The rise of popular music in the last century can largely be attributed to the accessibility of music, with first recording and playback devices (records, tapes, CDs), the proliferation of mass media (radio and television), then the unstoppable momentum of the MP3 file format and widespread distribution and consumption of music via the Internet. Now that everyone has an audio player in their phone and everyone has a phone, music is more influential than ever.
Nothing catalyzes the reliving of a moment in one's life quite as vividly as a musical track. Popular music and technology has helped each and every one of us to construct our own individual soundtrack for our lives, and store it on our person.
The electric guitar is the foremost musical instrument of the last 50 years, so it's not surprising that guitars that have played a lead role in significant musical happenings sell particularly well at auction.
Like collectible cars, it has only been in recent times that vintage guitars have become very valuable at auction and are now viable alternative asset classes for investment.
The following list of the most valuable guitars sold at auction has been compiled in the same way we have compiled our other "most valuable" lists (such as the most valuable cars, most valuable motorcycles and most valuable movie cars), in that we only count those sold at auction which can hence be verified as sold at a certain price by a reputable source (the auction house). Private sales don't count because there is no publicly available record of the transaction (and word-of-mouth tends to exaggerate a price).
We've also used the same valuation methodology as previous lists (the auction price listed includes the buyer's premium to reflect the total price paid by the purchaser) and we've converted all prices into American dollars at the prevailing exchange rates on the day of the auction, ordering the list based on the price in American dollars, mainly because America is the heart of the collectibles industry, and we once before found that using more than one currency is problematic due to fluctuating exchange rates.
Eric Clapton guitars the most valuable
Even more so than with cars and motorcycles, provenance is key in our most expensive collectible guitar listings, and the tools of the trade of the most prominent guitar heroes have risen to the top in the auction marketplace.
While some may dispute that Eric Clapton is the best guitar player of all-time, his guitars are by far the most valuable in this auction listing, and his Fender Stratocaster "Blackie" (built from the best bits of three vintage Stratocasters and pictured above) is his most valuable guitar to date ($959,500), though Clapton guitars such as his 1964 Gibson ES-335 TDC ($847,500), 1939 Martin ($791,500) and his Brownie Stratocaster ($497,500) are all among the most valuable. Brownie was the most valuable guitar ever auctioned when it fetched that price at a Christies auction on 24 June, 1999.
Major artists with more than one entry in this list are also, not co-incidentally, the leading proponents of the electric guitar. Guitars formerly owned and played by Jimi Hendrix, the three guitar-playing Beatles (John Lennon, George Harrison and Paul McCartney), Les Paul, "The Edge" and Jerry Garcia have all commanded stratospheric prices more than once. That's Jerry Garcia below playing Rosebud, Luthier Doug Irwin's final masterpiece for the Grateful Dead frontman.
Glenn Kenny of Barron's captured the essence of the equation in this article on guitar investment when he wrote: Value is found as much in how the instrument played a part in musical history as it is in the fineness of its tone.
That said, among the axes of the guitar gods on this list are many original guitars with no links to major entertainers whatsoever. Gibson's original run of 1958-59 Explorers and Flying Vs are worth more than a quarter million apiece in good condition, with 1958-60 Gibson Les Paul Standards, 1936-42 Martin D-45s, 1930-33 Martin OM-45s, 1931-36 Martin D-28s and 1928-42 Martin 000-45s all capable of running well into six figures. These are guitars which have become valuable due to their fineness of tone and their limited production runs, and can be regarded as blue chip investments. Quality plus scarcity equals value on the auction block.
Now there may well be some long-term changes beginning in the guitar industry because the advent of digital music production software and the limitless processing power to create any sound imaginable are changing the landscape, but those changes are only just beginning to impact new guitar sales.
In addition to a robust used guitar industry, there are still 2.5 million new guitars sold in the United States each year and another 750,000 in the United Kingdom. That's a massive and growing user base which appreciates the craftsmanship and tone of the vintage guitar.
There's also the ageing demographic of the world to consider. The baby boomer generation is now beginning to control the world's wealth, and is the wealthiest generation in history, with more Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNWI) than any generation before it.
It's the generation that went through puberty as the guitar gods were anointed. Rock stars are the heroes of the age, guitars are the primary tools of their trade, and there are no prizes for guessing where the majority of the world's UHNWI grew up.
Guitars as an investment
It's fair to say that guitars are not yet as robust an asset class as traditional stocks and bonds. When the availability of liquidity dried up in the mid-1980s, the price of guitars took the best part of a decade to recover, then it stalled again with the dotcom bust, and it is only recently on a roll after the 2008 financial crisis. Though it must also be said that when the market is rolling, wisely investing in guitars offers far greater returns than anything you'll get in the stock market. Our musical heritage is again a driving factor, and the new wave of money brought by the rise of the Internet has created a new class of investor with a different set of tastes and values.
It's not every vintage guitar that appreciates rapidly in value though. As Gibson itself states on its website, "The vintage and limited edition guitar growth in market value is often quoted at about 15 percent per year on average, but these are generally limited to instruments built during the 1950s and 1960s."
1 - "Reach Out to Asia" Fender Stratocaster
Auctioned: 16 November, 2005 in one-off "Reach out to Asia" charity auction
Provenance: Signed by Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian May, Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, Pete Townsend, Mark Knopfler, Ray Davis, Liam Gallagher, Ronnie Wood, Tony Iommi, Angus & Malcolm Young, Paul McCartney, Sting, Ritchie Blackmore, Def Leppard, and Bryan Adams.
This guitar was sold at an auction co-ordinated by Canadian singer-songwriter Bryan Adams, in Doha, Qatar on November 16, 2005, to raise funds for the tsunami charity, Reach out to Asia. The guitar was signed by a "who's who" of the world's greatest guitar exponents and rock stars and was initially purchased by Qatar's royal family for US$1 million and then donated back to the Reach out to Asia Program, bringing in US$2.7 million at auction, and hence ultimately generating a total of US$3.7 million. The guitar auction was conducted by Sotheby's Henry Wyndham, who said from the podium, "I have auctioned many items for charity in my life but never have I witnessed the levels we achieved tonight. This will stay in my memory for a very long time indeed."
00 - Bob Marley's Washburn 22 Series Hawk
Price: US $1,200,000 (unconfirmed and ... it might not have happened)
We cannot verify anything about this guitar's sale, despite it appearing on most top 10 guitar lists, and there's a really unfortunate smell about the whole story. Bob Marley guitars have twice been shrouded in controversy (here's the other one), which is a great shame because his memory deserves better. If anyone has any information that can help in validating (or invalidating) the many claims published on the Internet regarding this guitar, we'd be deeply appreciative.
00 - Keith Richards' Gibson 1959 Les Paul Standard
Price: $1,000,000+ (private sale - unconfirmed)
Provenance: John Bowen (Mike Dean & The Kinsmen), Keith Richards (Rolling Stones), Mick Taylor (John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Rolling Stones), Cosmo Verrico (Heavy Metal Kids) with known usage by Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.
Purchased second-hand by Richards before fame visited, this Les Paul Standard was used throughout the Rolling Stones' US tours of 1964, on the Stones' famous Ed Sullivan Show television appearance and was used on hits such as Little Red Rooster, Time is on My Side, The Last Time, Get Off My Cloud, Let's Spend the Night Together and when used through a Gibson Maestro pedal in Satisfaction, this guitar created what Gibson's official website refers to as "era-defining fuzz riff." Despite a host of famous users such as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Peter Green, Paul Kossoff, Billy Gibbons, Joe Walsh, Mark Knopfler, Ace Frehley and Mike Bloomfield, it's Keith Richards' 1959 Les Paul Standard with a retro-fitted Bigsby that has become the most expensive Les Paul Guitar of all-time, albeit not at auction and hence unverifiable.
Jimmy Page is known to have used this guitar at least once in recording sessions, and Eric Clapton used it during Cream's performance at the 1966 Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival. Richards sold the guitar to Mick Taylor, of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, and when Taylor replaced Brian Jones in The Rolling Stones in 1969 it returned to the band for a further two years before being apparently stolen in 1971, one story suggesting during the recording of Exile on Main St. and another suggesting it was taken from London's Marquee Club after a gig there, though it ended up three years later in the ownership of Cosmo Verrico (Heavy Metal Kids), then Bernie Marsden (Whitesnake) who sold it to a UK collector in 2004. Ten in 2006 it sold to a Swedish collector for a price believed to be in excess of $1 million.
2 - Bob Dylan's "Newport Folk Festival" Stratocaster
Auctioned: 6 December, 2013 (Christies)
Provenance: The Fender Stratocaster which Bob Dylan used in his infamous "electric" performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival
When Bob Dylan took to the stage at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25, 1965, the three-song set the 24-year-old poet-singer-prodigy performed made news around the world. It was the first time Dylan had performed with an electric backing band, (made up of Mike Bloomfield and some members of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band) and it was, according to Rolling Stone magazine, "one of the most notable events in music history." It has been referred to as "the most written-about performance in the history of rock & roll," as it catalyzed a seismic shift in the direction of popular music.
