It’s only Rock and Roll

The Met rocks. Sometimes literally.

Ludwig drum set, purchased by Ringo Starr from London’s Drum City music store in 1963. The shop’s owner, Ivor Arbiter, designed the Beatles’ ”drop-T” logo on the bass drum head so Ringo could also retain the Ludwig logo.

George Harrison acquired this Club 40, his first electric guitar, in 1959, and used it in shows at Liverpool’s Casbah Coffee Club, where the young Beatles had their first residency as the Quarrymen.


”Love Drops” electric guitar, Flying V, originally painted by Jimi Hendrix, 1967

Though known for playing Fender Stratocasters, Jimi Hendrix played this Gibson Flying V extensively from 1967 to 1969. He modified the nut and strap button and painted the instrument himself, using nail polish. When Hendrix gave the guitar to Mick Cox of the Irish band Eire Apparent in 1969, Cox refinished it in black and removed the original design. In the 1990s, session musician Dave Brewis acquired the instrument and restored Hendrix’s original paint job.


”Number One”, ca. 1963 Electric guitar, Composite Stratocaster

Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of the key drivers of the 1980s blues revival, used ”Number One” as his main instrument throughout his career. Vaughan acquired the Stratocaster, built from a 1963 body with a 1962 neck and 1959 pickups, from Ray Hennig’s Heart of Texas music store in 1974 and modified it with a black pickguard featuring his initials. Inspired by Jimi Hendrix and Otis Rush, Vaughan added a lefty vibrato. Vaughan played this guitar on his albums with Double Trouble and with his brother Jimmie Vaughan, and he likely used it on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance in 1982, made after the two met at the Montreux Jazz Festival.


Drum Set, Starclassic Lars Ulrich signature seven-piece kit in Magnetic Orange finish with cymbals, 2008

Lars Ulrich uses a seven-piece kit built around the double bass drums that combine with rapidly picked guitars to provide the driving rhythm of Metallica’s music. Ulrich’s setup omits the standard ride cymbal in favor of crash and “trash” cymbals. This iteration of Ulrich’s signature Tama drum kit was made for Metallica’s 2008–10 World Magnetic tour in support of their 2008 album Death Magnetic.


”Union Jack” 500/1 Violin bass, 2012, Höfner Gmbh & Co.

Höfner built this left-handed “violin” bass for Paul McCartney, a career-long Höfner artist, on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebration concert in 2012. The instrument’s Union Jack design pays tribute to not only the queen but also the legacy of the 1960s British Invasion, a transatlantic movement in which British musicians influenced by American pop brought their own music to the United States. McCartney used this bass to perform the concert’s closing number, the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” joined onstage by the celebration’s other performers.

500/1 ”Violin Bass”, ca. 1962

The Höfner 500/1 “Violin” electric bass was developed in 1955 by Walter Höfner, son of the company’s founder, and introduced the following year. His idea was to create an instrument whose look would appeal to upright bass players and whose construction would be familiar to his workers trained in traditional violin building. Paul McCartney played a bass identical to this one in the Beatles’ 1964 performances on The Ed Sullivan Show, which initiated a long-standing nickname for the Höfner violin bass, the “Beatle bass.”


Modified Hammond L-100, ca. 1960s

This Hammond L-100 organ was Keith Emerson’s stunt instrument. During improvisations, he would stick knives between its keys to hold down notes, jump on it, and pull it on top of himself. His technicians specially modified the L-100 to withstand these destructive performances and also added pitch-bending capabilities. The organ was retired after it burst into flames during a performance.


”Punk Bass” Custom FB4, ca. 1998

Flea’s most recognizable bass guitar from his career with the Red Hot Chili Peppers is this custom instrument made by Modulus, a maker known for its basses that combine traditional woods with materials more common in the field of aerospace engineering. Flea covered the red, white, and blue bass in stickers featuring his favorite punk bands, nicknamed it the “Punk bass,” and used it extensively for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ By the Way album and tour (2002–3). Modulus produced a Flea signature model bass based on this design.


Super ’78 Eruption, 2018

This 2018 Super ’78 Eruption guitar is an exact replica of the original configuration of Eddie Van Halen’s “Frankenstein” guitar, which he constructed himself from various spare guitar parts. His original decoration used white spray paint for the body with black intersecting stripes. After this was widely copied, Van Halen repainted the guitar red with white-and-black stripes, its now-iconic configuration.

