By far, the most applicable quote for The Carnegie Rocks! exhibit came from Van Halen’s David Lee Roth: “When I die, sprinkle my ashes over the 80s.” The exhibit resurrected an era that many were too young to experience firsthand, but heard the echoes of throughout their lives.
Open Wednesday through Sunday until Aug. 17, The Carnegie Rocks! exhibit has more than 40 rare and downright one-of-a-kind vintage guitars. The exhibit is open Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. General admission is $12 while students, seniors, and members get in for $10. The exhibit is free for children 12 and under.
“This exhibit presents the rock and roll collection of Matt Swanson and is part of an exhibition series titled In Praise of Collecting that celebrates collecting art in its many forms,” it says in the introduction to the exhibit posted by the entrance. “Some collectors buy objects hoping for a return on an investment but many seek out works for the sheer pleasure of it. Swanson falls into the latter category. His collection reflects his lifelong passion for rock and roll with an emphasis on hard rock and heavy metal and the musicians who defined it.”
The vast collection of rockin’ antiques starts in the 1930s and continues into the present day — although with an obvious focus on the window from the 1960s to the 1980s. The exhibit boasts both acoustic and electric guitars, and has video stations for attendees to watch the instruments in action.
The impressive collection even included the 1974 Cherry Sunburst Les Paul guitar used by Ace Frehley, the former lead guitarist of KISS who visited the May 23 premiere. The premiere drew a little over 200 people — which is quite a feat, considering that tickets were $250. On June 15, Frehley will return to give a free lecture at 2 p.m.
In fact, the exhibit was dominated by KISS artifacts and memorabilia — such as a case with four unused tickets for Bill Graham’s Winterland signed by all four members of KISS. There was also an original ink drawing for the 1996 KISS album “You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best!!” By far the most eye-catching was the “Space Ace” costume from the KISS Farewell Tour, worn by a life-sized statue of Frehley. This costume was also worn at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, and for the last time in a 2007 commercial for Dunkin’ Donuts.
There was one other statue in the exhibit, and it was equally impressive. Dokken’s George Lynch stood in his 1985 “In My Dreams” costume with his ESP “Bones” guitar. The statue is on loan from Lynch himself, and was made by Joe Petro of Los Angeles. The most interesting part? The arms and face were made from molds that had been taken from the actual musician.
Near the front of the exhibit stands Bun E. Carlos’ drum kit from Cheap Trick. Carlos played this drum kit for the first three albums, although none were immediate hits in the U.S. Cheap Trick found their stardom in Japan, and it was their show in Budokan that brought them to America's attention. It was on this momentous occasion that Carlos played the same drum kit which is on display in the exhibit. A video station stands near the drums, capturing their performance of “Surrender,” track 8 on the album “Cheap Trick at Budokan.”
On the back wall was Steve Vai ’s impressive Heart Triple Neck guitar, made by Ibanez. The guitar was made for and designed by Vai, and was on display alongside his modded amp — a 100-Watt, four-input Marshall JMP plexi with matching “white face” 4×12 cabinets. Although it was only playing through the headphones, the sounds of Ibanez could be heard rather clearly throughout the exhibit.
By far, the focal pieces of the exhibit were all the instruments on display. One wall in particular boasted a colorful array, from a rare burgundy mist 1963 Fender Jaguar to the even more rare seafoam 1962 Jaguar with an unpainted headstock — the calling card of an early issue. There was a Gibson 1959 ES 350, popularized by Chuck Berry, David Ellefson’s 5-string bass, and Mick Mars’ 1984 Gibson Explorer, to name a few. Also along the back wall were some of Finnish guitar-maker Kari Nieminen's Versoul guitars and Matt Sorum’s “Use Your Illusion” drum kit.
In one of the corners of the gallery was a “Neil Young & Crazy Horse Artist Lounge” which boasted cracked, vintage leather seating and Neil Young’s 1956 Gibson J 45. Along the same wall were still more guitars, such as Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top’s Pearly Gates Reissue, Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstein replica guitar, and the Harrison-Clapton 1957 Lucy Les Paul Reissue, which was one of only 100 made in the U.S.
“Success in collecting — whether fine art, poster, postcards, stamps or rock and roll memorabilia — is measured by the collector’s skill in selecting individual pieces from the many that are available and assembling them in such a way as to increase or advance our understanding of that art form,” the sign at the exhibit entrance reads.
“Eventually, the whole of a collection becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Matt Swanson’s collection celebrates rock and roll music and gives us all the opportunity to delve deeper into it for a new perspective and a chance to know the musicians who made it what it is today.”