Metropolitan Museum of Art

A Whole Lot of Shakin’ at the Met

April 15, 2019 - 10:14 am

By: Elizabeth Sherwood

NEW YORK (1010 WINS) -- For New York rock music lovers – especially those who appreciate the art of the instrument – the Met may have just saved you a ticket to Cleveland.

A new exhibit called “Play It Loud,” which focuses on the beauty, character, and stories behind rock and roll instruments, opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this week. The exhibit was curated in conjunction with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which lent many instruments to the show.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Jayson Kerr Dobney, the Met's Frederick P. Rose Curator in charge of the Department of Musical Instruments, told 1010 WINS that they also borrowed instruments from the musicians themselves. “Jimmy Page was a big lender to the show, Steve Miller of Steve Miller Band, Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads, and many, many others. That's just scratching the surface.” In total, there were about 70 lenders with 130 instruments dating from 1939 to 2017.

The exhibit is organized by the chronological stages of rock and roll. It begins at the beginning, with instruments from Jerry Lee Lewis’ gold-painted piano to Buddy Holly’s decorated guitar, Don Everly’s hollow-body Gibson, the scuffed-up Fender Telecaster that was the primary guitar Muddy Waters used for the last 25 years of his life, and instruments from various stages in the Beatles’ career. In each room patrons hear samples of songs from the period when the displayed instruments were played, from “Johnny B. Goode” to “Layla.”

A baby boomer walked by and exclaimed something about Bo Diddley and how he saw him at BB King’s years ago. Coincidentally, one of the most interesting-looking guitars in the room is a red, rectangular model played by Bo Diddley called the “Twang Machine.” Made at Fred Gretsch Manufacturing Co. in Brooklyn circa 1960, this was one the first examples of design collaboration between musician and instrument maker.

The next room focuses on “Guitar Gods,” as in, musicians who are so good that they could kiss the sky. Every inch of the walls is lined with guitars, and some have names like Jimi Hendrix’ “Love Drops” and Eric Clapton’s “Blackie.” It makes the point that often the instrument is so visually aligned with the musicians and the art.  For example, Joan Jett’s guitars were famously covered in punk stickers. Mr. Dobney told 1010 WINS, “There’s design qualities, there’s the way the artists modify them sometimes… but even some of the rougher instruments show the loving wear and tear as being used as these great tools.”

Metropolitan Museum of Art

In addition to the details about the instrument models and their history, there are some great anecdotes, like the fact that Pete Townshend would visit Manny’s Music on West 48th Street and buy dozens of guitars at a time because he was expected to destroy them as part of his performance. Video clips by Jimmy Page, Keith Richard, Eddie Van Halen and Tom Morello offer insights about their guitar techniques.

But we’re not just talking about guitars. The acrylic ARTPOP piano with purple and white LED lights that Lady Gaga used in her 2014 performance on the Tonight Show and lent to the exhibit has a prominent place. Mr. Dobney told 1010 WINS that this modern acquisition was intentional. “So many living legends of rock n roll are still around and it was great to work with these musicians about their instruments and how they used them.”

Around the corner from the piano is the Farfisa organ, duct tape and all, that the B-52s’ Kate Peirson used to compose “Rock Lobster.” And Keith Moon’s drums, Clarence Clemons’ tenor sax, Brian Jones’ Mellotron, and on and on.

Another room focuses on creating a sound – how musicians used electricity to amplify their melodies.

When you get to the end of the exhibit, a movie montage shows you the artists performing with some of the instruments you just saw.  After all, the instrument is a piece of art, and so is the music.

"Play It Loud" runs through October 1 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For tickets, visit

Like 1010 WINS on Facebook and follow @1010WINS on Twitter to get breaking news, traffic, and weather for New York City.