What are the most expensive guitars ever sold at auction? Just how much exactly would someone be willing to pay for a piece of music history?
Well, it took quite a bit of digging, but here’s what I‘ve managed to track down. You’ll find a list of the full 37 most valuable guitars in this article, with a little bit of background information on each model.
Vintage guitars can be great investments, but if you are lucky enough to own one with a legendary artist’s DNA splashed all over it that’s when the value can really start to skyrocket!
Advance warning! I’ve used the words ‘iconic’ and ‘legendary’ wayyyy too many times in this article…
Most Expensive Guitars Ever Sold At Auction
1. Martin 1959 D-18E (Kurt Cobain) – $6 million
Nirvana’s 1994 ‘MTV Unplugged’ performance has got to be one of the most iconic live sets of all time, from one of the most legendary bands of all time.
So it seems unsurprising to find that the Martin acoustic used by Kurt Cobain has recently become the most expensive guitar ever sold!
After the dust had settled, the winning bidder was revealed to be Peter Freedman, the owner of Rode Microphones. He snagged this unbelievable piece of music history for an incredible $6,000,000 in June of 2020.
Fun Fact! The green cardigan worn by Cobain during the MTV Unplugged performance became the world’s most expensive cardigan after selling for $334,000!
2. Fender 1969 Mustang (Kurt Cobain) – $4.5 million
Proving that the legendary Nirvana frontman’s appeal is still as strong as ever, Kurt Cobain also holds the title for most expensive electric guitar ever sold!
This iconic lake placid blue Fender Mustang was the very guitar used in the music video for Nirvana’s biggest track – Smells Like Teen Spirit.
The gorgeous offset model was sold in May 2022 for a cool $4.5 million, far surpassing its original estimate of $800,000. It is now part of the collection of Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.
3. Fender Black Strat (David Gilmour) – $3.975 million
Until Kurt Cobain’s mustang came up for sale, the legendary black Fender Stratocaster once owned by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour held the title of world’s most expensive electric guitar.
This was the crown jewel in a large auction of 126 of Gilmour’s personal guitars, with the proceeds going to fight against climate change.
The winning bidder was Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who snapped it up for a mouthwatering $3,975,000 in June 2019.
4. Fender ‘Reach Out To Asia’ Stratocaster – $2.7 million
The ‘Reach out to Asia’ Fender Stratocaster was sold in order to raise money to help the victims of the 2004 tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean.
I was unable to locate a color photo of this guitar, so the image above is a mock-up based on what sources I could find.
The Strat was signed by 19 world-famous rock stars, including Bryan Adams who was also the initial brains behind the project.
When the hammer fell, the bidding had reached the dizzying figure of $2.7 million, with the winning bidder being the heir to the throne of Qatar.
5. Gibson 1962 J-160E (John Lennon) – $2.41 million
This acoustic was one of a pair of identical guitars purchased at the same time by John Lennon and George Harrison in 1962. It was used extensively during the recording of the ‘With Me’ and ‘Please Please Me’ albums.
The guitar was previously thought lost after it went ‘missing’ during a Beatles gig in 1963. However, it was rediscovered more than 50 years later after the owner at the time recognized the similarities between his guitar and Lennon’s!
Despite having an estimate of $800,000 at auction, the guitar smashed this figure and was finally sold for $2.41 million in November 2015.
6. Fender 1968 Stratocaster (Jimi Hendrix) – $2 million
This 1968 Fender Stratocaster named ‘Izabella’ was famously played at the world-renowned 1969 Woodstock Festival by Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix is undoubtedly the most famous left-handed guitar player of all time.
The iconic guitar was purchased in 1998 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen for a cool $2,000,000.
It is currently on display in Hendrix’s hometown of Seattle in the Museum of Pop Culture.
7. Doug Irwin Wolf (Jerry Garcia) – $1.9 million
This guitar was custom ordered by The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia in the early 1970s from luthier Doug Irvin.
It’s certainly a unique-looking instrument and is probably the most well-known guitar played by Garcia.
It received its name after Jerry stuck a caricature of a wolf onto the body of the guitar. When he returned it to Irwin for repairs after it was dropped on stage, Doug incorporated the wolf design into the body of the guitar.
