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Play It Loud At The Rock Hall

Published // 21.Nov.19

Iconic guitars played by Eric Clapton are featured in an exhibit at The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame + Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.

Play It Loud, co-curated by The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, celebrates the instruments that gave rock and roll its signature sound. Across four floors of the Cleveland museum, instruments used by the most important musicians in the genre's history from the fifties to the present day will be on display from November 22, 2019 to September 13, 2020.

Eric Clapton, as the first superstar instrumentalist of his generation, is well represented. Guitars used by Eric at different points in his career help highlight the sound, visual imagery and iconic moments in rock music history.

Eric's most famous guitar, the composite Fender Stratocaster Blackie, is highlighted. At a time when the model had largely fallen out of fashion, Eric purchased several Stratocasters in Nashville in 1970. Assembled from a 1956 body, a 1957 neck and fifties era pickups, Blackie was first played live at the Rainbow Theatre on January 13, 1973. Blackie became Eric's main recording and performance instrument until 1985. Blackie was also the template for Fender's 'Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster' model which went into commercial production in 1988. The original instrument was the centerpiece of a charity auction to benefit Crossroads Centre Antigua in 2004. At the time, the $959,500 was a new world record price for a guitar.

In the latter half of Cream's existence, Eric's sound and style were exemplified by his use of "The Fool" guitar. In 1967, a Dutch art collective founded by Marikjke Koger and Simon Posthuma were commisioned to paint a psychedelic set of instruments for the band. Eric's 1964 Gibson Les Paul SG became known as "The Fool" after the art collective. The instrument was played extensively on stage by Eric and used for recording sessions. The heavily worn original headstock is also on display. It was removed in the 1970s when then-owner Todd Rundgren restored the guitar to playing condition which included replacing heavily worn parts. Both items are now in private collections.

The C.F. Martin 000-42 played by Eric at his 1992 appearance on "MTV Unplugged"; a pivotal moment in his career, is featured prominently in the exhibit. The curators credit Eric's performance with a cultural shift in rock that ushered in a new era of acoustic and roots music and revived interest in Martin's 000-style instruments. Like Blackie, Eric sold this instrument at auction in 2004 to raise funds for Crossroads Centre Antigua. It's hammer price of $791,500 set a new sale record for an acoustic guitar at the time. The guitar is now in a private collection.

Other key items in the exhibit include an early electric guitar prototypes built by Les Paul and Leo Fender; acoustic guitars used by Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers; George Harrison's first electric guitar; Jimi Hendrix’s “Love Drops" Gibson Flying V; Eddie Van Halen’s “Frankenstein”; Jerry Garcia’s “Wolf”; Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Number One”; Prince's Love Symbol guitar; Rory Gallagher’s 1961 Fender Stratocaster, Jack Bruce's psychedelic "Fool" bass, Ringo Starr's first Ludwig drum kit; drums from Keith Moon’s “Pictures of Lily” drum set; James Jamerson’s upright bass; Jerry Lee Lewis' Grand Piano; a Mellotron MKII owned by the Rolling Stones and Keith Emerson’s keyboard rig.

There are vintage posters, costumes, performance videos and specially filmed interviews to illustrate rock music’s history, visual style and impact.

Play It Loud: The Instruments of Rock and Roll is the single largest exhibit the Rock Hall has ever displayed. It runs November 22, 2019 to September 13, 2020 at the museum in Cleveland. Learn more about the exhibit here.

The exhibit was previously on display at The Met in New York City from April 8 to October 1, 2019.