Guitars, despite their wood, metal and wire construction, have always had a human quality to them. Guitarists who hold one in their hands for enough years will tell you that they become extensions of themselves. Rough edges get smoothed. Spots get worn. Belt buckle rash appears. Their wood gets stained with sweat, booze, even blood (just ask Pete Townshend). They've traveled the world. They've been played on countless stages and studios. And so by now they're just about perfect.
Any collector will tell you to get one of these well-traveled instruments that was used to create some of their favorite recordings might well be the pinnacle of the collecting experience.
At the apex of that pinnacle are these ten guitars for which collectors paid truly staggering sums:
#10 Eric Clapton’s hybrid Fender Stratocaster “Blackie” -- $959,000
Blackie was Clapton's unique Fender Stratocaster style guitar crafted from three different guitars. The story goes that he bought six guitars and gave one to each of friends George Harrison, Pete Townshend, and Steve Winwood. Then he decided to take the best parts of the other three and combine them into one. Apparently, Clapton did the work himself and used the guitar almost exclusively through 1985, when he decided to auction it to raise money for his recovery center Crossroads.
#9 Bob Dylan’s “Newport Folk Festival” 1964 Fender Stratocaster -- $965,000
A sunburst finish 964 Fender Stratocaster used at the famous festival, this guitar was one of the first electrics that Dylan used. Since he was primarily known at the time as a folk artist, it marked quite a departure for the artist and helped usher in the use of electric guitars among more folk artists.
#8 Keith Richards’ 1959 Les Paul Standard -- $1 Million
While Richards has been known to play many guitars, with his natural wood Fender Telecasters possibly being the most prevalent in recent years, this 1959 Gibson Les Paul was played by Richards at the Rolling Stones debut performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Richards’ go to guitar in the Stones early years. Richards sold the guitar to future bandmate Mick Taylor later on but found its way back to Richards when Taylor succeeded Brian Jones in the Stones lineup. Stolen in 1971, it miraculously reappeared in the hands of Cosmo Verrico of the group Heavy Metal Kids. After changing hands a few more times it was eventually auctioned off for a cool million in 2003.
#7 1958 Gibson Korina Explorer -- $1.1 million
One of just 19 Explorers crafted by Gibson in 1958, this guitar was designed as a concept model. Rarity, rather than past famous artist ownership, is what drove the high price of this sale. That's not to say that some great guitarists haven't gotten their hands on one since Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick (a huge guitar collector who is said to own over 400 guitars), Slash and Kirk Hammett of Metallica are all said to own one of these rarer-than-rare axes.
#6 Bob Marley’s Washburn 22-Series Hawk acoustic -- $1.2- $2 million
It is said that Bob Marley only owned seven guitars during his life. One was this 22-Series Washburn acoustic guitar. After Marley gave this guitar as a gift to his guitar tech Gary Clausen, the Jamaican government purchased to make it part of a national archive and celebrate Marley's emergence from the island nation as a global superstar. The exact price paid is not known for certain but was estimated between $1.2 and $2 million.
#5 Jerry Garcia’s Custom Doug Irwin “Wolf” -- $1.9 Million
Known for his distinctive art guitars, Doug Irwin made this model especially for Garcis. It is said to have made its debut at a private 1973 gig for the Hell's Angels. Orignally featuring a peacock sticker, Garcia replaced that with a wolf sticker. It sold in 2017 at a fundraiser for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
#4 (tie) Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Fender Stratocaster. $2 Million
Jimi Hendrix's '68 Stratocaster was of course a right-handed model that Hendrix played left handed. Finished in Olympic white, it was incredibly plain, especially in contrast to the wildly creative artistry that Hendrix teased from the instrument daily. It was used on many of his seminal recordings and also at Woodstock. His iconic version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" no doubt sold Strats as the guitar to have to budding players worldwide. Co-founder of Microsoft Paul Allen bought the guitar in 1998.
#4 (tie) Peter Green/Gary Moore’s 1959 Les Paul -- $2 million
Owned by Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green and later by Gary Moore, this '59 Les Paul was purchased by Metallica's Kirk Hammett. Hammett bought the guitar not in an auction but rather from Richard Henry Guitars, a rare and vintage guitar dealer in the U.K. This makes it the most expensive Les Paul on our list.
#3 Fender “Reach Out To Asia” Stratocaster -- $2.7 Million
While it only cost Fender $15-20,000 to make this guitar, it was the signatures on this one that gave it a boost. That, and the noble charitable cause it was being sold to raise funds for. That cause was Bryan Adams "Reach Out To Asia" project which worked to help those impacted by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The Strat was signed by artists including Adams, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, David Gilmour and more. It was auctioned off in Doha, Qatar at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and purchased by the country's Highness Sheihka Miyyassah Al Thani.
#2 David Gilmour of Pink Floyd “Black Strat” -- $3.9 million
Gilmour’s iconic black Stratocaster can be heard on many of Pink Floyd's best-known albums including The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall. It was bought by Indianapolis Colts Owner Jim Irsay during a David Gilmour auction held in New York in June 2019. Gilmour's memorabilia at the auction brought in $21.4 million, which he donated to Client Earth, an environmental charity fighting for action against climate change.
#1 Kurt Cobain of Nirvana's 1959 Martin D-18E acoustic guitar -- $6.1 million
As covered in our article here, this guitar is the most recent entry on this list and certainly has set a new high in its ascendance to the #1 slot. An acoustic guitar outfitted with pickups, it was used by the late Kurt Cobain on Nirvana's infamous 1993 MTV Unplugged telecast and recording. The sale took place in June 2020 with the buyer being Australian Peter Freedman, Founder and CEO of RODE Microphones. Freedman says he plans to take the guitar around the world in a series of music memorabilia exhibits that will raise funds for the arts. Sounds like a nice thing to do with this iconic guitar, the current #1 on our list...
None of them cost anywhere close to $6 million (they're much more affordable...) so be sure and check out our selection of signed guitars and other instruments here.
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