This is the 1964 Fender Stratocaster Dylan used during that performance and it made headlines in 2012 when it was submitted to the PBS television program History Detectives for authentication, going on to be auctioned by Christies in New York on 6 December, 2013 and becoming the most expensive stage-used guitar to sell at auction.
The guitar was also used by Dylan at his first appearance with future members of The Band at Forest Hills, New York in the weeks after Newport, and during the 1965 recording sessions for his album Bringing It All Back Home.
The full auction description is worth a read for the back story, which included full-on fisticuffs between Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman, and festival board member (and staunch traditionalist) Alan Lomax and the comments of American folk legend and political activist Pete Seeger, "if I'd had an axe I'd cut the cable."
Four days after the festival, Dylan recorded the scathing Positively 4th Street in response to the folk fans who could not accept his growth, a song which went on to become one of his signature works.
3 - Eric Clapton's "Blackie" Stratocaster Hybrid
Auctioned: 24 June, 2004 (Christies)
Provenance: Used both on stage and in the studio from the early seventies to the mid eighties by Eric Clapton. Blackie shared the stage with Carlos Santana, Freddy King, The Band, Bob Dylan and Muddy Waters to name a few. Clapton recorded numerous albums on Blackie, including '61 Ocean Boulevard,' 'Slowhandowhand,' 'No Reason To Cry' and 'Just One Night.'
Blackie is a hybrid made up from the best bits of several vintage stratocasters. The legend goes that one day Clapton wandered into a a guitar shop in Texas, buying six vintage Fender Stratocasters for $100 each. He gave one each to George Harrison (The Beatles), Pete Townshend (The Who), and Stevie Winwood (Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith) and constructed Blackie from the other three.
Clapton auctioned Blackie to raise money for his Crossroads Rehabilitation Center. Clapton was a heroin addict for many years and once he emerged at the end of the ordeal, he subsequently devoted a significant proportion of his wealth and influence to help the similarly addicted.
Blackie is special in many ways. Clapton told Dan Forte in a 1985 interview published in Guitar Player: "I feel that that guitar has become part of me. I get offered guitars and endorsements come along every now and then. [A guitar maker] tried to get me interested in a fairly revolutionary guitar. I tried it, and liked it, and played it on stage – liked it a lot. But while I was doing that, I was thinking 'Well, Blackie is back there. If I get into this guitar too deeply, it's tricky, because then I won't be able to go back to Blackie. And what will happen to that?' This all happens in my head while I'm actually playing [laughs]. I can be miles away thinking about this stuff, and suddenly I shut down and say, 'This is enough. No more. Nice new guitar. Sorry. You're very nice, but...' That's when I drag the old one back on, and suddenly it's just like jumping into a warm pool of water."
Clapton first played the guitar on stage at the Rainbow Theatre, Finsbury Park, London on 13 January, 1973 at the concert organised by Pete Townshend and others to encourage Clapton's recovery from addiction.
4 - Jerry Garcia's Doug Irwin "Tiger"
Auctioned: 8 May, 2002 (Guernseys)
Provenance: A unique custom guitar made by master Luthier Doug Irwin and the primary guitar of Grateful Dead lead guitarist Jerry Garcia from 1979 to 1985. The last guitar Garcia played publicly.
One of popular music's original "wild men," Jerry Garcia was the lead guitarist, lead singer and songwriter for the Grateful Dead for its entire 30 year performing career, which included an amazing 2,300 concerts, despite battling diabetes, cocaine addiction and heroin addiction. The Grateful Dead was ranked 57th in Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Artist's of all-time, while Garcia was ranked 46th in Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarists of all-time, and his principal guitars were unique, having been crafted by Doug Irwin and Travis Bean.
Though Irwin built five guitars for Garcia, two guitars in particular were used for the majority of his work, being Tiger (his main guitar from 1979 to 1989) and Rosebud (his main guitar from 1990 to 1995). Due to a problem with Rosebud during the final Grateful Dead concert (July 9, 1995) before Garcia's death on August 9, 1995, Tiger was the last guitar Garcia played publicly. No doubt Deadheads already know of this wonderful resource on the Dead's instruments, but if you are a fan, you'll be delighted.
5 - Eric Clapton's 1964 Gibson ES-335 TDC
Auctioned: 24 June 2004 (Christies)
Provenance: Originally purchased by Clapton in 1964, this hollow-body electric guitar was used throughout his career, playing a role in the music of the Yardbirds, Cream, Blind Faith, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and his post-addiction solo career, becoming one of Slowhand's principal stage-used guitars during the nineties.
Fellow Yardbird Chris Dreja was photographed playing Clapton's 335 more often than Clapton in this early stage of Clapton's career. With Cream, Clapton was more frequently pictured with various Gibson Les Pauls, and the famous psychedelic Gibson SG, but he appears to have started using this ES-335 alongside a Gibson Firebird I during Cream's farewell tour in 1968. In December 1968, Clapton played this guitar on Badge and other tracks from the Goodbye album.
Clapton used this guitar extensively with Blind Faith in recording sessions and on stage during the Scandinavian and US Tours that followed. An inside cover photo of No Reason To Cry suggests that this ES-335 was present at the Shangri La Studio sessions in the spring of 1976. Clapton said in a 1989 interview that this guitar was also used on his 1989 rendition of Ray Charles' Hard Times released on the Journeyman album. According to Lee Dickson, this guitar was taken to practically all of Clapton's recording sessions from 1979 to 2004.
It returned to the stage as one of the key guitars used on the Nothing But Blues Tour when Clapton played on it the Freddy King numbers Someday After A While, I'm Tore Down and Have You Ever Loved A Woman. Clapton can be seen playing this guitar at Filmore West on the 8th and 9th of November, 1994, in the footage of a documentary film of the Nothing But Blues Tour, directed by Martin Scorsese.
It remained as a stage guitar, largely reserved for Freddy King numbers, until the summer of 1996. Again, it was captured in concert footage that year when Clapton used it on various TV shows, most notably the VH-1 Duets program with Dr. John at Roseland, New York on the 9th May, 1996. It was used at the Prince's Trust concert in London's Hyde Park on the 29th June, 1996, subsequently released on video as Eric Clapton – Live in Hyde Park, where it features on the cover.
Estimated to sell for between $60,000 and $80,000, the guitar smashed estimates to sell for $847,500 at the famous Crossroads Guitar Auction held by Christies on 24 June 2004 at the Rockefeller Plaza in New York.
6 - Eric Clapton's 1939 Martin OOO-42
Auctioned: 24 June, 2004 (Christies)
Provenance: The main instrument used in Eric Clapton's 'MTV Unplugged' appearance, one of the pivotal moments in his career. Clapton is pictured playing this guitar on the CD cover of the multi-million seller Unplugged album, and it was used to play the acoustic version of 'Layla', 'Before You Accuse Me' and 'Old Love', as well as early versions of 'My Father's Eyes' and 'Lonely Stranger.'
This guitar first appeared on stage at the first of the Blues only seasons at the Royal Albert Hall in February/March 1993, used in the opening acoustic segments of the show for pre-war Blues covers such as Alabama Women, How Long Blues and Four Until Late. It went on to serve as Clapton's main stage acoustic guitar between 1993 and 1995, mostly used in the opening acoustic segments of the Blues concerts for numbers such as Malted Milk.
When Martin was developing its first Eric Clapton signature model 000-42EC, Eric Clapton requested that the construction of that guitar should be based on the structure of this guitar. A Martin publicity photograph at the time shows Clapton holding this guitar in one hand, and the new signature model in the other.
Although Clapton Signature Martin guitars with built-in pickups began to be used for larger concert venues from 1996 onward, this guitar remained as the main stage acoustic guitar through the 1997 Far Eastern Tour and the first leg of the Pilgrim US Tour in 1998.
7 - Jerry Garcia's Doug Irwin "Wolf"
Auctioned: 8 May, 2002 (Guernseys)
Provenance: Jerry Garcia's first custom made guitar, made by
Doug Irwin, who, at that time was working for Alembic in San Francisco. Irwin
made Garcia's 'Eagle' guitar and Garcia was so impressed with it he asked Irwin to
make another, but with Stratocaster pick-ups. The result was the 'Wolf',
delivered to Garcia in 1973, and played for six years. It cost him
$1,500, a princely sum in those days for a guitar. At the same time he commissioned another guitar from Irwin, one with which he gave Irwin complete free rein to
build. It took six years to complete this second guitar which became known as 'Tiger' – see above on this listing.
Garcia's Wolf guitar suffered some damage during a European tour in 1976 and was returned to Irwin for repairs. It was at this time that Irwin replaced the Wolf sticker that Garcia had stuck onto the guitar, with wood inlays.
Garcia willed, on his death in 1995, both Wolf and Tiger to Doug Irwin. After Irwin settled a lawsuit against the Grateful Dead in November 2001 ("The Dead" had claimed ownership of the instruments), Irwin put them up for sale in a Guernseys auction of Grateful Dead memorabilia at Manhattan's Studio 54.