The guitar was purchased in June 2017 for $1,900,000 by Brian Halligan, CEO of Hubspot.
8. Washburn Wing-Series Hawk (Bob Marley) – $1.2 million
This Washburn previously owned by reggae-king Bob Marley was purchased by the Jamaican government and declared a national treasure.
Marley gifted the guitar to his tech, Gary Karlson, in 1979. Karlson used the proceeds from selling the guitar to benefit a charitable organization he had started named ‘Different Journeys, One Destination’.
The final price has never been publicly revealed, but it was estimated at between $1.2 and $2 million.
9. Gibson 1958 Korina Explorer – $1.1 million
Only around 10 of these incredibly rare guitars were ever made, so it is super-rare for one to become available for sale. It is one of the only guitars in this list not previously owned by a legendary player.
They are considered as being the most desirable and iconic of all vintage guitars. A previous example sold in 2006 for $611,000.
This particular model was acquired in September 2016 for a whopping $1,100,000. So roughly a 10% increase in value per year – not a bad investment at all!
10. Gibson ’59 Les Paul Standard (Keith Richards) – $1 million
This 1959 Les Paul Standard is commonly referred to as being the ‘holy grail’ of electric guitars. It was traded into a London guitar store where it later found its way into the hands of a certain Mr. Keith Richards.
I could not find a suitable image of this guitar in the same style as the others, but the guitar shown above is broadly similar. A quick Google image search will show you Keith using the actual guitar if interested.
It was Keith’s go-to guitar during the early years of the Rolling Stones, and was also used by other legendary players such as Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton.
The guitar clearly has a rich history, and was even stolen at one point in 1971 and presumed lost. Miraculously the guitar resurfaced and was able to be auctioned off in 2003.
It was reportedly sold to a private collector for $1 million.
11. Fender 1964 Stratocaster (Bob Dylan) – $965,000
This 1964 Fender Stratocaster was played by Bob Dylan at his first-ever electric gig at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.
He was famously booed on stage by his fans for using this guitar as they were used to acoustic versions of his songs. This guitar marked Dylan’s transition into using more electronic instruments.
After accidentally being left in the back of a plane, the guitar spent 40 years untouched in a loft until it was rediscovered by a television history show in 2012.
It was sold in December 2013 for $965,000.
12. Fender ‘Blackie Stratocaster (Eric Clapton) – $959,500
In 1970 Eric Clapton purchased six 1950s Stratocasters and gave one to each of Pete Townshend, George Harrison, and bandmate Steve Winwood. He then chose the best pieces of the remaining three guitars and used them to build his beloved ‘Blackie’.
Clapton used ‘Blackie’ almost exclusively until 1985 when it was retired due to issues with the neck.
The guitar was sold in 2004 as part of a charity auction with the proceeds going to Clapton’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation foundation the Crossroads Center.
The winning bidder was music retailer Guitar Center who purchased it for $959,500. At the time, this was the most expensive guitar ever sold.
13. Doug Irwin ‘Tiger’ (Jerry Garcia) – $957,500
Jerry Garcia’s Will stated that upon his death that all of his Irwin-designed guitars should be returned to luthier Doug Irwin.
However, after a lengthy legal battle with the remaining members of the Grateful Dead, it was agreed that Irwin should receive only two guitars – Tiger and Wolf.
This guitar was Garcia’s go-to axe from 1979 until 1989 when Irwin built him a new instrument. It was an unusually heavy guitar, weighing in at a whopping 13.5 pounds (6.1kg).
Tiger sold in May 2002 for $850,000 at auction (or $957,500 if you include the buyer’s premium). At the time, this was the highest price ever paid for a guitar at auction.
14. Gibson 1964 ES-335 TDC (Eric Clapton) – $847,500
The second guitar ever purchased by Eric Clapton is also the second Clapton guitar to appear on this list.
It is largely known as the ‘Cream guitar’, as during his time with the band one of his roadies painted the word in large letters on the side of its hard case.
Clapton used the guitar extensively from 1964 until it was finally put up for sale in 2004.
This semi-hollow formed part of a charity auction along with Eric’s Strat ‘Blackie’ above, with the proceeds going to the Crossroads Center.
