Power” is also on display. Also shown is James Hetfield’s diamond-plate covered Explorer. One of the last artists of late to blow people away with his guitar playing was Stevie Ray Vaughan. Praised by Clapton, Vaughan poured his soul into his playing and his customized Stratocaster was used on a majority of his albums and tours.
Sadly, there are a few guitars missing from the collection that I feel should have been added:
Joe Satriani’s “Chromeboy” from the 80s.
Lonnie Mack’s 1958 Gibson Flying V (w/Bigsby tailpiece)
Gary Moore’s Red Stratocaster
Michael Schenker’s Gibson Flying V
Yngwie Malmsteens’ cream colored Strat with scalloped fingerboard.
Dimebag Darrell’s Dean ML
George Lynch’s “Tiger” and “Mr. Scary” guitars.
Randy Rhoads’ Gibson Les Paul Custom
All in all, this is a fantastic collection though. I urge you all to see it, if not in New York then in Cleveland at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when it moves there in November.
Wait! Could it be? It is! After all this time, Teddy showed!