The standing-room-only crowd cheered every bid, as Garcia's guitars zoomed past the previous world record figure for a guitar. The Wolf sold for $798,500, well surpassing the then world record of $497,500, set in 1999 by Eric Clapton's Fender Stratocaster "Brownie." Some worthwhile reading on this subject includes Guitar Aficionado's How Jerry Garcia revolutionised the custom guitar industry, an interview with Doug Irwin, and a wonderful link on Jerry Garcia's Guitars in detail.
8 - Lennon & Harrison 1962 Rickenbacker 425
Auctioned: 17 May 17, 2014 (Julien's)
Provenance: Used during the Beatles' live performances of 'Twist And Shout', 'I'll Get You' and 'She Loves You' on the British pop TV show, Ready Steady Go!, the recording on October 17, 1963 of the band's fifth single, 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' and reverse side of the single, 'This Boy'. Also used during the October 1963 tour of Sweden and subsequently has been on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Cleveland), John Lennon Museum (Japan), Musical Instrument Museum (Phoenix) and the Grammy Museum's Beatles Exhibition (New York).
This 1962 Rickenbacker 425, serial number BH 439, was purchased by George Harrison in September 1963 at Red Fenton's Music Store in Mount Vernon, Illinois, while on a two-week visit to see his sister, Louise. Beatlemania was just beginning and Harrison met a few other young musicians during his stay and told them about his interest in buying a Rickenbacker. Harrison looked at Fenton's selection and chose the guitar he liked, but it wasn't available in his preferred black (to match Lennon's black Rickenbacker).
The guitar was refinished in black and on his return to the United Kingdom, he used it during The Beatles' first appearance on the television program Ready Steady Go! on October 4, 1963, and on the program Thank Your Lucky Stars in December 1963.
Harrison used the guitar during the Beatles' October 1963 week-long tour of Sweden, the first overseas gig for the band since their early days in Hamburg. He interchangeably used his Country Gentleman and the 425. Harrison was photographed with the guitar extensively on this tour, and the entire band was photographed posing with the guitar as well. This is purported to be the only known photograph in existence of all four Beatles holding a single guitar.
Harrison played this guitar as The Beatles recorded I Want to Hold Your Hand at Abbey Road Studios. This song, The Beatles' fifth single, gave the band its break in the US market. The same session produced the recording of This Boy.
John Lennon also played the guitar backstage at a performance in Glasgow, Scotland, on October 5, 1963. A photograph published in an August 1964 Beat Monthly magazine shows Lennon with this guitar.
In the late 1960s or early 1970s, Harrison gave the guitar to George Peckham, who had a long association with Apple and especially George Harrison in multiple roles, including cutting engineer at Apple. Peckham had borrowed a guitar from Harrison for his appearance on Top of the Pops, as a rhythm guitarist in the band The Fourmost. When he went to return the guitar, Harrison gave it to him, saying that it was a "great rhythm player."
Prior to Packham receiving the guitar it was modified from its original state with an additional pick up added. Peckham kept the guitar in the condition he received it with no further modifications. The guitar case sold with the guitar was given to Peckham by Slade band member Noddy Holder, as Peckham was carrying it around without a case. Holder said he couldn't bear to see a Beatles guitar carried around without a case.George Harrison's 1962 Rickenbacker 425 guitar eventually sold for $657,000 during fast and furious bidding from at the Julien's auction at Hard Rock Café New York on Saturday, May 17, 2014
9 - Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Lenny" Stratocaster
Auctioned: 24 June, 2004 (Christies)
Provenance: Blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan received this instrument from his wife, Lenny, in 1980 as a 26th birthday present.
Stevie Ray Vaughan first saw "Lenny" in an Austin, Texas, pawn shop. He loved it but didn't have the $350 that was on the price tag. His first wife, who he named the guitar after, did a "whip-round" and got some of Vaughan's friends to put in $50 each and bought the guitar for Vaughan's birthday. They presented to him on October 3, 1980, at Steamboat Springs – a nightclub he often played at.
He replaced the neck with the mid-'50s-style maple neck given to him by Billy Gibbons. He kept the tremolo arm, pickups and frets in their original condition, but added his signature and the SRV initials, which were a trademark of the majority of Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitars, on the neck plate and pick guard.
The guitar has Mickey Mantle's autograph on the back of the body. Mantle signed it on April 10, 1985, when Vaughan was invited to play the national anthem at the Houston Astros season opener at the Houston Astrodome.
Stevie recorded with this guitar on many of his love songs, including Riviera Paradise, and of course Lenny, and it was used on stage whenever he played Riviera Paradise live.
Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash in 1990.
The guitar was put up for auction at the Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festival on June 24, 2004 and it was sold to Guitar Center for $623,500.
All of Stevie Ray Vaughan's personal guitars are held by the Stevie Ray Vaughan Estate. This is the only known one to ever have been released.
10 - Paul McCartney's first guitar - Rex acoustic
Screen clip from Cooper Owen Music Media Auctions showing Paul McCartney with the guitar that started him on the path to becoming the most successful recording artist of all-time. This Rex acoustic was the first guitar Paul McCartney ever held. It was also the guitar on which he learned his first chords. It sold for $615,203 (£330,000) at a Cooper Owen auction on 28 July, 2006
Price: $615,203 (£330,000)
Auctioned: 28 July, 2006 (Cooper Owen)
Provenance: In a letter signed by Paul McCartney, he says 'This was the first guitar I ever held. It was also the guitar on which I learned my first chords.'
McCartney bought the guitar from a school mate, Ian James, who he credits with teaching how to play the guitar, and, as Ian James put the guitar up for auction McCartney must have given it back to him at some stage in its life. It is the same guitar that he used to woo John Lennon with a few of the chords that Ian James had taught him, and so gained entry into John Lennon's band The Quarrymen in 1957.
The price that was paid at auction – £330,000, US$615,203 – was three times the pre-auction valuation and was bought by Craig Jackson, the owner of elite American Collectible car auction house, Barrett-Jackson.
11 - 1958 Gibson Explorer
Auctioned: 15 October, 2006 (Skinner)
Provenance: One of the few guitars in this list not previously owned by a legendary guitar player, gaining its value through scarcity. Less than 50 were made because no-one wanted them in 1958 when the Gibson catalog listed them at $247.50, the same price as a Les Paul Standard. The model was discontinued in the early sixties, being referred to by Gibson historian Walter Carter as, "a commercial disaster," though it were reissued again in the 1970s when the radical styling was better received. Then, the fortunes of the re-issued Explorer rose somewhat when 17-year-old David Howell Evans went into Manny's Music store in NYC in 1976, looking to buy a Gibson Les Paul or a Rickenbacker, but settling instead on a Gibson Explorer.
"It just spoke to me. I knew that using this guitar could get an odd reaction as no-one was playing them back then", said Evans. "It's an odd-looking thing. But it sounded just right for me, it had 'my sound' in it," adding, "and it was only $450."
Evans added an E-H Memory Man pedal, and his newly-formed band suddenly had "that sound." Evans (we now know him as The Edge) and his band (U2) released Out Of Control on their first EP soon after. The Explorer has endured in U2's music and followed the band into the heads of music lovers worldwide.
Only 38 of the original series are known to still exist and the list of people who now own them is a who's who of collectors and serious musicians. Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick has two 1958 Explorers and in Guitar Aficianado he wrote: "I bought the cleaner of the two Explorers in the late Seventies for $4,000 ... that may seem like the deal of the century, ... but at the time I bought this Explorer, Sixties Strats were worth only about $750, and Bursts were going for $2,000. Under the circumstances, that was a hell of a lot of money to spend on a single guitar."
Numerous other big names have since used either the original or re-issued Explorer to great effect, including the late Gary Moore, Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters), Brendon Small (Dethklok) and his alter-ego Skwisgaar Skwigelf, James Hatfield (Metallica), Allen Collins (Lynyrd Skynyrd) and Matthias Jabs (Scorpions).
This Explorer was purchased as a gift in 1963 at the original list price of $247.50, and was virtually untouched until it was sold on October 15, 2006 for $611,000 at Skinner Auctions in Boston.
12 - Lennon & Harrison 1964 Gibson SG
Auctioned: 17 December, 2004 (Christies)
Provenance: This guitar was used by The Beatles between 1966 and 1969. George Harrison used it when recording and touring for the album Revolver. It was used by Harrison in the 'Paperback Writer' and 'Rain' clips in 1966 and by John Lennon during the White Album sessions in 1969. Subsequently owned by Pete Ham of Badfinger and on display for many years at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland Ohio.
A 1964 Gibson SG Standard guitar, Serial No. 227666, translucent cherry finish, double cutaway solid body, Schaller machine heads, 22 fret fingerboard with mother-of-pearl inlays, Gibson logo inlayed to head, dual humbucker pickups, four rotary controls, selector switch, Gibson/Maestro Varitone wrap around tail piece and whammy bar, together with original hardshell case and six original Kluson tuners.
Played by George Harrison from 1966 through 1969 during various Beatles appearances and recording sessions which include the last official United Kingdom concert at the NME Poll Winners Concert and during the Revolver recording session. It was also used by Harrison in two Beatles films used to promote Paperback Writer and Rain in 1966 and later played by John Lennon during the White Album sessions in 1969.
