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Rock Icon?

This past weekend i had the honor/privilege/misfortune (choose your favorite) to find myself in the vicinity of Cleveland, Ohio for my son’s college graduation. Four years at Oberlin and neither of us had ever taken the time to drive 45 minutes to Cleveland to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and there was just no excuse for not going just once before we bade goodbye to the American heartland once and for all.  I don’t think I’m enough of an historian or curator to comment on the museum itself or its various exhibits.  But I was struck by one particular element. Not surprisingly, I was looking forward to seeing some iconic guitars and I was disappointed.  Not because there weren’t plenty of them because there were. Duane Allman’s burst (and not behind glass either) a couple of Jimi’s Strats and his Flying V, Jeff Beck’s Esquire, one of Bruce’s Telecasters and a few of Les Paul’s experiments (The Log is a repro) and a whole lot of others. Even Johnny Ramone’s beat up old Mosrite was given the same status as these others and perhaps rightly so. But it also occurred to me that these instruments had become rock icons and were really no longer instruments. It seemed a shame to see Hot ‘lanta 2 feet in front of me; it was being stared at, coveted, admired and probably a few other things as well. The one thing it wasn’t going to be was played. These guitars didn’t make the music, the players did and if putting their tools on display is the best we can do, then so be it. I suppose Picasso’s paint brushes would have the same effect on some art aficionados. Duane could probably have played Layla on a R9 (or a Tokai for that matter) with no trouble and it would have sounded amazing. I don’t know whether a museum staffer plays these instruments on occasion to keep them in good condition but it would probably be a good idea. In fact, I’d like to officially apply for the job. Right now. Even if I have to live in Cleveland. I’ve found that old guitars that aren’t played regularly don’t play well or sound very good for a very long time. I bought a 345 that was in a closet for nearly 30 years and it took weeks of playing to get it to “open up” and to feel right again.  Wouldn’t it be a shame if these guitars are never played again. I would suggest that they go on tour with a well guarded musician every now and then-maybe Eric Clapton takes Hot ‘lanta out of its exhibit and onto the road for a spin around the repertoire. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind (although the execs at Fender probably would).  A guitar is meant to be played and once it becomes something else, it’s not an instrument anymore, it’s a rock icon. Like Elvis’ jumpsuit. BTW, I only saw a couple of 335s-one belonging to Roy Orbison (a black one with a Kahler from the early 80’s) and a Blonde 81 belonging to Chuck Berry.

Les Paul's "Clunker" Thanks to Rock an Roll Hall of Fame

Duane's Hot 'lanta. A breathtaking 'burst frm The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

One Response to “Rock Icon?”

  1. Eric says:

    I think that would be an excellent idea. Instruments are meant to be played. I’m sure Guitar Center and some of the other companies/organizations would enjoy the advertising and sponsorship of the events that those guitars are played at. Besides lots of these classic guitars were borrowed and traded between legendary players themselves at the time. Would be fitting.

    …also, anything that might get Clapton back to playing Gibsons would be a great idea, ha.

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