Provenance is key to the most valuable guitars, and in this arena, Eric Clapton is king. His guitars are by far the most plentiful in our top 60 guitar listing with his Fender Stratocaster "Blackie" selling for US$959,500, his 1964 Gibson ES-335 TDC ($847,500), 1939 Martin ($791,500) and his "Brownie" Stratocaster ($497,500), which was the most valuable in the world when it fetched $497,500 in 1999. He's been broadly regarded as the best in the world for a very long time.
Clapton came to international recognition in 1963 when he joined The Yardbirds, and his subsequent bands included John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Cream, and his best known work came with the lead solo on the 1968 Beatles' track "While my guitar gently weeps" and Derek & The Dominoes "Layla" in 1970, so he's been acknowledged as one of the masters of the craft for over 50 years.
So when 29 Clapton guitars go on sale at the same time, as happened through Gruhn Guitars this week, it comes as something of a shock.
Guitars owned by Eric Clapton dominate our list of the most valuable guitars ever sold
As we went to press, 19 of the 29 guitars on offer had sold already, with the pick of the bunch, a 1941 Martin 000-45 (below) still wearing a $150,000 price tag. The guitars can all be found on this page, and at the bottom of this article we've listed the guitars sold and the prices they sold for, as well as those still available.
"Over the years I have sold over 50 guitars to Eric but this is the first time I've sold guitars for Eric," said George Gruhn, Chairman & CEO of Gruhn Guitars.
Indeed, Clapton's most famous guitar, the "Blackie" Stratocaster was built using the four Stratocasters he purchased from George and parts he purchased from Nashville's Sho-Bud Guitars on the same day.
"Over the years, Eric and I have remained in touch, made a good number of instrument deals, and he has frequently visited Gruhn Guitars when he passes through Nashville," said Gruhn.
"It is very meaningful to have a friend like Eric Clapton who shares my love of guitars and uses the instrument to such great effect. Everyone at Gruhn Guitars feels incredibly honored to represent him in offering a group of very fine instruments from his collection.
"We had a couple of guitars he wanted, three of them, and we had a conversation about trading in a few of his instruments, and in the course of the discussion we worked out that there were a few more that he would just as soon have us sell for him, and this is what transpired."
George met Eric in 1970, when Derek and the Dominoes played the Johnny Cash TV Show.
"I had just opened up my store in Nashville, Tennessee and the back door of my store was about 200 feet from the stage door of Ryman Auditorium where they taped the show.
"So I got to meet a lot of those people who came on the show. Most of them came into my store, because they were musicians and it was only 200 feet away, and at that time the Ryman Auditorium was also home to the Grand Ol Opry, and I knew people in the Opry so it was easy enough to get backstage that way.
"So I got to meet Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Bob Dylan, Pete Seger ... the show went on for two years and it was a pretty amazing way to meet people ... really interesting people."
"It wasn't just a traditional country music show, because Johnny was booking people like Derek and the Dominoes and Joni Mitchell, and even Pete Seger, who was at that time still recovering from being blacklisted by the House UN-American Activities Committee.
"It was a fascinating time and I developed a lot of relationships which have been ongoing. They were musicians and they bought and sold instruments and when you sell an instrument for someone, you develop a relationship and that leads to other relationships, and things like this sale."
Among the guitars that have already sold is this 1931 Martin OM-28 for $50,000.
The 1980 Santa Cruz FTC-17 is priced at $30,000 and still available.
1998 Gerundino GF1 Flamenco - $5,000 (sold)
2003 Gerundino GF4 Flamenco - $5,000 (sold)
This circa 1929 National Style 3 Tricone is priced at $25,000 and still available.
One of the picks is this 2007 Fender Custom Shop Master Built Antigua Stratocaster, which is also still available at $35,000 and has a genuine and relevant story behind it. Since breaking his life-threatening heroin addiction, and the loss of his son, he has worked tirelessly in many philanthropic causes and the Crossroads Centre drug and alcohol rehabilitation center he founded in Antigua is well known. The back story on this guitar could fill a book.
The rest of the list at this time reads as follows:
2006 Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster (Atlas Grey) – $42,500 (sold)
2009 Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster (light) blue) – $42,500 (sold)
2011 Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster (red) – $25,000 (still available)
2007 Fender Custom Shop Master Built Antigua Stratocaster – $35,000 (still available)
2006 Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster "Blackie" Relic – $30,000 (sold)
2014 Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster (sunburst) – $42,500 (sold)
2007 Gibson SG Standard – $10,000 (sold)
1991 Gibson Firebird – $7,500 (sold)
2000 Epiphone Les Paul – $6,500 (sold)
2015 Gretsch G6112TCB-JR – $5,000 (sold)
1980s Roland G-505 Synth – $5,000 (sold)
1980 Music Man Sting Ray – $5,000 (sold)
2009 Gibson Byrdland Custom (two humbucking pickups) – $30,000 (sold)
2009 Gibson Byrdland Custom (blonde single Alnico pickup) – $15,000 (sold)
2013 Gibson Wes Montgomery Custom L-5 – $20,000 (sold)
2012 Alexander Svistunov – $15,000 (sold)
1941 D'Angelico New Yorker – $20,000 (still available)
1938 D'Angelico Excel – $20,000 (sold)
1945 D'Angelico A Style – $20,000 (still available)
2013 D'Angelico Excel – $20,000 (still available)
1937 D'Angelico Excel – $20,000 (sold)
2013 D'Angelico Style B – $20,000 (still available)
If you're in the market for any of those that are left, all the guitar images can be accessed from the main Clapton sale page. To be clear, we mainly report on the auction sales of guitars and any other collectible at New Atlas, and this sale is not an auction.
We clarified this with George. "No, those are the prices. We think they're very fairly priced considering the provenance. Given two thirds of the 29 guitars have sold in the first few days, the market seems to agree.