Also present is a 39 page custom binder which includes excellent documentation, featuring several reproduction images of Harrison playing the guitar with The Beatles as well as documentation from the book Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four's Instruments, from Stage to Studio (Andy Babiuk) and two letters verifying the guitar's authenticity. Together with additional related documents of the guitars subsequent owner, Pete Ham of Badfinger, to whom Harrison bestowed the guitar to in 1969. In 2002, the guitar was loaned to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland Ohio where it has been on display ever since.
13 - Jimi Hendrix "burned" 1965 Fender Stratocaster (Finsbury Astoria burning)
Auctioned: 4 September, 2008 (Fame Bureau)
Provenance: The guitar which Jimi Hendrix set alight using lighter fluid on stage at London's Finsbury Astoria on March 31, 1967.
Hendrix became known for burning his guitars, though in fact, he only ever burned two guitars, and this 1965 Fender Stratocaster was the first guitar that Jimi sacrificed in 1967 in North London at the Finsbury Astoria. Tony Garland, a press officer for Hendrix, cleared up the remains of the guitar and stored it in his parents garage in Hove. And there it sat for nearly 40 years until 2007 when Garland's nephew unearthed it.
The American collector who bought the guitar, Daniel Boucher, said: "I thought I'd have to pay a little bit more for it, actually ... it changed music, he raised the bar so high you couldn't get over it. Obviously it is an investment, it couldn't not be an investment for that amount of money, but I bought it because I like it."
The actual price this guitar sold for was reported at the time by newspapers as having sold for £280,000 (which calculates to US$495,269 based on the exchange rate on the day of the sale), though Fame Bureau reports on its web page that it sold for "in excess of $560,000" which would include the traditional buyer's premium (newspapers often ignore this aspect in reporting the price). Hence we've listed the guitar at $560,000.
The book Jimi Hendrix Gear reported claims that the guitar might not be the original due to inconsistencies between the guitar in videos and images of that performance and the guitar which sold.
14 - Roy Rogers' 1930 Martin OM-45 Deluxe
Auctioned: 3 April, 2009 (Christies)
Provenance: The companion guitar to actor Roy Rogers across 100 films and a thousand recording sessions, from 1933 to his death in 1998.
In the 1930s, gripped by the "great depression," America needed heroes. Heroes are larger than life and heroes give hope. It got two. Roy Rogers, "The King Of The Cowboys," and his Martin OM-45 Deluxe guitar.
Rogers was, for those of you who do remember, one of the most influential performers in American history. The official Christies video for the guitar is really worth watching as it tells the story of a very successful and respected musician who fell into acting and became one of the most prolific and loved actors of all-time with over 100 movies to his credit.
The Roy Rogers Show show ran for nine years on radio before becoming a smash hit on television from 1951 through 1957.
If there is a "royalty" among guitars then, surely, the OM-45 Deluxe is it. There were only 15 made, all in 1930, and this example was the first. The pearl inlayed floral pick guard, the pearl inlayed bridge and the gold plated tuners with pearl buttons, resembling more of a banjo tuner than a traditional guitar tuner, are among the features that differentiate, even in today's models, the OM-45 Deluxe from the standard OM-45.
It was shipped in 1930, by Frank Henry Martin, to a San Francisco retail store. Retail cost- $225. By 1933 it was in the possession of one Leonard Franklin Slye, later to be known as Roy Rogers, when he bought it for $30 – from a pawn shop. He used it for most of his recording and film work. It remained with him until his death in 1998.
It has hence been subjected to hundreds of minutes of exposure alongside the matinee idol. The Roy Rogers owned OM (Orchestra Model)-45 Deluxe is considered among many collectors as the rarest and most coveted Gibson guitar ever made.
00 - John Lennon's Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins
Price: $530,000+ (private sale - unconfirmed)
Provenance: This Gretsch 6120 was used by John Lennon during the recording of the Beatles 'Paperback Writer.' The guitar was purchased by guitar collector and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay in March 2015 by negotiation after the guitar failed to meet it's reserve price at auction.
This Gretsch 6120 was given by John Lennon to his cousin, David Birch, in 1967 and when Birch took it to a Tracks auction in November 2014, it failed to reach its $600,000 reserve. Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, already the owner of some 175 guitars, including "Black Beauty," Les Paul's 1954 black Custom guitar, "Tiger," Jerry Garcia's main guitar from 1979 to 1989, and Bob Dylan's Fender Stratocaster, the "Dylan Goes Electric" guitar, negotiated a private sale with Birch, in March 2015 for $530,000. Hence the lack of an official number on the list – this is a list of auction results only.
15 - Eric Clapton's "Brownie" Fender Stratocaster
Auctioned: 24 June, 1999 (Christies)
Provenance: Purchased for $300 second-hand by Clapton, this guitar played many of those famous chords and riffs from his Cream days in 1967, all the way through to being back-up for Blackie, until Derek and the Dominoes. This was the guitar on which Layla was recorded (note that in this live concert video, Clapton is playing "Blackie").
Bought by Eric Clapton in 1967, when touring with Cream, as a "working guitar" – one that could take the knocks and the bangs of being played, hard, every night on tour. He bought it second hand for $300. Clapton believed that the more use that was shown in the neck of a guitar the better it played and he bought many of his guitars at pawn shops and second hand shops for that very reason.
In 1969, while playing at the Blind Faith concert in Hyde Park, he removed Brownies' neck and attached it to a Fender Custom Telecaster. He used Brownie on his debut album, Clapton, considered by many to be his best album ever, extensively during the early 70s, and when playing with Derek and the Dominos and on the album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.
Brownie was used by Clapton in the recording of Layla on August 26, 1970, with the chemistry between Duane Allman's 1957 Gibson Les Paul and the haunting Strat providing one of the most famous guitar interplays of all-time.
Brownie became Clapton's back-up guitar after he sourced and fell in love with "Blackie" (above in this list).
In 2013, Fender Custom Shop created a limited edition (100 only) tribute replica of this guitar which is featured in the above video. The Brownie replica sold for $15,000.
16 - Jimi Hendrix 1966 Red Fender Mustang
Auctioned: 27 April, 2007 (Juliens)
With few exceptions, Hendrix played right-handed guitars that were turned upside down and restrung for left-hand playing. This had an important effect on the sound of his guitar; because of the slant of the bridge pickup, his lowest string had a brighter sound while his highest string had a darker sound, which was the opposite of the Stratocaster's intended design.
17 - George Harrison's 1963 Maton Mastersound MS500
Auctioned: 15 May, 2015 (Juliens)
Provenance: George Harrison played this Australian-made guitar during the summer of 1963 while his Gretsch Country Gentleman was being repaired and he never actually owned it. The guitar was borrowed from Barratts Music Store in Manchester England and he liked it so much he kept it for July and August 1963 when Beatlemania was taking off in England.
One of those gigs was a four concert date on the Jersey Islands in the English Channel and the band's payment for those four concerts was £1,000 (approx. $1,600). The incongruity of it: today a Beatles concert poster from The Channel Islands concerts, in decent condition, could now bring £4,000 to £5,000 (or £8,000+ for one measuring 30 x 40 inches). A small ticket stub £80, a larger, more elaborate one such as those that were issued in 1962, or early 1963, would bring around £150 (more than quadruple this if it were complete). Beatles programs bring between £25 and £35, with handbills realizing between £300 and £500
18 - Eric Clapton's Gold Leaf Fender Stratocaster
Auctioned: 24 June, 2004 (Christies)
Provenance: This guitar was ordered by Eric Clapton in 1996, around the 50th anniversary of Fender. Clapton wanted something that could hang in a museum, so the company made him a custom fender plated with 23 carat gold.
Fenders' original Gold Leaf guitar was a custom order for Eric Clapton at the time of Fenders' 50th Anniversary in 1996. It was hand crated by Mark Kendrick and John Luis Campo, Fenders' Master Builders and plated with 23 carat gold. Clapton used the guitar in 1997 during his Far-Eastern tour, at the European Legends jazz concerts and at the 1997 Music For Montserrat concert in the Royal Albert Hall.
19 - George Harrison's "Let it be" Rosewood Fender Telecaster
Auctioned: September 13, 2003 (Juliens)
Provenance: Presented by Fender with this Telecaster in December, 1968, George Harrison played it in the Beatles' last ever live performance on top of the Apple building in London, in the 1970 Beatles movie 'Let It Be' and on various parts of the 'Abbey Road' album.
The first Rosewood Telecaster was made by sandwiching thin layers of maple wood between a solid rosewood top and back. As one of the two makers, Philip Kubicki, recalls, "I spent hours sanding the bodies to perfection." It was then covered with a special satin polyurethane finish. Then, the historians say, Harrison's guitar was flown to England (in its own seat) accompanied by a courier, and hand-delivered to the Apple offices in December 1968.
The guitar was one of George's favorites and he used it on the Get Back sessions, the final roof-top performance on January 30 1969 and a final performance on the following day at the Apple Studios. It was soon after this that The Beatles disbanded.
