1. Fender Stratocaster 'Reach Out to Asia'
The most expensive guitar in history doesn’t have much of a history behind it, it didn't appear in any special event in rock history, nor did it belong to any of the rock ‘Gods’, but we can give thanks to it being the most expensive for the worthiest of causes, to raise funds for the victims of the 2004 tsunami in Asia. The idea came from Bryan Adams who saw the big business that auctioning guitars had become as a magnificent chance to raise a lot of money. Without blinking an eye he asked the biggest stars to sign this Fender Stratocaster, the 19th signature is his, and he got on board legends such as Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian May, Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, Pete Townsend, Mark Knopfler, Ray Davies, Liam Gallagher, Ronnie Wood, Tony Iommi, Angus & Malcolm Young, Paul McCartney, Sting, Ritchie Blackmore and Def Leppard to sign their names on a guitar that did so much good without even being played...
2. John Lennon’s Gibson J-160E from 1962
When they were just about to go into the studio for the first time, the Beatles decided it was time to get new instruments, so in September 1962 Brian Epstein gave them the money to buy 2 Gibson J-160Es for John Lennon and George Harrison from Rushworth’s Music House in Liverpool. The guitars would be used on the recording of their first single, where you can hear Harrison’s on Love Me Do, and Lennon’s on B side’s PS I Love You. Not long after they became the main acoustic instruments on their first two albums Please Please Me, and With The Beatles, when ‘Beatlemania’ was spreading worldwide. Perhaps Lennon’s was put to better use, it was the guitar in which Lennon, together with McCartney, wrote She Loves You or I Want to Hold Your Hand. However in 1963, after a show at the Finsbury Park Astoria theatre in London, the guitar disappeared. Fifty one years later John McCaw was flipping through a magazine when he saw Harrison’s son holding his father’s J-160E. He noticed that the serial number in the magazine was similar to the one on his guitar. It also mentioned that Lennon had lost it many years earlier. He took his guitar to have it looked at and he was given the news. He was the owner of Lennon’s lost guitar. It had cost him $175 from his friend Tommy Pressley in ‘68, who had bought it a year before for the same price at a shop in San Diego called Blue Guitar. Nobody knows how it got there, but McCaw did what is without a doubt the best buy in guitar history, reaping the benefits of $2,399, 825, of which half went to Yoko Ono for the Spirit Foundation.
3. Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Fender Stratocaster, the Woodstock Strat
This was one of many Strats that Hendrix bought at the legendary Manny’s music store in New York, but it’s the most remembered because it was the one he used at the most important rock festival in history, Woodstock. The one where he performs the American national anthem, mimicking the explosions, alarms, screams and machine guns that they heard daily in Vietnam. When he dies a year later it was left with Mitch Mitchell with the serial number 240981, until he sold it at an auction in 1990 for 198,000 pounds, a record at the time. After a while, they say Paul Allen bought it for 2 million dollars and gave it to the Experience Music Project Museum in Seattle, Hendrix’s hometown, where it resides today.
4. Jerry Garcia’s ‘Wolf’
The love story between the leader of The Grateful Dead and luthier Doug Irwin was one of the most profitable in rock history. In 1972 Irwin made him his first guitar, called ‘Eagle’, when he was working at Alembic. Garcia liked it so much he ordered another one for the astronomical price (in that time) of $1,500, it was ‘Wolf’, the guitar that replaced his Stratocaster ‘Alligator’ in 1973 as his main guitar. It would stay that way until 1979 when Irwin brought him another one, after 6 years, his new ‘custom’ guitar ‘Tiger’ (see the posts below). After Garcia’s death in 1995 there was a dispute between Irwin and the remaining members of the Dead over the ownership of the guitars. In the end Irwin put them up for sale in 2002, ‘Wolf’ sold for $790,000, and ‘Tiger’ went for $958,000, which set the record in that year. In 2017 ‘Wolf’ was again sold, this time to raise funds for charity. It fetched $1,900.000.
5. Bob Marley’s Washburn 22-Series Hawk
Just like the previous 2, this was a private sale and is not verified, but it seems the Jamaican government decided to give this crazy amount of money to keep one of the seven known guitars used by the figure who popularise reggae worlwide. They list it as a ‘national treasure’ and it is kept in a museum. The amazing thing is that there is not one photo of Marley, author of Redemption Song, holding it, and everything related to it is shrouded in a cloud of mystery.
6. Keith Richards’ 1959 Les Paul Standard
We spoke about this guitar in a previous piece on ‘legendary guitars that changed hands’. It was with this model that Keith recorded the famous riff on Satisfaction, it’s the same one he lent friends like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page play, and wound up in Mick Taylor’s hands before he started playing with the Stones in 1969. It was stolen in the early 70s, and after reappearing was sold, supposedly for $1,000,000 to a Swedish collector who wanted to own this giant piece of rock history.
7. Fender Stratocaster de 1964 de Bob Dylan
Of course when talking of giant pieces of rock history, few are as big as this one, the same one Dylan electrified himself with at the Newport Festival in 1965, outraging the folk puritans of the day. Together with his Stratocaster and Mike Bloomfield’s loud Telecaster, Dylan gave one the most famous concerts in rock. With this same guitar he took his revenge out on the boos at Newport, when 4 days later he recorded Positively 4th Street, where he made it clear he was leaving the folkies of Greenwich Village behind: “You say you've lost your faith, but that's not where its at. You have no faith to lose, and ya know it”. After 47 years of having gone missing, it resurfaced in 2012 and sold a year later for nearly $1,000,000 in an auction at Christies.
8. Eric Clapton’s Fender Stratocaster ‘Blackie’
Clapton’s most used guitar in his career. Its origins are well known, in 1970 Clapton got 6 new Strats for some 2 or 3 hundred bucks each, giving one to George Harrison, another to Steve Winwood, and another one to Pete Townshend, while the best parts of the other 3 (from ‘57 and ‘58) were used by luthier Ted Newman Jones to create ‘Blackie’, named so because it was finished in black. It would become his main guitar from January 13, 1973, a date made famous by his concert at the Rainbow Theatre, until he retired it in 1985. He recorded songs such Cocaine, I Shot the Sheriff, Wonderful Tonight and Lay Down Sally with it, besides appearing in The Last Waltz by The Band.
9. Jerry Garcia’s ‘Tiger’
We already spoke about ‘Tiger’s’ history when we mentioned ‘Wolf’. Maybe the fact that it sold better than its older sister on the first bid was because it was the last guitar Garcia played in public. ‘Tiger’ was his main axe between 1979 and 1985, but in the last days of his career it was replaced by a new Irwin model ‘Rosebud’. On July 9, 1995, just a month before his death, ‘Rosebud’ had a problem, so Garcia decided to go back to ‘Tiger’ in what would be the band’s last concert with him. An appreciated detail by the numerous Deadheads.
10. Eric Clapton’s Gibson ES-335
The guitar that was with Clapton for the longest. ‘Slow Hand’ acquired this Gibson ES-335 in 1964 when he was still in the Yardbirds, and stayed with him even during his solo concerts in the 90s. But perhaps it’s most famous for being used in the farewell Cream concert, in the Rock & Roll Circus of the Stones, and even better, in the amazing recording of Badge.