Eddie Van Halen, a self-taught guitarist, created a new vocabulary on his instrument through an array of jaw-dropping techniques and electronic effects. Two-handed tapping, in which both hands sound the strings from the fingerboard, allowed him to produce fluid phrases at dizzying speeds. Van Halen’s use of “dive bombing,” depressing and releasing the vibrato bar to create dramatic descents and ascents in pitch, drove innovations in guitar design such as the locking vibrato system and ushered in new standards in virtuosic hard- rock and metal performance.


Les Paul TV Special, 1961

Steve Miller received this guitar from Leslie West of the Vagrants and Mountain in 1967 or 1968. It was originally painted a pale yellow that Gibson developed to appear white on black-and-white television. Miller had the guitar repainted with intricate psychedelic designs by surfboard artist Bob Cantrell and changed the pickup covers, tuners, and controls to match the new color scheme. He used it extensively in recordings and live performances through the 1970s, including on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert in 1973 and The Midnight Special in 1974.


Esquire-Telecaster composite, 1953-1954

Bruce Springsteen used this modified Fender guitar, composed of a Telecaster body and an Esquire neck, as his primary instrument in countless live performances and recordings from 1972 until about 2005. On the iconic Born to Run (1975) album cover and tour poster, Springsteen faces away from the viewer with this guitar slung over his back. The instrument also appears on the covers for Live/1975–85 (1986), Human Touch (1992), and Wrecking Ball (2012). Springsteen told the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, “When I put it on, I don’t feel like I have a guitar on. It’s such an integral part of me.”


Love Symbol, 1993

In 1993, Prince became embroiled in a contract dispute with his label, Warner Brothers, which sought to limit his prolific output to suit the pace of the marketing department. To reclaim his artistic independence, he changed his name to [symbol] and began appearing in concerts with the word “slave” written across his face in protest of the industry. As part of his new identity as the artist formerly known as Prince, he had instrument maker Jerry Auerswald design and build this guitar in the shape of his eponymous symbol. Prince used variations and copies of this instrument in live performances, including at the 2007 Super Bowl halftime show.


Left: ”The Fool” SG, 1964

In 1967, Cream’s manager Robert Stigwood commissioned Dutch artists Marijke Koger and Simon Posthuma to create a custom-painted set of psychedelic instruments, costumes, and posters for the band’s upcoming U.S. tour. This guitar became known as “the Fool” after the art collective that Koger and Posthuma later founded. Eric Clapton received the guitar from George Harrison before it was painted and went on to use it as one of his main instruments with Cream, playing it while recording Disraeli Gears (1967), Wheels of Fire (1968), and Goodbye (1969). “The Fool” was restored after 1972 by former owner Todd Rundgren.

Right: Bass VI, 1962

Dutch artists Marijke Koger and Simon Posthuma painted this six-string electric bass for Cream’s Jack Bruce as part of a set of psychedelic instruments that also included a decorated drum head for Ginger Baker’s kit and an electric guitar for Eric Clapton (on view nearby). Koger and Posthuma founded a collective known as the Fool and went on to create designs for many top bands. For the Beatles, they designed and painted costumes, an automobile, and the mural on the Apple Corps music building in London. The Fool released their own psychedelic folk album in 1969.

Stratocaster, left-handed, 1993

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana demolished this guitar at the climax of a performance in Inglewood, California, during the 1993 tour in support of In Utero. He destroyed the bridge pickup by using his technician’s drill, allegedly to impress Eddie Van Halen, who was in attendance.


Custom Five-Neck Guitar, 1981

An unusual five-neck guitar has been a feature in guitarist Rick Nielsen’s performances with Cheap Trick. After a period of playing live with multiple guitars strapped on simultaneously, he began collaborating with Hamer in 1981 to combine all of his needs into one outlandish instrument. This guitar, Nielsen’s first of its kind, was built by laminating together the bodies of five Hamer Specials. Nielsen went on to commission and perform with several other five-neck instruments, each with a different configuration.


From ”Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock and Roll” an exhibition co-organized with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, ran through October 2019.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

June 1st, 2019

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