Harrison gave the guitar to Delaney Bramlett, who had taught Harrison to play slide guitar, and who invited Harrison to join his group for some shows in England and Denmark. Bramlett has said that during the tour, he and Harrison would often switch guitars during the shows, but he loved that Rosewood Telecaster and would play it whenever he could.
There was a lot of speculation among collectors, historians and Beatles fans as to where the guitar was and Bramlett said that Harrison had joked with him that he should sell it before someone killed him for it. In 1998 Bramlett put the guitar up for auction, but the $200,000 reserve price was not met. In 2003 it was again offered at auction, two years after George Harrisons' death. It was bought, on behalf of Olivia Harrison, by the actor Ed Begley, and so returned home.
20 - John Lennon & George Harrison
1966 custom Vox Kensington guitar
Auctioned: 18 May, 2013 (Juliens)
Provenance: This guitar has a special place in Beatles history, having been played by both John Lennon and George Harrison. It was custom-made in 1966 and presented to the group in 1967 while they were working on the 'Magical Mystery Tour' album. Harrison only practiced 'I Am The Walrus' on this guitar, but Lennon used it while recording the video of 'Hello, Goodbye.'
Lennon gave the guitar to his pal "Magic Alex" Mardas, who the Beatles had hired to design the Apple Studio in Savile Row, on Mardas' 25th birthday. Lennon even attached a plaque to the back of the guitar declaring his friendship. Magic Alex was one of Lennon's closest friends from 1966 to 1969, with John standing as best man at his wedding in May 1968.
Mardas sold the guitar at a Christies auction in 2004 for £117,250 ($210,347) and it again went to auction in 2013 when it brought in considerably more than its pre-sale estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. The guitar features a scroll design, a hollow body, a single f-hole and a 24-fret rosewood fret board with rectangular inlays,
21 - Jimi Hendrix Fender 1964 Stratocaster
Price: $385,917 (£260,280)
Auctioned: 1 April, 2015 (Ted Owen & Co)
Provenance: This 1964 Stratocaster was given by Jimi Hendrix to his brother Leon in 1968 in Seattle. According to Leon he told Jimi that he was going to start a band. Jimi asked him if he had a guitar. Leon said no and so Jimi gave him the 1964 Fender. Leon kept it for nearly 50 years and put it up for auction in 2015.
The official Ted Owen estimate on this guitar for the auction was £400,000 to £600,000 (US$600,000 to $900,000) but doubts were raised in the days prior to the auction about whether or not Jimi actually played it. Regardless, the resultant price was a disappointment. An unimpeachable provenance is key to a sound investment in this game.
The official auction description explains the history of the guitar but Hendrix traveled with several Stratocasters and ... if it is the real Jimi Hendrix Fender 1964 Stratocaster then this video shows him playing it. Judge for yourself.
00 - 1949 Fender Broadcaster prototype
Price: $375,000 (private sale - unconfirmed)
Provenance: This guitar was sold privately in 1994 for $375,000, believed to be the highest price ever paid for a guitar at the time. It was Leo Fender's first prototype for the Fender Telecaster, the world's first commercial solid-body, single-cutaway electric guitar.
In 1949, Leo Fender developed his first prototype of the Broadcaster, but it went under the name of Fender Esquire. The solid body was made in pine, with a single pick-up and around 50 were made, but none had a truss rod and a number were returned when the neck warped. Later versions were made of solid ash and did have a truss rod.
A two-pickup version, maybe the first two-pickup guitar ever made, was developed in June 1950 and was named the Broadcaster with the original one-pickup version retaining the name Esquire.
At that time the Gretsch company had been marketing a drum set under the name of "Broadkaster" and asked Fender to drop the name Broadcaster. It did, and the guitar was renamed the Telecaster. Fender did ship some Broadcasters with only the Fender decal, and no model name. They were called, euphemistically, the "Nocaster" and, now, are very sought-after collectors items in their own right. While the Telecaster has become one of Fender's more popular models it had its beginnings as the humble Esquire.
Since then the "humble" Esquire has gathered quite a following and later models have been used by Bruce Springsteen on the Born To Run album, Luther Perkins on some of the early Johnny Cash albums, Paul McCartney (using a right handed model strung to the left, a la Jimi Hendrix) on the Sergeant Pepper sessions, Jeff Beck of The Yardbirds, Syd Barrett (the original leader of Pink Floyd), and David Gilmore (who took Barrett's lead role in Pink Floyd).
22 - 1930 Martin OM-45 Deluxe
Auctioned: 3 April, 2014 (Guernseys)
Provenance: Just 14 of these guitars were ever made, and fewer than 10 are still known to exist. It is regarded by many as the most beautiful, the most collectible and the most valuable guitar that Martin ever made and it's sound is also beyond compare.
In the late 1920s, the perfect storm for the creation of the Martin OM-45 Deluxe was about to develop. During that era every guitar manufacturer aspired to make the finest guitars imaginable. The market was booming. Innovation was rampant, and craftsmanship was outstanding. Then came the stock market crash of 1929 which catalyzed the Great Depression.
Martin, like all companies, was forced to lay off all but its most skilled craftsmen and guitars were produced in small numbers. The up-side, of course, was that the guitars that were manufactured were made by the finest guitar craftsmen that the world, possibly, has ever seen. Certainly, the Martin OM-45 stands testimony to that.
This example is exquisite and quite possibly the finest Martin OM-45 offered for sale in the last 30 years. The OM-45 Deluxe is still manufactured, and has a retail price of US$100,000.
23 - John Lennon's 1958 Hofner Senator
Auctioned: 1 July, 2009 (Christies)
Provenance: There are no photos of John Lennon playing this instrument and he himself never mentioned owning a Senator. He did own a Hofner Club 40 in 1959, and there is at least one photo showing Lennon playing a Club 40 at The Casbah Club in Liverpool. This was at the time of The Quarrymen and, certainly Ken Brown of The Quarrymen did own a Senator. But did Lennon?
The guitar's history was certainly hyped-up when in 1990 this Senator was displayed in the lobby at the home of AEI Music in Seattle. The promotional material claimed it to be the "Abbey Road Studio Guitar" and said it was used in the recordings of Love Me Do, From Me To You and This Boy. It is doubted that the Senator ever saw the insides of Abbey Road and it is well documented that the guitar Lennon used on the aforementioned songs was a Gibson J-160E.
Anyway…..the guitar was supposedly given by Lennon to Mel Evans, one of The Beatles roadies, whose widow Lil auctioned it in 1984 for £15,500 at Sothebys. She provided a letter from George Harrison, to her, with Harrison calling it "one of the first guitars of John's going back to Liverpool."
24 - 1954 Gibson Les Paul Custom "Black Beauty"
Auctioned: 19 February, 2015 (Guernsey's)
Provenance: The original Les Paul. Once owned by Les Paul himself, many people regard this guitar as the most significant electric guitar ever made and some were expecting it to go as high as a million dollars at auction. The guitar was purchased by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay for $343,750 including the buyer's premium, with Irsay's Guitar Curator Christopher McKinney having been authorized by Irsay to bid up to $650,000 to secure the item.
Les Paul was unimpressed with the 1952 Gibson Gold top. Although iconic, he regarded it as having a number of design flaws. He demanded that if a guitar was to have his name on it, it had to be a better guitar than Gibson was making. He collaborated with Gibson's Ted McCarty and they came up with The Black Beauty. The custom Black Beauty left the Gibson factory in late December 1953 and was in Les's hands by early January.
He used it on all of his Listerine Shows and, being the innovator that he was, he began experimenting and modifying it almost immediately. Different knobs. Different pickups. Different stoptails. Different…..everything. In fact, in those mid fifties shows you could be forgiven for thinking he was playing a number of different Black Les Pauls.
25 - Jimi Hendrix "Woodstock Strat"
Price: rumoured to have been sold privately for $2,000,000, but last time it appeared at auction (way back in 1990), it fetched $325,000
Auctioned: April 25, 1990 (Sotheby's)
Provenance: Used by Jimi Hendrix on stage at Woodstock, and the instrument which was used in Jimi's famous rendition of 'The Star Spangled banner.'
This blonde, maple-necked 1968 Fender Stratocaster guitar didn't sell at auction and hence we cannot confirm the price, but it has been one of the most valuable guitars in the world for the last quarter century, primarily due to Jimi Hendrix' famous performance at the iconic Woodstock Festival in August, 1969.
It held that mantle from April 25, 1990 onward, having been sold for £198,000 ($325,000) when Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell sold the guitar at a Sotheby's auction. At that time, it became the world's most valuable guitar and broke its own record when Gabriele Ansaloni, who purchased it at the Sotheby's 1990 auction, sold it privately in 1993 for a sum reported to be between US$1.3 and $1.8 million.
It was subsequently sold for a reported US$2 million in 2008 to the Experience Music Project (a nonprofit museum, dedicated to contemporary popular culture and founded by Microsoft co-founder and noted philanthropist Paul Allen) which has subsequently morphed into the EMP Museum.