The guitar was sold in June 2004 for $847,500.
15. Martin 1939 000-42 (Eric Clapton) – $791,500
Yet another entry in this list that was previously owned by Eric Clapton! I’m beginning to see a trend here…
In 1992 Clapton used this guitar to record arguably his most beloved track – “Tears in Heaven”. He also used it to perform his famous ‘MTV Unplugged’ session.
Pre-war Martins are very desirable guitars even without Clapton’s DNA on them, with regular 1930s 000-42s going for as much as $50,000.
This iconic Martin was sold in June 2004 at Christie’s Auction House for $791,500, making it the third most expensive acoustic guitar ever.
16. Rickenbacker 1962 425 (George Harrison) – $657,000
George Harrison purchased this bass in the USA whilst visiting his sister.
He used this historical Rickenbacker for The Beatles’ first appearance on the television program Ready Steady Go! in October of 1963, and on the program Thank Your Lucky Stars in December of 1963.
The Ricky was estimated to sell for between $400k and $600k but ended up going for a lot more.
It was sold to an anonymous bidder for $657,000 at Julien’s Auction House on May 17th 2014.
17. Fender 1965 Strat ‘Lenny’ (Stevie Ray Vaughan) – $623,500
Blues maestro Stevie Ray Vaughan was given this guitar from a pawn shop as a birthday present from his wife, Lenny. He was so moved by the gift that he stayed up all night to write ‘Lenny’ and then played the song for her the next morning.
He used this famous axe extensively until his untimely death in 1990 at the age of only 35.
It was sold in June 2004 at Christie’s Auction House for $623,500, absolutely obliterating its initial estimate of just $15k – $20k.
Not bad for a guitar that cos his wife just $350!
18. Rex Acoustic (Paul McCartney) – $615,000
Wait. A What? This Rex acoustic was the very first guitar that Sir Paul McCartney ever held. He learned his first chords on it and used it to impress John Lennon when he first joined The Quarrymen in 1957.
It was owned by Paul’s school buddy Ian James, who decided to sell the guitar in order to help fund his retirement.
The guitar sold at auction in July 2006 for £330,000 (roughly $615k), far surpassing its estimate of $100,000.
19. Fender 1965 Stratocaster (Jimi Hendrix) – $570,000
This 1965 Fender Stratocaster was famously set on fire with lighter fluid by Jimi Hendrix whilst on stage at the Astoria in London in 1967.
While the astonished audience watched, the venue staff were angered by the display and hurriedly ushered him off stage. Hendrix received minor burns and received hospital treatment as a result of this stunt.
The guitar was purchased by guitar collector Daniel Boucher in September 2008 for £280,000, which was roughly $570,000 at the time.
Although the guitar was expected to make around $1 million!
20. Gibson 1964 SG Standard (Lennon, Harrison) – $567,500
This 1964 Gibson SG was played by George Harrison during various Beatles appearances and recording sessions from 1966 until 1969.
Later on, in 1969 the SG was also used by John Lennon through the recording of the ‘White Album’ sessions.
Harrison gave the guitar to Pete Ham of Badfinger, and after his death, it was stored away by Pete’s brother for almost three decades before being rediscovered.
The guitar was sold at Christie’s Auction House in December 2004 for the princely sum of $567,500. The winning bidder was Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who also owns a few other guitars on this list!
21. Martin 1930 OM-45 Deluxe (Roy Rogers) – $554,500
This 1930 Martin OM-45 Deluxe was previously owned by American singer and actor Roy Rogers.
Only 15 of these guitars were produced by Martin in 1930, making them exceptionally rare instruments and highly sought-after pieces.
This particular guitar is even more special as it was the very first OM-45 Deluxe to be produced that year.
The guitar far surpassed its initial estimate of between $150,000-$250,000 and ended up selling in April 2009 for over half a million dollars!
22. Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins (John Lennon) – $530,000
This stunning Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins Nashville model was used by John Lennon during the recording of the album ‘Paperback Writer’.
It was given to Lennon’s cousin David Birch after he has asked his famous relative if he had a spare guitar he could use with his own band at the time.
Birch had previously loaned the Gretsch to the Beatles Story exhibition in 2010, and then later on it was also displayed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Ohio.
