Marking the first time a major museum has featured instruments of rock of roll, Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock and Roll – the new exhibit on show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art now through October 1st – is the lovechild of The Met and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. With exactly 130 instruments on display, paired with vintage concert posters and performance costumes, Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock and Roll is a Rock and Roll fan’s ultimate nirvana. From Lady Gaga’s ‘ARTPOP’ piano to one of Kurt Cobain’s smashed-up guitars (featured above), read on to virtually visit our personal highlights from Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock and Roll and be sure to listen to our expertly curated playlist featuring tracks of the exhibit’s artists and their instruments.
• Louis Jordan was a charismatic saxophonist and bandleader who pioneered the “jump blues” style with his rhythm-driven combo, the Tympany Five, and was known as “King of the Jukebox” for his success with both black and white audiences at a time when the music industry was segregated. His 1949 single “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” with its rapidly spoke-sung lyrics and driving rhythm-section riffs, is considered one of the earliest rock and roll songs. The saxophone was an important lead instrument in early rock and roll, and Jordan used this top-of-the-line Selmer Mark VI during the height of his career. Jordan’s music influenced many later artists, including Chuck Berry.
• In postwar Britain, American-made instruments were rare and desirable. The Beatles’ Ringo Starr, seeking his first American drum set, purchased this Ludwig kit 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, demonstrating proof of its American provenance. He used this kit for European performances from 1963 to 1964. The cymbals and bass drum head are period-correct replacements.
• Though Buddy Holly was famous for performing with a 1954 Fender Stratocaster, he composed many of his hits with this wartime Gibson J-45. It is probably the acoustic guitar used to record “Everyday,” “Send Me Some Lovin’,” and “It’s Too Late.” Holly was likely inspired to add the hand-tooled leather cover, a popular decoration among country-western guitarists, when he saw one on the cover of Elvis’s 1956 debut album. The leatherwork features the titles of several of Holly’s songs and the name of his home state. A leather-tooling enthusiast, Holly probably made it himself.
• Keith Moon received this drum set at the beginning of The Who’s 1967 U.S. tour and used it extensively for the performances that followed. The custom artwork features nude photos of Lily Langtry, the subject of the Who’s 1967 single “Pictures of Lily.” The psychedelic design incorporates a Union Jack and the text “Keith Moon Patent British Exploding Drummer,” a reference to Moon’s tendency to pack his drum shells with flash powder and detonate them onstage. The two original bass drums are lost, possibly destroyed by Moon’s pyrotechnics.
• Lady Gaga is known for elaborate visual and sonic displays in her live and televised musical performances, which incorporate costuming, lighting, choreography, and a wide array of custom instruments. This futuristic piano is housed in an acrylic case with internal LED lighting. She used it to perform the song “ARTPOP” on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in February 2014.
• Jimmy Page wore this “Dragon” suit during live performances with Led Zeppelin from 1975 to 1977. The elaborate hand embroidery took over a year to complete. Together with his EDS-1275 double-neck guitar, this costume defined Page’s onstage persona during Led Zeppelin’s later years.
• Though known for playing Fender Stratocasters, Jimi Hendrix played this Gibson Flying V extensively from 1967 to 1969. He probably used it on his 1967 BBC Radio 1 sessions and 1968’s Electric Ladyland, notably for his solo on “All Along the Watchtower.” Hendrix 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.
• 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.
• 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 a symbol of love 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.