Interestingly, by comparison to the cars and motorcycles which populate our top 250 most valuable listings, and are restored to as-new perfection, this guitar bears the markings of Hendrix' provenance. It reportedly still has the stains on the back from Hendrix' colorful shirts, the nut has been reversed to accommodate the upside-down stringing and there are burns on the neck from Hendrix lodging cigarettes between the neck and strings and letting them burn down while he was playing it.
This guitar can now be seen on display at the EMP museum.
26 - Eric Clapton 2004 Fender Stratocaster
Master Built Crash Concept Model
Auctioned: 24 June, 2004 (Christies)
Provenance: At the time of its sale, this Stratocaster was the most recent addition to Eric Clapton's collection of Signature Stratocaster Custom guitars and his third painted by graffiti artist 'Crash.' Clapton used this as his main stage guitar from the One Generation 4 Another Albert Hall concert on 15 March, 2004 until a concert the night the night before his famous Christies Crossroads auction. The construction of this guitar was a collaboration between two master builders at Fender, Todd Krause and Mark Kendrick.
27 - Vox V251 Guitar Organ prototype (1964)
Auctioned: 24 June, 2014 (Sothebys)
Provenance: This guitar organ proved equally as unpopular with the public as it did with both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones (both received promotional instruments). While the Vox Guitar/Organ never became popular, it could well be seen as the fore-runner of the synthesizer.
Essentially it was a Phantom guitar combined with a Vox Continental organ and could be played as either a guitar, an organ – or both. In the hope of getting an endorsement for the guitar/organ it was given to The Beatles in 1964 by Dick Denny of Vox, the inventor, and although Lennon and McCartney were "in awe of it," they found it too heavy (9 lb) and too difficult to play.
It was never played in the studio or live. Lennon gave it to Mal Evans, a roadie to whom The Beatles members gave a number of their guitars. Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones was also given a Vox Guitar/Organ to try, but it did not find favor with him either.
28 - Jerry Garcia's 1975 Travis Bean Custom
Auctioned: 8 May, 2007 (Bonhams)
Provenance: The best-known of Jerry Garcia's three Travis Bean guitars, Garcia played this TB1000 during a number of the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band's most famous shows (Golden Gate Park Show in September, 1975 and the Orpheum Theater Shows in May and July of 1976) as well as the recording of the 'Steal Your Face' and the 'Terrapin Station' albums.
Garcia's other two Travis Bean guitars were TB500s, whereas this is basically a TB1000. There were only 755 of the guitars made and this one is stamped "715." It's the same guitar he holds on the album covers of Don't Let Go and Grateful Dead: Live At The Cow Palace, New Years Eve, 1976 and was seen in many photos with Jerry Garcia.
29 - The Edge's 1975 Gibson Les Paul
Auctioned: 27 April, 2007 (Julien's)
Provenance: This cream 1975 Les Paul guitar is only the third guitar, after his Explorer and Black Stratocaster, that U2's The Edge purchased. He bought in New York in 1982 and used it in the recording studio and on stage for more than 20 years. He donated the guitar for the Icons Of Music auction for the Music Rising Benefit, which he co-founded, to help musicians of the Gulf Coast region regain their livelihood after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The guitar was used to record U2's classic New Years Day as well as the Achtung Baby album. He used it extensively on stage and the wear on the back of the guitar bears testament that this guitar was very much a working guitar.
The Edge felt the absence of the Les Paul. After all, it had been with him for just over two decades, and so Gibson decided to make an exact replica for him. The guitar was sent by UPS to Dallas Shoo, The Edge's guitar technician. He knew nothing about it and in an interview about the guitar he said, "So I called Edge and said, 'Do you know anything about this?' And he was like, 'No. What are they doing sending it back to you?' Which wouldn't have made any sense: you wouldn't send a guitar like that by UPS; you'd hand deliver it. Edge didn't know what was happening. They made an exact replica. Gibson wanted Edge to have the guitar even though he'd auctioned it off. I still remember when he plugged it in for the first time and played it; he was like, 'This is it! It's the same guitar.' We couldn't believe it." It even has the same "2" decal on the back.
30 - Jimi Hendrix (Monterey) Fender Stratocaster
Price: $288,493 (£180,000)
Auctioned: 27 November, 2012 (Fame Bureau)
Provenance: This is the 1966 Fender Stratocaster used by Hendrix at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival where he famously set his guitar on fire using lighter fluid. Fortunately, the guitar was switched for another for the sacrificial burning.
This 1966 Fender Stratocaster has a rosewood neck, but has often been confused with "Black Beauty." Black Beauty, undoubtedly Jimi Hendrix's favorite guitar, was a black 1968 Stratocaster with a maple neck.
The black and white Stratocaster was given to Hendrix' record company Anim Limited, where it fell into the hands of James "Tappy" Wright, a manager of the company. Tappy later sold it at auction.
31 - 1949 Bigsby Solid Body
Auctioned: 21 April, 2012 (Heritage)
Provenance: The Bigsby Solid Body is, arguably, the first solid body electric guitar ever made. Paul Bigsby made approximately 23 electric guitars and most are accounted for. This is number 4.
Very little is known about the history of this guitar and conflicting historical evidence prohibits speculation. What is known is that it is an original Bigsby built in 1949. Most of the early models were built for specific customers and while numbers 1, 2, 3 and 5 etc. have verifiable owner documentation, this model does not.
But of the creator of this guitar, Paul Bigsby (1899-1968), much is known. He was, essentially, a designer. Before working in music he was a motorcycle racer known as "P.A. Bigsby." He was also the foreman of Crocker Motorcycles, and designed components for motor bikes. The overhead-valve cylinder head for Crockers' first V-twin motorcycle was a Bigsby design.
However, it was his design of the of the first successful vibrato tailpiece – or "whammy bar" as it's often called – for the electric guitar where he really made his name. The Bigsby Vibrato was so successful that, to this day, his device is still in production and known simply as "a Bigsby."
32 - Martin/Bigsby Dreadnought D–28
Auctioned: 2 April, 2007 (Christies)
Provenance: The guitar which was used by Merle Travis throughout most of his career.
Country artist Merle Travis purchased the third Bigsby Birdseye Maple Solid Body Electric Guitar from luthier, engineer and inventor Paul Bigsby in 1949 and was so impressed by the neck on the guitar that he asked Bigsby to replace the neck on his Brazilian Rosewood Martin Dreadnought D-28 with something similar.
Travis used the resultant guitar throughout most of his career, also using it to compose such hits as one of the top selling songs and most-recorded songs of all time, Sixteen Tons, and Dark as a Dungeon. It was the first guitar re-necked by Bigsby and as with the quality of everything he touched in his illustrious career (including the famed Crocker motorcycle), it immediately created an insatiable demand. Country performers such as Hank Thompson, Lefty Frizell, Zeke Clements and a host of other celebrity performers approached Bigsby with re-necking requests.
33 - Eric Clapton 1977 Juan Alvarez Classical
Auctioned: 24 June, 2004 (Christies)
Provenance: The most expensive classical guitar ever sold at auction, this guitar was used by Eric Clapton in the promotional video for 'Tears in Heaven'. It was also used on MTV's 1992 'Unplugged' when he played it on 'Signe,' 'Tears in Heaven' and 'The Circus Left Town' and in the very poignant interview with Sue Lawley of the BBC when he played 'Tears In Heaven' publicly for the first time. It was also the guitar used by Clapton 18 hours a day during his period of grieving after the death of his son, and the guitar on which he wrote 'Tears in Heaven.'
The auction notes (click the 'Lot Notes' tab) tell the full story of the purchase of this guitar in Clapton's words – worth a read. The guitar was made by Juan Alvarez at his workshop in downtown Madrid, and although made in Spain it is not a Spanish guitar, but a true Classical guitar and this interview with Juan Miguel Alvarez may shed some light on the differences.
There are two inscriptions on the guitar, both in black felt pen and both from Clapton. "For Giorgio and everyone at 'El Gadir' - my love Eric C. 96" in reference to fashion designer Giorgio Armani, and his home on the island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Italy. Clapton gifted the guitar to Armani who, in turn, donated the guitar to the landmark 2004 Crossroads charity auction. The second inscription reads, simply, "no more tears in heaven."
33 - 1969 Eric Clapton/Anthony Zemaitis 12-string
Auctioned: 24 June, 2004 (Christies)
Provenance: Dubbed by Clapton as "Ivan the Terrible" and used on the 1969 album Blind Faith. Subsequently loaned to George Harrison who used it in recording My Sweet Lord. Dave Mason also borrowed Ivan on at least one occasion. Mason played it on stage with Clapton at the Dr. Spock Concert, at the Lyceum in London (14 June, 1970).
When Clapton met Tony Zemaitis in the mid-1960s, he asked Zemaitis to "make a 12-string for me, bigger than he'd ever done before and inlaid with silver. I wanted it to be incredibly ornate. I wanted to explore everything we could. The heart shape and the four-leaf clover on the headstock were my ideas. So he made this guitar. It probably took about a year."
Nicknamed "Ivan The Terrible," this 12-string guitar turned out to be, in Clapton's words, "Massive. It's reputed to be the biggest 12-string in the world. It's about the same dimensions as a mariachi bass."
