The wail of an electric guitar filled the majestic sculpture court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this week as former Eagles lead guitarist Don Felder strummed his white double-neck Gibson SG.
His live performance of “Hotel California” ushered in the museum’s first rock survey, which opens to the public Monday with more than 180 items, including about 130 instruments, spanning almost eight decades.
“Play it Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll” includes John Lennon’s 12-string black-and-white Rickenbacker electric guitar, Eric Clapton’s “Blackie” Stratocaster and Lady Gaga’s futuristic-looking white piano. There are also costumes, videos, interviews and posters.
Some of the instruments are “astonishing, others legendary,” said Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads, who loaned three of her favorite guitars. Other loans came from Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, financier Leon Black and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which co-produced the exhibition.
The show opens with the guitar Chuck Berry used to record “Johnny B. Goode.” Then there’s “The Hoss,” an electric guitar that was the primary instrument used by Muddy Waters from 1958 until his death in 1983.
“It just keeps going and going,” said rocker Steve Miller. “All these great people, you feel their presence.”
Prince’s “Love Symbol” guitar gleams in a glass case. After the artist’s contract dispute with Warner Bros., and 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. The musician used variations of this instrument in live performances, including at the 2007 Super Bowl halftime show.
Another standout is a drum set with the Beatles logo that Ringo Starr purchased in 1963 and used during the band’s European performances into 1964.
There’s Jimi Hendrix’s Gibson Flying V guitar, painted by the musician and dubbed “Love Drops.” He played the instrument for two years, starting in 1967, and then gave it to Mick Cox of the Irish band Eire Apparent, who painted it black. In the 1990s, musician Dave Brewis acquired the piece and restored Hendrix’s original design.
Some musicians went for the smashed look when designing their instruments. Paul Stanley of Kiss collaborated with Jeff Hasselberger, at the guitar company Ibanez, who cut pieces of mirror glass and inlaid them by hand into the guitar’s top at various angles. Stanley used it in live performances in 1979-80 and again in 1996-97, according to the Met.
Among the more contemporary pieces is Gaga’s angular piano, which gleams with internal LED lighting. She used it in a 2014 performance on the “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” the museum said.