There is something indescribable in guitar music that draws its audience into the mood of the player. Intangible and yet capable of being shared, this quality is unique to the guitar. Though all music is beautiful, you’ll notice that teenage girls don’t throw their underwear at ukulele players, or flutists.
Guitars steal our hearts in a way that nothing else quite lives up to. Perhaps it’s the curve of the wood cutting a figure as beautiful as any model. Whatever the case, we can all understand why guitars have so much value. The guitars on this list are the most sought after on earth, the Mata Haris’, Cleopatras’, and Helens of the guitar world.
20. John Lennon’s Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins – $530,000
Coming in at the bottom of the list is a lovely instrument that you have heard play. Wherever you live, whatever music you listen to, you have heard the Beatles. This particular guitar recorded Paperback Writer with John Lennon. Though it now sits in the private collection of one Jim Irsay, the guitar was initially gifted to John’s cousin David Birch back in 1967.
19. Roy Rogers’ 1930 Martin OM-45 Deluxe – $554,500
Mr. Roy Rogers was a living legend in his time. He came to prominence during The Great Depression when people needed hope to pull them through. Roy and the OM-45 Deluxe brought them music for 86 years. The “King of Cowboys,” is unarguably one of the all-time American greats and he brought this extraordinary instrument along for the ride. The pair starred in over a hundred movies and recorded perhaps as many as a thousand songs together. Together Roy and his OM-45 Deluxe had a nine-year run on the radio with their own show. After that, they were a television sensation from 1951- 1957. They became icons together, and it is perhaps a pity that they don’t rank higher than 19th on this list. It should also be noted that there were only ever 15 OM-45 Deluxe guitars in the world. It’s likely that the value of this beauty will continue to improve for many years.
18. Jimi Hendrix “Burned” 1965 Fender Stratocaster – $560,000
Jimi Hendrix was famous for his music, but almost as well known for burning his guitars. Oddly, he only ever lit two guitars on fire, and this is the first of them. It was lost for four decades after being stores in Tony Garlands’ parents’ attic. Mr. Garland was a press officer for Hendrix in 1967 when the famous burning occurred. Fortunately for the music history lovers of the world, his nephew came across the lost treasure in 2007. The lower price is the conversion rate from the British Pound as it was sold overseas. The higher figure is a second price that was also listed as the sale price in a separate article. Either way, it’s either not enough for such an icon, or far too much to ask for a piece of pre-burnt wood.
17. Lennon & Harrison 1964 (or 1965?) Gibson SG – $567,500
As the name suggests, this guitar was played by both George Harrison and John Lennon. Harrison was holding this guitar at the same time Lennon was playing #20 as they recorded Paperback Writer. This unique guitar was used by the pair from 1966-1969. Lennon played this guitar for The White Album. The next owner was Pete Ham of Badfinger, and it was also on display in the Rock and Roll Hall of fame for years.
16. 1958 Gibson Korina Explorer – $611,000
These guitars are the only members of this lavish list that do not come with a famous backstory. No particular musician contributed to the fame and value of these insanely rare guitars. There were never even 50 of them in the world because people didn’t want them. Moreover, as Walter Carter the famed Gibson Historian puts it best; they were a “Commercial disaster.” In 1958, these unappreciated treasures were offered in the same price range as the Les Paul Standard, but they didn’t sell. One look at these incredible iconic guitars will stun you. It’s unimaginable that people could pass up the beautiful asymmetrical angles of the Korina Explorer. In the 1970s the reissues were better received, which is why you probably recognize the famous figure. Often imitated, but never as unique as the loathed originals, these guitars are peerless.
15. Paul McCartney’s First Guitar – Rex Acoustic – $615,203
It doesn’t take a music historian to understand why this guitar is on the list. Paul bought this guitar from his friend and first guitar teacher Ian James. The two played together in a band known as The Quarrymen back in 1957 before the Beetles were formed. John would later gift the Rex Acoustic back to Ian who owned it until it went up for auction and fetched this understandably high fee.
14. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Lenny” Stratocaster – $623,500
Lenny is a love story as well as an instrument. So in one sense, it is priceless. The original owner is unknown, but Stevie first saw it in a pawn shop in Austin Texas. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the $350 the shop wanted for it, but what he did have was a wife who loved him very much. She went around to friends and had them each pitch in $50 to buy it for his birthday. He turned 26 in 1980 and was doubtless quite surprised when they presented him with the Stratocaster he’d spotted earlier. He named it Lenny after his wife. As with most of Stevie Ray Vaughns’ guitars, this one bears his initials on the neck. However, that’s not the only John Hancock on this beloved guitar. In 1985 Stevie played the Houston Astrodome season opener. There he met Mickey Mantle, and the famous baseball player signed the back for him.
13. Lennon & Harrison 1962 Rickenbacker 425 – $657,000
This guitar is what you might half-jokingly call a display piece. It has done time at the Grammy Museum’s Beatles Exhibition in New York, the John Lennon Museum in Japan, the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix and the Rock an Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. If you’ve seen the live performance, the Beatles did for Ready Steady Go! (a British TV show), then you’ve seen this instrument before.
12. Eric Clapton’s Martin 1939 000-42 Acoustic – $791,500
This acoustic would be valuable even without its particular history. As a pre-war Martin, it is already a rare guitar. However, that alone is not why it took the highest sale price in history (at that time) for an acoustic back in 2004. Realistically, though this instrument helped Eric Clapton record numerous hits, it was one incredible performance that ultimately put it over the top. In 1992 Mr. Clapton played on a little program called MTV Unplugged, and the rest is history.
11. Eric Clapton’s Gibson 1964 ES335 TDC – $847,500
Clapton’s 1964 Gibson sold for a good cause, to benefit Crossroads, but that’s hardly the only remarkable thing this unusually valuable guitar ever did. In 1968 Cream played their very last show. Onstage was Eric Clapton, and he chose the 64 Gibson to finish with him. Mostly though, this was his favored instrument in 1964, back when he was still a member of The Yardbirds. We aren’t too surprised that such a classic piece pulled almost a million for a charity, so this one has the dubious honor of almost making it into the top ten most expensive guitars ever sold.
10. John Lennon’s 1964 “British” Rose-Morris Rickenbacker – $910,000
By now it should come as no surprise that a handful of incredibly famous musicians once held the top ten most expensive guitars in human history. These aren’t necessarily the most expensive to produce. We’ll save that for another article. Coming in at number 10, the Rickenbacker was part of a massive collection that took three days at auction. Though none other than John Lennon once played the guitar, the sellers were Ringo Starr and his wife, Barbara Bach. They put up over 800 personal items for this auction including rare albums, jewelry, and obviously some instruments. The Rickenbacker alone sold for nearly a million dollars.
9. Jerry Garcia’s Custom Doug Irwin “Tiger” – $957,500
Grateful Dead fans know this guitar almost as well as they know it’s famous owner Jerry Garcia. Unlike most of the guitars on this list, it was custom made by Doug Irwin. Jerry played the Tiger from 1979 to 1989 giving it a full decade of exposure. The tiger artwork gave this famed guitar its name, but the real point of interest in this story is that it was the guitar Jerry played at his final public performance.
8. Eric Clapton’s “Blackie” – $959,000
Blackie isn’t truly one guitar; it is parts of three. The story behind her is that he actually bought six guitars. Eric gave one to Steve Winwood, one to Pete Townsend and the last he gave to George Harrison. With the remaining three guitars he put together this famous instrument and played her until 1985. It’s a strange story, and we’re not sure whether we ought to count this the same as other entries, owing to the unique tri-fold nature of the guitar(s), but we’ll leave it here for now. It does make us wonder if somewhere in a secret stash two more franken-guitars are waiting to be unearthed.