In 1970, Zemaitis started experimenting with placing metal shields on the top of his guitars to eliminate microphonic noise generated by guitar pickups. His first metal top was bought by Tony McPhee of The Groundhogs, and the second by Ronnie Wood when he was with The Faces. The shiny surface of the guitar created great interest in the guitar world and when he got gun engraver Danny O'Brien to engrave the metal surfaces, a custom order guitar business for "the rich and famous" burgeoned.
Ironically, this guitar is not quite the original 12-string that Zemaitis made for Clapton. In Clapton's own words, "I was involved in a very, very, stormy relationship at the time [Alice Ormsby-Gore]. During one of our big rows, I took the guitar and I demolished it. I took it by the neck and I banged it against the wall until there was nothing left. Then about five years later I still had the neck, I took it back to Tony and [said to him] 'I've got to tell you a terrible story, forgive me ... I can't bear to be without it,' and I apologized and made all the excuses I could think of ... he was shocked ... but he understood ... so he built another body onto the neck. So this is Mark 2 – the first one was destroyed, but the neck is original ... but how he did that anyway [rebuilt that guitar]."
So this guitar is not 100 percent original. But the neck is. During his 39 years of production, Zemaitis had a policy of never making any two guitars the same, while at the same time limiting himself to the production of only 10 guitars a year to ensure the quality of each individual model.
35 - John Lennon's first guitar
(1957 Gallotone 3/4 Champion Acoustic)
Price: $244,384 (£155,000)
Auctioned: 14 September, 1999 (Sothebys)
Provenance: John Lennon's very first guitar, purchased for £10 by mail order after his mother loaned him five pounds and ten shillings. Lennon played it with his first band 'The Black Jacks,' who became 'The Quarrymen.' It was the guitar that Lennon was using when the Quarrymen played the St. Peter's Parish Fete in Woolton, Liverpool on 6 July, 1957. McCartney showed up with his Rex guitar (also on this list) and "showed him (Lennon) a few chords he didn't know."
The 3/4 size guitar John Lennon was playing on that auspicious day when the world's most famous songwriting duo met. It "broke" in 1958 and was left in the care of Lennon's Aunt Mimi, who, on his death, and after getting the guitar repaired, gave it to a disabled boy and when he died it was passed on to a disabled girl. The guitar was auctioned in 1999 with the proceeds going to safeguard her future.
When authenticating the guitar prior to auction, Sotheby's called on Rod Davis, one of the original Quarrymen, who remembered that when the band played that famous fete, "John took the skin off the edge of his index finger while playing" and when Davis changed one of the strings on Lennon's guitar, he noticed a spot of blood inside. Davis recounted that story to Sotheby's and advised them to look inside for the spot. It was still there.
The guitar was auctioned bearing a brass plaque which Lennon's Aunt Mimi had mounted on the headstock with the advice she once gave to a young Lennon: "Remember, you'll never earn your living by it."
36 - Jerry Garcia's Travis Bean TB500 electric guitar
Auctioned: 6 December, 2013 (Juliens)
Provenance: This guitar was sold accompanied by a letter of authenticity from Steve Parish, the Grateful Dead's guitar tech and equipment manager from 1969 to 1995, which stated that this guitar was the third most played by Garcia, behind "Tiger" and "Wolf." It was Garcia's primary guitar beginning in 1976 through much of 1977 and was used occasionally beyond that.
Gerry Garcia owned two Travis Bean TB500 electric guitars – Numbers 11 and 12. This is number 12. This guitar was first seen on 13 December, 1976, at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California and it was played by Garcia at more than ninety shows in the late 70s. He recorded Terrapin Station with this TB500, along with his TB1000 mentioned earlier in this article.
It features an aluminum neck (a design pioneered by Bean), three single-coil pickups and Garcia's onboard effects loop. This guitar was the first to employ the onboard effects loop, which was later incorporated into all of Garcia's guitars.
Garcia was not a musician who owned a lot of guitars. Garcia said, in a 1978 interview with Guitar Player, "I'm the kind of player who generally plays one guitar at a time so I can learn its idiosyncrasies... the guitar that doesn't have idiosyncrasies is the one I like. No other production guitar is like that – they're all completely different. That level of consistency in the Beans means a lot to me. As far as I'm concerned, the Travis Bean is the finest production guitar on the market." But he was always looking for a guitar with something different. "I don't like any guitars that are available. I'm trying to have a guitar built."
37 - 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard
Auctioned: 3 May, 2009 (Skinner)
Provenance: In 1958, Gibson began producing the Les Paul Standard model, which retained most of the features of the Goldtop, though the finish became a cherry-red version of the Sunburst finish long used on Gibson's flat-top and archtop acoustic and hollow electric guitars. Production ended in 1961, when Gibson redesigned it to feature a double cutaway body, subsequently becoming the Gibson SG. Around 1,700 instruments were made in the first series, and these are now highly valuable. Though it had no remarkable provenance, the pre-auction estimate of $225,000 to $250,000 for this guitar proved accurate. Production was resumed in 1968 due to public demand, and continues to this day.
38 - Les Paul 1951 Fender No-Caster
Auctioned: 8 June, 2012 (Juliens)
Provenance: We referred to the 'Nocaster' when discussing the '1949 Fender Broadcaster Prototype' earlier in this article. That guitar sold for $375,000. Euphemistically called the 'Nocaster' – the Fender with no name – after the legal spate with Gretsch. Initially, the guitar was called the 'Broadcaster' but Gretsch had a drum set called the 'Broadkaster' with a name it had registered, so Fender simply removed the 'Broadcaster' decals and shipped off the few remaining models. These guitars became known as the 'Nocaster' which ultimately, in 1951, became the Telecaster. This specific guitar was presented to Les Paul by Leo Fender who has autographed it on the back of the headstock.
This video shows the actual auction of this guitar. Note that the final hammer price at auction is not the final price paid by the purchaser as a "buyer's premium" is traditionally added. This list is calculated using the total price paid by the purchaser, including premiums and commissions.
38 - Bono Gretsch Irish Falcon
Auctioned: 27 April, 2007 (Juliens)
Provenance: This series of guitars was a collaboration between Gretsch and U2's Bono and this particular guitar was used on U2's 2005 'Vertigo Tour.'
The guitar has been auctioned twice, originally in April, 2007, where it achieved it's $225,000 price.
Subsequently, in December 2011, the same guitar fetched somewhat less at $176,000 ($140,800 plus buyer's premium). Bono chose the color "Everygreen" and designed the gold scratch plate that bears the inscription "The Goal Is Soul," in black letters. For those who want an identical guitar without a lazy quarter million price tag (or the provenance), the production Gretsch Bono Irish Falcon can be procured for a somewhat more modest $5000.
40 - Eric Clapton 2000 Fender Custom Stratocaster
Auctioned: 24 June, 2004 (Christies)
Provenance: This guitar was played by Eric Clapton in the studio, and used as a back-up stage guitar during the Reptile tour of 2001. It was played on stage at least on a couple of occasions, one of which was for the song Layla in the last concert of the first leg of the US Tour at Madison Square Garden on 23rd June, 2001.
According to Clapton, who is an automotive enthusiast, the Fender Custom Shop Strat was painted by Roy Brizio of Roy Brizio Street Rods in 2000 and "is the same color as Roy Brizio's hot rod that we were driving for Riding With The King." The 1932 Ford model B Roadster loaned to Clapton has since been repainted black but originally used the same Dupont Chromalusion "Flip Flop paint" which changes color depending on the angle it is viewed.
According to Fender Custom Shop's Lee Dickson, "Roy's hot rod was really brown, orangey and gold at the front, and the back went into peacock blues and dark blues – we chose the rear end of the car for the color."
41 - 1941 C.F. Martin D-45
Auctioned: 6 November, 2011 (Skinner)
Provenance: The Martin D-45 was manufactured in limited quantities from 1933 to 1942, and again since 1968. The first series of D-45s was made with sides and backs of Brazilian rosewood (now endangered and illegal to trade) and only 91 instruments were made.
42 - Paul McCartney's 1963 Hofner Violin Bass
Auctioned: 6 December, 2013 (Juliens)
Provenance: The Hofner violin bass guitar is synonymous with Paul McCartney and he's been playing them continuously since purchasing his first in 1961 in Hamburg before The Beatles were famous. This particular guitar was built specifically for McCartney in 1964, and is one of three he has owned. The first was lost, the second (a 1963 model) he still plays, and this is the third.
43 - Bob Dylan's 1982 Fender Telecaster
Auctioned: 27 April, 2007 (Juliens)
Provenance: Used by Bob Dylan in many live performances and LPs from the late 1980s through to 1992. Sold as part of the auction benefiting Music Rising.
Auctioned: 27 October, 2012 (Heritage)
Provenance: Another Les Paul Standard.
45 - Jimi Hendrix 1970 Fender Stratocaster
Auctioned: 24 June, 2010 (Juliens)
Provenance: Sunburst Fender Stratocaster purchased by Hendrix at Manny's Musical Instruments in New York on 14 July, 1970, when he was recording in his new Electric Lady Studios. Hendrix passed away two months later but was known to have been working in his studio for 10 days of those two months on his posthumous album 'The Cry of Love.' The guitar has been restrung for left-handed play and is the guitar used by Hendrix at the opening party for Electric Lady Studios in August 1970.
