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Play It Loud: A Wail of a Good Time at the Met's New Rock & Roll Exhibition

April 2, 2019 - by Linda Sheridan
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Musicians and music lovers will want to check out Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll, opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 8. When you see the sheer volume (some 130) of mind-blowing instruments that have been played by a broad cross-section of iconic musicians, all tucked into one space, you understand why the Met is the appropriate location for this exhibition. It's the first time a music exhibit of this magnitude has been presented, co-organized with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Play It Loud Metropolitan Museum of Art Chuck Berry

All images courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The entrance begins appropriately with a display of the Chuck Berry guitar that was used to record "Johnny B. Goode." Berry (1926-2017) is considered to be rock & roll's prime innovator. Guitars by Muddy Waters, the Beatles' George Harrison, Heart's Nancy Wilson, and dozens of others, can be found soon after.  

If you’ve ever seen Eddie Van Halen play his guitar solo piece “Eruption,” your jaw has probably dropped. In the exhibit's Guitar Gods section, his 1975 “Frankenstein” red, black, and white guitar is in a glass display, where you can fully see both the front and back of the Fender that he took to with a chisel and a hammer to cut holes to make room for a Gibson pickup, and later painted—twice.

Play It Loud Instruments of Rock and Roll Guitar Gods Eddie Van Halen Frankenstein Guitar

Eddie Van Halen's 1975 "Frankenstein" guitar can be seen from both sides in the exhibit's Guitar Gods section.

In an interview clip playing at the exhibit, Van Halen says, “Ninety percent of the things that I do on guitar, if I had taken lessons and learned to play by the book, I would not play at all the way I do...Crossing a Gibson with a Fender was out of necessity, because there was no guitar on the market that did what I wanted.”

In another room, Eddie's 1978 rig is on display, along with rigs of Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, each accompanied by video clips.

Eddie Van Halen 1978 rig Play It Loud Metropolitan Museum of Art

Eddie Van Halen's 1978 rig.

There are many personal stories of sound origins and styles. Jimmy Page initially worked as a studio musician. Page, who attended the exhibit's preview, said, "For us in England, when the rockabilly of Elvis Presley reached us, the records of Ricky Nelson, the Rock and Roll Trio of Johnny Burnette...they changed my life." You'll also find Page's custom double neck guitar on display—a combined acoustic and electric guitar that he created to play "Stairway to Heaven."

Jimmy Page Double neck Acoustic Electric Guitar Play It Loud Metropolitan Museum of Art

Jimmy Page's double neck guitar. 

While guitars primarily make up the exhibit (you can also see the white guitar Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock, Prince's 1993 "Love Symbol" guitar, one of Pete Townshend's smashed guitars encased in lucite, Joan Jett's guitar, Jack White's red Airline guitar that he played live with The White Stripes), there are other instruments, such as Jerry Lee Lewis's gold baby grand piano, Lady Gaga's custom Artpop piano, The Who's drum kit, Steve Miller's analog synthesizer and EP-3 Tape Echo, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer's towering Moog synthesizer. There are also colorful displays of music festival posters from Woodstock, Monterey, and other concert events that will surely bring back memories for some.

Play It Loud Moog Synthesizer keyboard instruments Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the background, Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Moog synthesizer. In the front, Steve Miller's analog synthesizer (right), with the Echoplex EP-3 Tape Echo, left.

Throughout the exhibit's run there will be special events. On Sunday, May 12, there will be a Family Afternoon with Heart Strings, where you can rock out and make an album cover (for families with kids ages 3-11, 1-4pm). Friday, May 31, there will be a special Teens Night, for teens 13+, that will include an evening of art making, performances, music, and more, with 40 community partners. The Met music series ETHEL and Friends will present performances in the museum's Great Hall on Fridays and Saturdays, from 5-8pm. 

Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock and Roll, is running April 8 through October 1. For more information, visit metmuseum.org.

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