The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY KATHER­INE ROTH

Mu­seum ex­hibits tend to be quiet. Not this one.

In “Play It Loud,” an ex­u­ber­ant show that can be heard as well as seen, the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art takes on the his­tory of rock ‘n’ roll through iconic in­stru­ments on loan from some of rock’s biggest names. There are flam­boy­ant cos­tumes worn by Prince and Jimmy Page, video­taped in­ter­views with “gui­tar gods,” even shat­tered gui­tars.

The show runs in New York be­fore trav­el­ing to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleve­land. “We’re look­ing at rock ‘n’ roll in­stru­ments as an art. They serve as muses, tools and vis­ual icons, and many of them are hand­painted and lov­ingly de­signed,” says Jayson Kerr Dob­ney, curator in charge of the depart­ment of mu­si­cal in­stru­ments at the Met. He or­ga­nized “Play It Loud: In­stru­ments of Rock and Roll,” with Craig J. In­cia­rdi, curator and director of ac­qui­si­tions at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

For any­one who ever dreamed of climb­ing on­stage at a rock con­cert for a closer look, this may be your best shot.

“In­stru­ments are some of the most per­sonal ob­jects con­nected to mu­si­cians, but as au­di­ence mem­bers we are pri­mar­ily used to see­ing them from far away, up on a stage in per­for­mance. This ex­hi­bi­tion will pro­vide a rare op­por­tu­nity to examine some of rock ‘n’ roll’s most iconic ob­jects up close,” says Dob­ney.

High­lights in­clude Chuck Berry’s ES-350T gui­tar (at the en­trance to the ex­hibit), John Len­non’s 12-string Rick­en­backer 325, an elec­tric 500/1 “vi­o­lin” bass on loan from Paul McCart­ney, Keith Moon’s drum set, and the white Stra­to­caster played at Wood­stock by Jimi Hen­drix.

Page, the gui­tarist and founder of Led Zep­pelin, said that when cu­ra­tors ap­proached him and ex­plained their vi­sion of the ex­hibit – you ap­proach it through the Greco-Ro­man art gal­leries and then sud­denly come upon Berry’s gui­tar – he was all in.

“My gui­tar was con­fis­cated if I took it to the school field to play,” he says. “That’s the kind of respect given to gui­tars in those days. So to see gui­tars from peo­ple I lis­ten to, it’s ab­so­lutely phenom­e­nal. It’s hum­bling.”

Over 130 in­stru­ments are fea­tured in the show, in­clud­ing ones played and beloved by the Bea­tles, Elvis Pres­ley, Bruce Spring­steen, The Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga, Joan Jett, Me­tal­lica, Steve Miller, Page and other rock ‘n’ roll greats.

The col­lec­tion spans 1939 to 2017. All the in­stru­ments are on loan, most by the mu­si­cians them­selves, al­though Miller has promised to do­nate to the Met his 1961 Les Paul TV Spe­cial gui­tar, painted by surf­board artist Bob Cantrell.

The show fea­tures its own rock ‘n’ roll sound­track and is or­ga­nized in the­matic sec­tions.

“Set­ting the Stage” ex­plores rock’s early days in the Amer­i­can South of the late 1940s and early 1950s, when pi­anos, sax­o­phones and acous­tic gui­tars were among the in­stru­ments of choice.

Soon, Berry helped rev­o­lu­tion­ize the sound, es­tab­lish­ing the elec­tric gui­tar as the genre’s pri­mary voice and vis­ual icon.

Also fea­tured is a setup like that used by the Bea­tles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964. After that per­for­mance, “thou­sands of rock bands were formed us­ing that same lineup: two gui­tars, a bass and a drum set,” says Dob­ney.

The “Gui­tar Gods” sec­tion traces that phrase to Eric Clap­ton’s star­dom and a piece of 1966 graffiti in London pro­claim­ing, “Clap­ton is God.” Others dubbed gui­tar gods in­cluded Page, Jeff Beck, Pete Townsend and Hen­drix.

All ex­em­pli­fied vir­tu­oso mu­si­cian­ship and awein­spir­ing swag­ger. By the 1970s, women, too, were fronting bands and finding plat­forms for their own per­sonae and skills, Dob­ney says.

“The Rhythm Sec­tion” ex­plores the sources of the genre’s pow­er­ful rhythms, with ac­cented back­beats cre­ated us­ing a drum set and elec­tric bass gui­tar.

Even as gui­tars were lov­ingly painted, and some­times even built by the mu­si­cians who played them (like Ed­die Van Halen’s red and white “Franken­stein” gui­tar, fea­tur­ing a Fen­der-style body and neck with Gib­son elec­tron­ics), in­stru­ments were also fa­mously de­stroyed by rock stars as part of their act.

“It may be the only mu­si­cal genre where de­struc­tion of in­stru­ments became a part of the per­for­mance,” Dob­ney says.

Fea­tured is a frag­ment of a Hen­drix gui­tar that he set on fire and smashed on­stage at the Mon­terey Pop Fes­ti­val in 1967; a Gib­son SG Spe­cial gui­tar de­stroyed by Townsend dur­ing a photo shoot with An­nie Lei­bovitz for Rolling Stone (and pre­served in Lucite); and a mod­i­fied Ham­mond L-100 or­gan used by Keith Emer­son as a “stunt in­stru­ment,” which he would jump on, pull on top of him­self, stick knives in and – in this in­stru­ment’s case – set ablaze dur­ing per­for­mances.

“Ex­pand­ing the Band” ex­plores the way the clas­sic four-piece rock band was aug­mented by in­stru­ments like dul­cimers, sitars and a range of ex­per­i­men­tal key­boards to ex­pand the sound.


A man in­spects a gui­tar made and played by Ed­die Van Halen dur­ing a pre­view of the ex­hibit “Play It Loud: In­stru­ments of Rock & Roll” at the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York. The ex­hibit show­cases the in­stru­ments of rock ‘n’ roll le­gends.


See in­stru­ments used by The Bea­tles at the “Play It Loud” ex­hibit at the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art.


A gui­tar dec­o­rated by the Stones’ Keith Richards.

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