45 - 1969/1970 Gibson Les Paul Prototype Recording Model
Auctioned: 8 June, 2012 (Juliens)
Provenance: The prototype Gibson Les Paul Recording model with the repaired headstock stamped "001" and "Original Gibson Prototype." The Bigsby has been customized to accommodate a "Paulverizer" which was included in the sale. This is likely the first Les Paul recording model ever made. This guitar, and Paulverizer are featured on pages 291 and 293 of Les Paul's autobiography.
47 - Eric Clapton 1996 Fender Stratocaster Master Built Production Sample
Auctioned: 24 June, 2004 (Christies)
Provenance: This guitar served as one of Eric Clapton's main stage guitars between 1998-1999. It was used frequently on the Pilgrim World Tour throughout 1998 and as the main guitar during the Japanese leg of the tour in November/December 1999. This guitar also made appearances at a number of high-profile events including two at the White House in 1998 and 1999 as well as the 'Crossroads Benefit Concert' at Madison Square Garden (which commemorated the 1999 Christie's auction) and at Sheryl Crow's 'Central Park In Blue' concert in 1999.
47 - Eric Clapton 1966 Martin Style 000-28 Conversion
Auctioned: 24 June, 2004 (Christies)
Provenance: Eric Clapton refers to this guitar as 'The Longworth,' after Mike Longworth, a custom builder and the historian for C.F. Martin and Company. Clapton acquired it in Nashville in November 1970 while he was on his US Tour with the Dominos. He used the guitar for recording sessions at Criteria Studios in Miami in the spring of 1974, which produced the '461 Ocean Boulevard' album and made regular stage appearances until November 1995.
49 - Jerry Garcia Custom by Doug Irwin
Auctioned: 8 May, 2007 (Bonhams)
Provenance: This is the first guitar that San Francisco luthier Doug Irwin made for Jerry Garcia, and it began their relationship of several decades which resulted in Garcia leaving his guitars to Irwin in his will. Around 1970, Garcia walked into a shop where Irwin was working, building guitars, was immediately attracted to the quality of his work, and bought this guitar on the spot. Simply known as "The Eagle" because of Irwin's eagle logo inlayed on the headstock, this instrument became the inspiration for all subsequent guitars that Irwin made for Garcia. Garcia was the last person to ever play this guitar.
50 - 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard
Auctioned: 3 April, 2009 (Christies)
Provenance: Another Les Paul Standard.
50 - 1959 Gibson Flying V
Auctioned: 3 April, 2009 (Christies)
Provenance: The original run of Gibson's Flying V saw just 98 instruments produced between 1958 and 1959 before production was cancelled due to lack of interest and it's relatively high price for the time – $247.50 – the same price as a Les Paul Standard.
Blues-rock guitarist Lonnie Mack was one of the first high profile artists to use the Gibson Flying V, as was Blues legend Albert King. According to Gibson, actor Steven Seagal now owns King's original Flying V along with two others. Other high profile owners of either original or re-issued Flying Vs included The Kinks' Dave Davies (who paid just $60 for it) and Jimi Hendrix who owned three. According to Vintage Guitar magazine, the going price for an original Flying V is now more than $200,000 though this is the highest priced original we have found that sold at auction.
52 - Elvis Presley's 1942 Martin D-18
No Image available
Auctioned: 5 October, 1995 (Christies)
Provenance: The guitar Elvis Presley used exclusively between 1954 and 1956, including his 'Sun Sessions' recordings produced by Sam Phillips and his first major concerts. It is the only Elvis guitar not owned by Graceland and the guitar on which Elvis recorded most of his early hits, including 'That's All Right' and Blue Moon of Kentucky.' The guitar was sold in 1956 to a neighbor of Elvis' who owned it for 35 years until the auction. Lots more info here.
53 - 1958 Gibson Explorer
Price: $153,277 (GBP£95,200)
Auctioned: 13 May, 2003 (Sotheby's)
Provenance: The original Gibson Explorer, along with it's sibling, the Flying V, remain two of the most radical guitars ever made, and both are shining examples of guitar design ahead of it's time. The legend goes that the design was inspired by the tail fins of 1950's Cadillacs and Chryslers. Unfortunately the original Explorer was not successful and was discontinued making it now both rare and very expensive.
54 - Les Paul's 1940 Epiphone Zephyr
Auctioned: 9 June, 2012 (Juliens)
Provenance: Blonde, electric trap door model arch top with two chicken head knobs, one volume and one a toggle switch, with barn door opening in the back and Paul's aluminum support system which led him to use solid body construction. This is one of three early experimental models called the "Klunkers" by Paul, featured on pages 120 and 121 in his autobiography.
55 - Hank Williams' 1947 Martin D-18
Auctioned: 3 December, 2009 (Christies)
Provenance: The constant companion of one of the all-time greats, Country & Western pioneer Hank Williams, for the last six years of his tragically short life. This Martin D-18 was used to record all of the 35 singles which reached Top 10 on the Billboard Country & Western Best Sellers chart (including 11 No. 1 singles and five "million sellers") and to write such hits as 'Your Cheatin Heart' and Jambalaya.'
Hank Williams Sr. died of alcoholism at just 30 years of age but lived a full and colorful life. When Rolling Stone named him at 74 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, Beck wrote, "The places he played were so tough that he hired a wrestler, Cannonball Nichols, to be his bass player. Hank lived what would have been a rock star's life – full of touring, drinking and woman troubles."
In Williams' biography, Colin Escott wrote: "Williams is the standard by which success is measured in country music on every level, even self destruction. He established the agenda for contemporary country songcraft."
Escott also co-directed and co-wrote the two-hour PBS/BBC television documentary, The Hank Williams Story, which is worth watching for the wonderful clips of his music it contains, not to mention dozens of appearances of this guitar.
In 2010, Williams received perhaps his greatest acknowledgement when he was awarded a posthumous special citation at the Pulitzer Prizes "for his craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life."
55 -1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard Sunburst
Auctioned: 20 April, 2013 (Heritage)
Provenance: Another of the approximately 1,700 Gibson Les Paul Standards created between 1958 and 1960.
57 - The Edge's Gold Gibson ES295 Archtop
Auctioned: 27 April, 2007 (Juliens)
Provenance: This ES295 was used in recording U2's 'Desire' and can be seen in the video for this song. It was also used on the 'Joshua Tree' album and subsequent U2 tours up to the Vertigo tour. He played with this instrument on such live numbers as 'The Electrico Co.' and 'God's Country.'
In the Edge's own words: "This guitar, a 1958 Gibson ES 295, is the model made famous by Elvis Presley's guitarist Scotty Moore. It's a piece of high 50s Americana. Like a classic Corvette or Cadillac of the period, with all gold finish and fittings. It is a real cult object. I found mine in the USA back in the 80s and it's been a prized possession ever since. It has 'P90' pickups, the forerunner of the 'Gibson humbucker,' so in the studio I always turned to it for that authentic early rock and roll sound."
The Edge is known for using 17-19 guitars in a single show to achieve the exact sound he requires for each number. Generally a lead guitarist uses four or five guitars in a show. When touring with U2, The Edge travels with 45 guitars.
58 - Brian Jones 1960 Harmony Stratotone
Price: $130,824 (£79,250)
Auctioned: 1 July 2009 (Christies)
Provenance: This was the first brand name guitar owned by the man who named, founded and initially led the Rolling Stones: Brian Jones. Purchased in 1962, Jones used this guitar almost exclusively until the autumn of 1963 when the Stones signed with Decca Records.
According to Andy Babiuk & Greg Prevost's research, this guitar was used by Brian Jones on the "... unreleased, but widely available Glyn Johns produced IBC Studio recordings which included the tracks 'Road Runner,' Diddley Daddy,' 'I Want To Be Loved,' 'Honey What's Wrong' and 'Bright Lights, Big City' as well as the Stones first single 'Come On/I Want To Be Loved' released June, 1963 on Decca Records.
Jones developed a serious drug problem and his role in the band steadily diminished until he was asked to leave in June 1969 and guitarist Mick Taylor took his place. Jones died less than a month later by drowning in the swimming pool of his home.
59 - 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard
Auctioned: 16 October, 2005 (Skinner)
Provenance: Yet another Gibson Les Paul Standard.
60 - Paul McCartney stage-used Hofner Bass
Auctioned: 17 May, 2014 (Juliens)
Provenance: A Hofner left-handed vintage bass circa 1966 with mother of pearl pickguard, rented by Paul McCartney from Harris Hire in Beckenham, England, on numerous occasions between 1997 and 2013 (details in auction description), including a segment on May 22, 2012, for Ronnie Wood's Somethin' Else show in which McCartney was the special guest.
Please note: This listing is a work in progress and will be continually updated and enhanced over time. If anyone has knowledge of a guitar which should be included in this list, please use the comments section to alert us so we can offer our readership the most accurate, informative and comprehensive listing possible.View gallery - 72 images