The guitar was purchased by current Indianapolis Colts owner (and prolific celebrity guitar collector!) Jim Irsay in March of 2015.
23. D’Angelico EX-DC – $526,000
This guitar signed by Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann was auctioned for charity in June 2015.
It was used during the last of 3 anniversary concerts which was billed as being the final live performance featuring the four remaining members of the Grateful Dead.
Despite bids starting at $5000, the guitar went on to achieve over half a million dollars which was split between 17 charities picked by the band.
24. Fender 1955 Strat ‘Alligator’ (Jerry Garcia) – $524,000
This 1955 Fender Stratocaster was gifted to the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia by Graham Nash in 1970.
Alligator became Garcia’s go-to instrument between 1971 and 1973, and can be famously heard on the band’s live album ‘Europe ’72’.
Like Garcia’s ‘Wolf’ guitar above, this guitar received its name from a sticker placed on the body.
The guitar was sold in December 2019 at Bonhams Auction House for $524,000, greatly surpassing its estimate of between $250k and $400k.
25. Fender 1956 Strat ‘Brownie’ (Eric Clapton) – $497,500
‘Brownie’ is a 1956 Fender Stratocaster, used by Eric Clapton throughout the early 1970s, most notably with his band Derek and the Dominos.
It can famously be seen on the cover image of his debut solo album ‘Eric Clapton’.
After 1971 ‘Brownie’ became Clapton’s backup guitar after he sourced and fell in love with number 11 in this list – ‘Blackie’.
Despite an estimate of between $80k and $100k, it went on to sell for a whopping $497,500 in June 1999 at Christie’s Auction House.
26. Fender 1966 Mustang (Jimi Hendrix) – $490,000
Another guitar on the list formerly owned by Jimi Hendrix is this Dakota Red 1966 Fender Mustang.
The red offset was used during the recording of albums such as ‘Axis Bold as Love’ and ‘Electric Ladyland’.
This Mustang is part of Fender’s L Series, which were among the last guitars made before the brand was bought by CBS.
It was sold at Juliens Auctions in April 2007 for $490,000.
27. Maton 1963 Mastersound (George Harrison) – $490,000
George Harrison played this guitar during the summer of 1963 while his Gretsch Country Gentleman was being repaired at a Manchester music store.
Although the guitar was repaired that same day, Harrison ended up keeping the Maton for a few weeks and used it during several concerts.
After it was returned to the store, it was later purchased by Roy Barber of Dave Berry and the Cruisers. He used it for several years until he retired, and it was then stored for two decades before being auctioned in 2002.
Most recently sold to a British private collector in May 2015 for a cool $490k.
28. Fender 1996 Gold Leaf Strat (Eric Clapton) – $455,550
This one-off, 23-carat gold plated Stratocaster was custom built by Fender Master Builder Mark Kendrick for Eric Clapton in 1996. This undoubtedly makes it one of the newest instruments in this list!
The guitar was used during Clapton’s Far-East tour in 1997, as well as throughout various concerts in Europe.
This golden beauty was sold in June 2004 at Christie’s Auction House for $455,550.
Fender did briefly release a limited edition tribute version of this guitar which you will be able to find on the used market for a lot less!
29. Fender 1968 Rosewood Tele (George Harrison) – $434,750
George Harrison was presented with this solid rosewood guitar by Fender in December 1968. At the same time, an all rosewood Strat was also made for Jimi Hendrix that never made it to the artist before he died.
The Telecaster was famously played by Harrison in the last ever live performance by the Beatles, on top of the Apple building in London.
It featured in the 1970 Beatles movie ‘Let It Be’ and is played on various parts of ‘Abbey Road’.
This rosewood beauty was sold in September 2003 for $434,750, smashing its estimate of between $250k and $300k.
30. Vox 1966 Kensington (Lennon/Harrison) – $418,000
This quirky prototype Vox was made for John Lennon in 1966 and played by both Lennon and George Harrison.
Lennon gifted the guitar to a friend who kept the instrument until 2004 when he sold it at auction.
It was most recently sold at Julien’s Auctions in May 2013 for $418,000, far surpassing its estimate of between $200k and $300k.