7. Bob Dylan’s “Newport Folk Festival” 1964 Fender Stratocaster – $965,000
The Newport Folk Festival Stratocaster played by Bob Dylan may be the most hated guitar in history. When he walked out onto the stage with the audacious electric instrument, the fans went wild, and not in a good way. Even greats like Bob Dylan get booed sometimes, and his folk-music loving fans were incredibly skeptical about this guitar. This was the first electric guitar he played at a show, and that ire is probably a big part of why this Stratocaster went down in history as one of the most costly.
6. Keith Richards’ 1959 Les Paul Standard – $1 million
There’s not a lot of backstory to this particular guitar. At least not that we found. It is one of the most sought after and expensive in the world because it was the guitar Keith Richards had in his hands the night the Rolling Stones debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show. Modern kids probably won’t understand the significance there, but some of the most famous musicians in history owe their success to a spot on The Ed Sullivan Show.
5. 1958 Gibson Korina Explorer – $1.1 million
Though the other few models of this particular guitar are pricey without any additional fame, this specific model happens to be worth more than it’s rare brothers. This is due entirely to the fame of it’s three former owners. Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick Slash and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett all played this guitar at some point in their careers. When combined with the extreme rarity and unusual shape of the Korina Explorer, this was once the most valuable guitar in the world, and it still sits in the top five.
4. Bob Marley’s Washburn 22-Series Hawk – $1.2 – $2 million
This guitar is rumored to have been purchased as a national treasure. The sale, however, remains unconfirmed. Bob Marley was not particularly materialistic, and in the course of his life, he only owned seven guitars. This one was given to his technician Gary Clausen. Rumor has it that the price was somewhere between $1.2 and $2 Million, but no one is telling. In fact, the guitars’ whereabouts are also unknown.
3. Jerry Garcia’s Custom Doug Irwin “Wolf” – $1.9 million
The Wolf, like it’s brother the Tiger is named for its distinctive art. However, this guitar sold for almost $2 million as a part of a fundraiser. The proceeds went to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is the best reason we’ve ever heard for buying a $2 million guitar. Though to be fair, if you love it and you have the money, you don’t need a reason to buy a great classic guitar.
2. 1959 Les Paul & Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Fender Stratocaster – $2 million
Peter Green, who founded Fleetwood Mac was the first owner of this 1959 Les Paul. After that, it was played by Gary Moore, and the wear and love shows. In 2014 Kirk Hammet of Metallica purchased this well-traveled instrument from Richard Henry Guitars. If the rumors are correct Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft had this guitar since 1998. However, it was Jimi Hendrix who made it famous. There is arguably no more recognizable guitar on the planet. This beast is the instrument Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock.
1. Fender “Reach Out To Asia” Stratocaster – $2.7 million
We are pleased to announce that the top of this list goes to a guitar that was also sold for a good cause. In 2004 a Tsunami in the Indian Ocean did unparalleled amounts of damage to Asia. As the name suggests, sending relief to the surviving victims of that disaster is the entire reason this guitar is famous. The value comes from the sheer star power behind it, and the 19 autographs that endorse its body. According to Wiki Fandom the signers are “Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Brian May, Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, Pete Townsend, Mark Knopfler, Ray Davis, Liam Gallagher, Ronnie Wood, Tony Iommi, Angus and Malcolm Young, Paul McCartney, Sting, Ritchie Blackmore, Def Leppard and Bryan Adams.”
After perusing this catalog of stunning and rare treasures, we’re almost afraid to think about buying one. It’s not the price tag, which is sizeable, but rather the way they make us feel that causes the hesitation. We can see ourselves holing up in the garage hoarding our “precious” like Golem from the Lord of the Rings and playing until our fingers bled, thus ruining the value of the guitar. Sure, most people only display artifacts, but instruments want to make music. It’s their purpose. We’re not sure we could resist that siren song. Could you?