In 2004, Stevie Ray Vaughan's iconic 1964 Stratocaster "Lenny" was sold at auction for an astounding $623,500. While that is definitely a huge amount of money, that's not even enough for it to crack the top ten most expensive guitars (it lands at number 11). Below, we gathered up every ax sold at auction that managed to go for more, some for much more! And it comes as no surprise that each of these was owned at one time or another by some of the biggest names in rock and roll history.
1. Fender ‘Reach out to Asia’ Stratocaster – $2.7 million
After the devastating 2004 tsunami disaster, Bryan Adams had the brilliant idea of getting the biggest names in rock, having them sign a beautiful white Stratocaster and auctioning it off to raise money for the victims. His idea definitely paid off, selling for a record-breaking 2.7 million at the Reach Out To Asia auction in 2005. The instrument is signed by 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 of course, Bryan Adams.
2. Gibson 1962 J-160E (John Lennon) – $2.4 million
After mysteriously disappearing during a Beatles show in 1963, the guitar eventually found its way to San Diego where it was purchased for a few hundred dollars by amateur musician John McCaw. After being authenticated as the real deal, the iconic acoustic – used by Lennon on early Beatles hits including Love Me Do, I Want to Hold Your Hand and She Loves You – sold for three times its initial $800,000 estimate.
3. Fender 1968 Stratocaster (Jimi Hendrix) – $2 million
Easily one of the most recognizable instruments in rock and roll history, Jimi’s famous white Stratocaster grew to iconic status when the late legend famously used it during Woodstock in 1969. While it’s never been confirmed, it is suggested that Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen paid somewhere in the vicinity of 2 million for the infamous electric – chump change for a man worth upwards of 17 billion.
4. Washburn 22-Series Hawk (Bob Marley) – Estimated Between $1.2 and $2 million
To say that Bob Marley is loved in his homeland would be a huge understatement. He is arguably their most celebrated native son, so much so that the Jamaican government themselves ponied up an undisclosed amount (estimated at between $1.2 and $2 million) for Marley's Custom Washburn, declaring it a national treasure. Marley is said to have owned only a small number of guitars, somewhere between five and eleven, making this electric extremely rare.
5. Gibson 1959 Les Paul Standard (Keith Richards, Mick Taylor) – $1 million
A vintage 1959 Les Paul Standard is a pricey instrument all on its own. But one that was originally owned by a couple of Rolling Stones? About a million bucks, it seems. The guitar changed hands many times throughout its life, first purchased by John Bowen from Mike Dean & The Kinsmen who then sold it to a London music store. Keith Richards would eventually purchase in 1964. It changed hands a few times before ironically landing in the hands of future Stone Mick Taylor in 1967, two years before joining the band. It would eventually be sold at a 2004 auction to a private collector.
6. Fender 1964 Stratocaster (Bob Dylan) – $965,000
This 1964 Fender Stratocaster was played by Bob Dylan when he first infamously "went electric" 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, the guitar went for three times its initial $300,000 estimate, becoming the world's most expensive guitar at the time.
7. Fender ‘Blackie’ Stratocaster (Eric Clapton) – $959,500
In 1970, Eric Clapton purchased six 1950s Stratocasters and gave one each to Pete Townshend, 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. In 2004, Blackie was sold for nearly a million at auction to support the Crossroads Centre, a drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation centre founded by Clapton.
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. In a 2002 auction, Tiger was sold to Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay for a then-record $957,500. Tiger was the last guitar Garcia had played publicly.
9. Gibson 1964 ES-335 TDC (Eric Clapton) – $847,500
Despite fetching nearly a million dollars, Clapton himself only used the guitar for a brief moment in 1964 before more or less retiring it, using it sparingly from time to time. It does have the significance of being the second ever guitar purchased by Clapton, paid for with money made from his brief time in The Yardbirds. Sold in 2004 as part of the same auction as Blackie and the next guitar on our list.
10. Martin 1939 000-42 Acoustic (Eric Clapton) – $791,500
Another guitar owned by Eric Clapton that was sold to raise money for his Crossroads Rehabilitation Center, this 1939 000-42 Martin was used in 1992 to record arguably his most beloved track – “Tears in Heaven”. It was also the same acoustic used for his famous ‘MTV Unplugged’ session.
While the trend is clearly showing that these legendary guitars will only get more expensive as time goes on, you don't have to shell out a million dollars to get an instrument that sounds as good as they do. If you need help deciding on your future Blackie, don't hesitate to talk to one of our PAL pros using the Contact Us chat box below!
Your Turn to Sound Off!
If you could own any one of these ten guitars, which one would you choose and why?