31. Fender 1964 Stratocaster (Jimi Hendrix) – $388,338
This sunburst Stratocaster was used by Jimi Hendrix between 1967 and 1968.
Hendrix gifted the guitar to his brother Leon after paying around $350 for it.
Although widely expected to fetch over $500,000, this Strat previously owned by Hendrix was sold in April 2015 for only $322,272 ($388,338 with buyer’s premium).
Still…one thousand times more than Jimi got it for!
32. Gibson ES-335 (Alex Lifeson) – $384,000
This semi-hollow which Lifeson dubbed ‘Whitey’ was used on the majority of Rush’s albums and was also played live numerous times.
The guitar sold for $384,000 in May 2022 at Julien’s Auctions, surpassing it’s initial estimate of $300k.
Lifeson’s 1976 Gibson Dove acoustic sold at the same time for $128,000.
33. Fender 1949 Broadcaster Prototype – $375,000
This was the guitar that began the legacy of one of the most popular guitars in the world – the Fender Telecaster.
It was also the design that put the solid-body guitar on the map.
Designed by Leo Fender in 1949, this guitar was eventually sold for $375,000 to a private collector in 1994.
34. Martin 1930 OM-45 Deluxe – $366,000
Only 15 of these guitars were ever produced, with only 10 being still known to exist. Another of these appears in this list above which was previously owned by Roy Rogers.
These instruments are widely considered as being the finest examples of the early period of American guitars.
A modern-day version of this guitar retails for around $100’000, so it isn’t too surprising to see the original sell for such a high figure!
This particular model sold in April 2014 for $366,000.
35. Hofner 1958 Senator (John Lennon) – $337,200
This Hofner was one of the first guitars purchased by John Lennon, and was thought to be mainly for song writing purposes.
Although there is no photographic evidence of Lennon ever playing the guitar, a hand-written letter from George Harrison calls it one of Lennon’s earliest guitars.
This guitar was supposedly gifted to a Beatles roadie by John Lennon.
The Hofner was sold at Christie’s Auction House in July 2009 for £205,250 (roughly $337,200 at the time).
36. Gibson 1954 Les Paul Custom Black Beauty – $335,000
Once owned by Les Paul himself, some call this piece the most significant electric guitar ever made. It is thought to be the first model built to Les Paul’s specifications.
Purchased by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay in February 2015 for $275’000 (or $335,000 when including the buyer’s premium).
Some parties were predicting that the guitar would go for as much as $2 million, so Jim may have got himself a bit of a bargain there!
??. Peter Green/Gary Moore 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard
Many people have asked about this one, and I would love to include it on the list…but where?? It is widely accepted that this legendary guitar is one of the most (if not THE most) valuable guitars in the world. It is almost certainly the most expensive Les Paul in the world!
But unfortunately, there is no public record of what value the guitar has previously exchanged hands for. I did manage to find an interview where the current owner Kirk Hammet mentions that he paid less than $2 million for it.
And while we’re asking questions…does anyone know how much the Fender Custom Shop Pine Cone Strat sold for? I know it was insured for $1 million…
To Wrap Up
So what’s the takeaway from all of this? If you’re considering picking up a guitar as an investment try and get yourself an old Fender, and if possible…buy it from Kurt Cobain. Job done!
If that fails, something previously owned by a Beatle or Jerry Garcia looks to be a safe bet as well!
Here is a list showing the most expensive guitars ever sold, sorted by the most popular brands.
- Fender – 15
- Gibson – 8
- Martin – 3
- Dough Irwin – 2
As guitars are constantly being bought and sold at auction, it is extremely difficult to keep this article completely current. If you notice that a guitar is missing from this list, please help out and drop me a quick email!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Most Expensive Guitar Ever Sold?
The most expensive guitar ever sold at auction is a 1959 Martin D-18E acoustic which was famously played by Kurt Cobain during Nirvana’s ‘MTV Unplugged’ performance. It sold for $6 million at Julien’s auction house in June 2020.
What Is The Most Expensive Electric Guitar In The World?
The most expensive electric guitar in the world is Kurt Cobain’s 1969 Fender Mustang in Lake Placid Blue which he played in the video for Smell Like Teen Spirit. It sold in May 2022 for a cool $4.5 million USD.