Victor Wooten,  Andy Leach, Senior Director of Library and Archives, Greg Harris, President and CEO of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Roy “FutureMan” Wooten (l-r)

It’s been 52 years since The Byrds offered the sage advice of what to do if you want to be a rock ‘n’ roll star (“Just get an electric guitar, Then take some time and learn how to play”)

You’re able to do just that and much more at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s newest exhibit, The Garage, which opened on July 1. Here, you can play high-quality instruments such as Gibson guitars (played through a Marshall amplifier), Fender basses, Rhodes electric piano, Hammond xk3 organ with Leslie speaker, Ludwig drum kit and Technics turntables.

“That basic instrumentation of drums, bass, guitar and keyboards, that is your staple of rock ‘n’ roll,” said Jason Hanley, Vice President of Education and Visitor Engagement. “We wanted to make sure it had those traditional rock instruments but that it also had acoustic guitars, ukeleles, things that are a little easier to access for some folks.”

Acknowledging technological advances and what aspiring musicians have also used he said, “In the GARAGE GEAR exhibit we have drum machines and laptops. We’re thinking of doing some pop-up things in here where we might bring out a drum machine and let people work on a beat or bring out a laptop and work with some samples or loops because all of that is what people today are doing whether it’s actually the garage or their bedroom.” 

At a media preview the final touches to the exhibit were still being done by workers who acted like kids let loose in a candy store, excitedly trying out the collection and fine-tuning sections while Cameron Fontana from “Good Morning Columbus” did live remote segments.

The exhibit uses songs from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees in the PLAY section for lessons for novices or seasoned players. The list of material ranges from classic rock to soul, alternative and hip hop including Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” or Chic’s “Le Freak” for guitar, Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” for bass, Tupac Shakur’s “California Love” for keyboards and AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” for drums. 

If you feel like collaborating with others, there’s the JAM section that offers an audio recording and video recording of the session.

You can also BRAND YOUR BAND by giving it a visual identity as well as check out historical instruments of the past in the GARAGE GEAR exhibit.

The area is filled with replicas of concert posters including the original Woodstock, Nirvana, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Nina Simone, Bob Marley, U2, Joan Jett, Dead Boys. There is also a Bob Dylan setlist that is recreated on an acoustic sound blanket. 

Bela Fleck & the Flecktones’ bassist Victor Wooten who, along with Roy “FutureMan” Wooten, visited the Rock Hall prior to performing that night as part of the 40th annual Tri-C Jazzfest reinforced the importance of the garage as a training ground for musicians.  Both attended the media and invite-only unveiling of The Garage.  

“When we lived on the west coast in California and the east coast in Virginia, our garage was always the central place for musicians in the state. When we lived in Virginia, a lot of the Dave Matthews Band, a lot of jazz greats that are out there now, James Genus who’s playing bass with Herbie Hancock,used to come to the garage a lot…Oteil Burbridge who is out with Dead & Company right now…a lot of great musicians. So, we understand this. We feel right at home here at The Garage. 

He added, “We were fortunate, the five of us brothers, our parents always gave us the garage, whatever house we lived in. Our dad would never put the car in there. That was our music room and it ended up being the place where all the local musicians from around the state or anyone that came into town would show up at our garage and we would jam. So, they’re right. The garage is the beginning place.”

At the unveiling, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels spoke of the importance of the garage setting. “What is the most powerful element of rock ‘n’ roll? It’s the spirit. And where does that spirit choose to haunt all the souls and people walking the earth. It all starts in the garage. So, what we’re doing here at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, rightfully so, is honoring the birthplace of the greatness, not just of the creators, but to all of those who hear, see and experience the beauty of the soul and spirit of rock ‘n’ roll.” 

He credited listening to rock radio and artists such as Harry Chapin, Jim Croce and Joni Mitchell for inspiring him as a youth more so than the soul music of the day. “This is the source. Everybody thinks it’s Hollywood, the big tours, the bright lights…It would never have manifested into what it is today if it wasn’t for all that greatness being primed and toned and welded together in the garages of our universe.”

Following his remarks, McDaniels performed Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky” and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame act’s version of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” with a group musicians playing instruments in the JAM section of The Garage.

During McDaniels’ between-song he reinforced his thoughts on the importance of he garage. “Rock ‘n’ roll is a spirit. It’s a transformative spirit. The beautiful thing, especially for our young people, it’s very therapeutic. It can help our children, if not to become rock stars, [but] getting them involved in the arts can build confidence about themselves and their self-esteem and inspire them to be great and learn and want to learn.”

Hanley summed up the exhibit. “When you think about rock ‘n’ roll, it’s alive. It’s happening right now. People are still making it but it has this incredible history. Now, visitors are going to be able to come into this space and get to play or learn how to play the same music that our inductees are playing.

“If you’ve never held a Les Paul guitar before, and I’m very lucky working here, we get to do these things all the time, but if you’ve never held a Les Paul guitar you’re going to be able to do that and learn how to play it. It’s incredibly exciting. I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen with all these different visitors coming in and what their experiences are going to be.”