With Fender having recently unveiled their one-of-a-kind, million dollar ‘Pine Cone’ Stratocaster, I got thinking… What are the most expensive guitars ever sold? 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. Because I know you like pretty pictures, I’ve made a nice little infographic of the top ten valuable guitars for you to share. You’ll find a list of the full 30 guitars at the bottom of the page, with a little bit of background information on each model.
In this graphic I’ve detailed the value of each guitar, the previous owner(s), and just for fun…how many super-cars you could buy instead.
Most Expensive Guitars Ever Sold At Auction
1. Fender ‘Reach out to Asia’ Stratocaster – $2.7 million
The most expensive guitar ever to appear at auction, 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. The Strat was signed by 19 world famous rock stars, including Bryan Adams who was the initial brains behind the project.
2. Gibson 1962 J-160E (John Lennon) – $2.4 million
This acoustic was one of a pair of identical guitars purchased at the same time by John Lennon and George Harrison in 1962. 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 recognised the similarities between his guitar and Lennons! Sold November 2015.
3. Fender 1968 Stratocaster (Jimi Hendrix) – $2 million
The second highest priced guitar previously owned by a recording artist is a 1968 Fender Stratocaster, famously played at the world renowned 1969 Woodstock Festival by Jimi Hendrix.Purchased in 1998 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
4. Washburn 22-Series Hawk (Bob Marley) – $1.2 – $2 million (estimated)
This Washburn previously owned by Bob Marley was purchased by the Jamaican government and declared a national treasure. The final price has never been revealed, but it was estimated at between $1.2 to $2 million.
5. Gibson 1959 Les Paul Standard (Keith Richards) – $1 million
The 1959 Les Paul Standard is commonly referred to as being the ‘holy grail’ of electric guitars. This instrument was traded in to a London guitar store where it later found its way into the hands of a certain Mr. Keith Richards. Reportedly sold to a private collector for $1 million.
6. 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. 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. Sold December 2013.
7. Fender ‘Blackie’ Stratocaster (Eric Clapton) – $959,500
In 1970 Eric Clapton purchased six 1950s Stratocasters and gave one to each of Pete Towshend, George Harrison and bandmate Steve Winwood. He then chose the best pieces of the remaining three guitars and used them to build ‘Blackie’. Clapton used ‘Blackie’ almost exclusively until 1985 when it was retired due to issues with the neck. Sold June 2004.
8. Doug Irwin Tiger (Jerry Garcia) – $957’500
Jerry Garcia’s will stated that upon his death all of his Irwin designed guitars should be returned to luthier Doug Irwin. 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. Tiger sold 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. Sold May 2002.
9. Gibson 1964 ES335 TDC (Eric Clapton) – $847,500
The second guitar ever purchased by Eric Clapton is also the second Clapton guitar to appear in this list.Played for a brief stint during 1964 but then more or less retired. Sold June 2004.
10. Martin 1939 000-42 Acoustic (Eric Clapton) – $791,500
Yet another entry in this list which was previously owned by Clapton! 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. Sold June 2004.
11. Doug Irwin “Wolf” (Jerry Garcia) – $789,500
In 1972 after purchasing a guitar made for Alembic by luthier Doug Irwin, Jerry Garcia commissioned Irwin to build another instrument for him. ‘Wolf’ was the resulting guitar. Played by Jerry between 1973 and 1993.Sold at auction for $700,000 (or $789,500 including the buyer’s premium). Sold May 2002.
12. Rickenbacker 1962 425 (George Harrison) – $657,000
Harrison used the 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. Sold to an anonymous bidder on May 17th 2014. Sold May 2014.
13. Fender ‘Lenny’ 1965 Stratocaster (Stevie Ray Vaughan) – $623,500
Blues maestro Stevie Ray Vaughan was given this guitar as a birthday present from his wife, Lenny. SRV used this famous axe extensively until his untimely death in 1990 at the age of only 35. Sold June 2004.
14. Rex Acoustic (Paul McCartney) – $615,000
Wait. A What? Sold for £330,000, this was Beatles legend Paul McCartney’s first ever guitar! Sold July 2006.
