Had a great little visit to New York yesterday with my buddy Chris Davis. Our quest was the Metropolitan Museum of Art where there is currently a guitar show called Guitar Heroes. In fact, Chris had personally donated one of his prized instruments, a super rare original Hawaiian ukelele, to the museum to feature. The exhibit featured high end guitars by master luthiers from Antonio Stradivari ( otherwise known by his latinized name Stradivarius - the renowned violin maker ) to John D’Angelica - to that great New York guitar builder’s prodigy, Jimmy D’Aquisto. These two New Yorkers were probably the greatest arch top guitar luthiers of the 20th Century. The exhibit was a study in beauty and aesthetics, a marriage of form and music.
Prior to that we’d spent a couple of hours whimsically playing all kinds of stringed instruments at the illustrious Retro Fret, deep in the bowels of an almost secret warehouse location in darkest Brooklyn. Manager, Peter Kohman (check out his articles in Vintage Guitar Magazine ) showed me the work being carried out on my rare Iucci banjo. This instrument is purported to have been used for many year in the Paul Whiteman Orchestra from the 1920s on. It had been gifted to me, many years ago, here in Redding where I live, by a long - time lady resident, in turn for helping her fix her ancient swimming pool. The banjo was having its neck straightened and was in the company of several others including a particularly rare Gibson 5 string. In addition, Peter showed us some examples of a consignment of rare instruments which had just come into the store. Included in this cache was a rare Les Paul Junior, single cutaway model from 1958, valued at around $8,000.
The weirdest of all though, was a huge harp guitar built by an eccentric Russian luthier. The store was trying to figure out what to do with it. Featuring inlays of pure mastedon ivory, which unlike elephant ivory, is not restricted, it had actual woolly mammoth motives inlaid into the fingerboard - quite extraordinary. Someone had recently posted on our website forum about harp guitars and so this was an interesting coincidence and promoted conversation of the late, great Michael Hedges, probably the last musician to really push the harp guitar concept commercially.
There was a gold Gibson semi acoustic ES295, exactly like the one Scotty Moore played with Elvis Presley and also an extremely rare Silvertone, a clone of the Kay semi acoustic as featured by Jimmy Reed back in the day on his publicity photos. My friend,Chris, was in guitar heaven with this one. He himself had a couple of beautiful Weissenborn koa wood Hawaiian lap steel guitars up for sale. Sticker price around $4.5K each. Check out Ben Harper or David Linley if you want to hear how full of tone these beauties can sound.
Worth mentioning at the Met also, was a photographic exhibit put together by Chris’s stepson, an associate curator at the museum. Titled 'After the Gold Rush' ( after the famous Neil Young song of the same name ) this exhibition was an eye opener for both of us. The photographic material on display is arresting and designed as a real commentary on societal changes as they’ve affected women and race issues in particular. Indeed it serves as a comment on the very nature of America's current position in the world. This of course is one of the things art, music and in particular photography can really do - show us graphically, other ways of looking at the life and times in which we find ourselves.