An iconic guitar designed by a Lake Mary man now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art
In the 1980s, David Newell wanted a cool new electric guitar. He had his eye on a particular instrument, but he couldn’t afford it. So he asked a buddy to help him build a custom guitar instead, using the Gibson Explorer body design as a jumping-off point.
Decades later, the distinctive guitar they created is now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The sleek, futuristic-looking instrument was loaned to the museum by guitarist extraordinaire Joe Perry of Aerosmith, who played the black guitar in the iconic music video for Run-DMC’s 1986 remake of the Aerosmith hit, “Walk This Way.” Their collaboration was a groundbreaking mash-up of rap and hard rock, and the video was put into heavy rotation on MTV.
David, a 57-year-old Lake Mary resident, recently visited the Met with fiancée Rene Brent to check out the exhibit. Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll features about 130 guitars and other instruments, plus posters and costumes. The experience was an emotional one for David.
“It brought a tear to my eye,” he says, adding that his guitar is in the same room as those played by Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. “I was completely humbled by the whole thing.”
How David’s guitar made its way into Joe Perry’s hands, the “Walk This Way” video, and ultimately the Met is a tale as totally rad as the ‘80s, themselves.
David’s fascination with guitars began when he was a kid in Albany, New York. He got his first one at the age of eight and taught himself some chords. By high school, the teen was a sound guy for a local band and spent his free time jamming with guitarists.
A few years later, David met Andrew Desrosiers, a guitarist who also built and repaired the instruments. They became friends, and Andrew agreed to make the guitar David wanted.
When David saw Andrew’s final design, he knew it was something special. The guitar, which they dubbed the Crusader, is pointy and features triangle cutouts within the body.
“It was different; there was nothing like it,” says David, an in-demand hair stylist at the time. “The name represented forging ahead in an unknown direction, crusading into the future.”
The duo formed David Andrew Guitars in 1984, applied for a design patent, and peddled the Crusader in bold ways. Andrew was the main craftsman, while David excelled at creative marketing. Once, David wore the guitar to a music trade show in New York City, because they didn’t have the money to purchase booth space.
And when rock groups came to play gigs in Albany, David knocked on stage doors and talked his way inside, in hopes of showing the guitar to the bands. His brash approach paid off when Twisted Sister put him in touch with Guild, a guitar manufacturer.
“Just thinking about this is so funny,” David says. “Everything was spur of the moment and off-the-cuff.”
David and Andrew struck a deal with Guild, which renamed the guitar the Bladerunner. Guild produced about 100 of the instruments in the mid-1980s. The guitar originally retailed for $1,500 but now sells on the internet for $3,500 and up, David says.
Another of David’s buddies, Jay Abend, was the conduit between Joe Perry and the Bladerunner. Jay, who worked for Guild, got a call saying Joe needed a guitar for a video shoot. He brought over several, including three Bladerunner prototypes in white, black, and hot pink. The black guitar won out, and the video, of course, was “Walk This Way.”
One of David’s favorite memories from that era is the day he and Andrew were admiring their first Crusader prototype over a couple of beers.
“We were looking at the guitar and saying, ‘Boy, that thing’s a work of art. It’s really unique-looking,’” David recalls.
They even joked that the guitar would wind up in a museum one day, alongside other memorabilia like Fonzie’s jacket from Happy Days.
“It was just a couple of kids dreaming about an idea, thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if that happened?’” David says.
The business partners kept David Andrew Guitars going for several years and remained lifelong friends until cancer claimed Andrew’s life in 2011. David wishes that Andrew could have seen their museum fantasy become a reality.
“He would be very proud, and he would have laughed that we talked about being in a museum all those years ago,” says David, who still owns a Bladerunner. “The ‘80s were exciting and very inventive. I look back on that time with great fondness and appreciation.”
Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll is on display at the Met through October 1. The exhibit then moves to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, where it will be showcased from November 20 through September 13, 2020.
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