15. Gibson 1958 Explorer – $611,000
One of the only guitars in this list not previously owned by a legendary player. This Explorer was purchased as a gift in 1963 for the princely sum of $247.50, and amazingly, was virtually untouched until it was eventually sold in 2006. Because Gibson only produced 100 of these original Explorers it sold for an unbelievable $611,000 at an auction house in Boston, USA. Sold October 2006.
16. 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 in 1967. Purchased by guitar collector Daniel Boucher. Sold September 2008.
17. Gibson 1964 SG (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. Sold December 2004.
18. Martin OM-45 Deluxe (Roy Rogers) – $554,500
This 1930 Martin OM-45 Deluxe was previously owned by American singer and actor Roy Rogers. The guitar far surpassed its initial estimate of $150’000-$250’000 and ended up selling for over half a million dollars! Sold April 2009.
19. Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins Hollowbody (John Lennon) – $530,000
The most recent addition to this list is another Beatles classic. This stunning Gretsch 6120 was used by John Lennon during the recording of the album ‘Paperback Writer’. The guitar was purchased by current Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay in March 2015.
20. 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. Despite bids starting at $5000, the guitar went on to achieve over half a million dollars which was split between 17 charities.
21. Fender ‘Brownie’ 1956 Stratocaster (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. After 1970 ‘Brownie’ became Clapton’s back-up guitar after he sourced and fell in love with number 6 in this list – ‘Blackie’. Sold June 1999.
22. Fender 1964 Mustang (Jimi Hendrix) – $490,000
Another guitar on the list formerly owned by Jimi Hendrix is this Dakota Red 1966 Fender Mustang. Used during the recording of albums such as ‘Axis Bold as Love’ and ‘Electric Ladyland’. Sold April 2007.
23. Maton 1963 Mastersound (George Harrison) – $485,000
George Harrison played this guitar during the summer of 1963 while his Gretsch Country Gentleman was being repaired. Sold by a British private collector in May 2015 for a cool $490k.
24. Fender 1996 Gold Leaf Stratocaster (Eric Clapton) – $455,550
This one-off, 23 carat gold plated Fender Stratocaster was custom built for Eric Clapton in 1996. The guitar was used during Clapton’s Far-East tour in 1997, as well as throughout various concerts in Europe. Sold June 2004.
25. Fender 1968 Rosewood Telecaster (George Harrison)- $434,750
George Harrison was presented with this guitar by Fender in December 1968. The Telecaster was 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 pf ‘Abbey Road’. Sold September 2003.
26. Vox 1966 Kensingtom (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. Sold May 2013.
27. Fender 1964 Stratocaster (Jimi Hendrix) – $388,338
Although widely expected to fetch over $1 million, this Strat previously owned by Hendrix was sold in April 2015 for only $322,272 ($388,338 with buyer’s premium). Hendrix gifted the guitar to his brother Leon after paying around $350 for it.
28. 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. Designed by Leo Fender in 1949, this guitar was eventually sold for $375’000 to a private collector in 1994.
29. Martin 1930 OM-45 Deluxe – $366,000
Only 14 of these guitars were ever produced, with only 10 being still known to exist. 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! Sold April 2014.
30. Hofner 1958 Senator (John Lennon) – $337,200
This guitar was supposedly gifted to a Beatles roadie by John Lennon. 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. Sold July 2009.
31. 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. Purchased by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay for $275’000 (or $335,000 when including the buyer’s premium). Sold February 2015.
Peter Green/Gary Moore 1959 Les Paul Standard
Many people have asked about this one. 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. Unfortunately there is no public record of what value the guitar has previously exchanged hands for. If anyone happens to have Kirk Hammet’s phone number, feel free to ask him how much he snagged it for! ;)
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, preferably a Stratocaster, and if possible…buy it from Eric Clapton. Job done. If that fails, something previously owned by a Beatle looks to be a safe bet as well!
Here is a graph showing the most expensive guitars you can buy, sorted by brand.
- The Most Famous, Rare, and Valuable Guitars in the World
- Strat in the Attic: Thrilling Stories of Guitar Archaeology
- The Official Vintage Guitar Price Guide
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!