Editors Note: This article was last updated in March 2021. New guitars sell all the time so we do our best to keep things fairly current by revising our most expensive guitars list every year or so.
Just about every guitar player out there has done it at one time or another: you go into your local guitar store (or, these days, your favorite online choice), and you are checking out what’s available. You see a model that you’ve always wanted, and for a fleeting minute, you can picture yourself walking out the door with it (or, again in this digital age, clicking on ‘add to cart’)…
…and then you look at the price tag. And then you stop dead in your tracks and go back to looking at guitars that are more within your budget. It can be amazing how much a good guitar can cost these days, right?
Here’s the deal, though – with 99% of those you see, the tip of the iceberg hasn’t even been scratched. Many highly prized guitars have been sold for much, much more than what you may be seeing in the ‘high end’ section.
To be fair, these kinds of guitars are typically one-of-a-kind instruments that have been personally owned and/or played by the most iconic guitar players to have ever lived, with most having been sold in an auction setting.
It can make you wonder – how much would someone pay for a trophy guitar like that? You may be a bit surprised…it’s often a lot more than you may think. Let’s take a look at a current list of the top 10 most expensive guitars that have ever been sold; it’s an interesting look, as some may be obvious while others may be a bit of surprise.
10. Eric Clapton’s ‘Blackie’ Stratocaster ($959,000)
Eric Clapton has long been associated with playing a Stratocaster, and the backstory behind ‘Blackie’ is a bit unique. It’s actually a ‘Partscaster,’ believe it or not! He took what he felt were the best parts out of three other 1950’s-era Strats that Clapton had in his possession, and ‘Blackie’ was born.
This guitar was Clapton’s #1 both live and in the studio for several years before he retired it in 1985. Clapton’s long-standing passion is his Crossroads addiction recovery center, and he felt that was a worthy reason to let ‘Blackie’ go at auction to raise funds for its continued operations.
9. Bob Dylan’s 1964 Fender Stratocaster ($965,000)
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Back in the day (the 1960s, that is), Bob Dylan was known as an acoustic folk poet who represented his generation’s voice. So it came as a bit of a shock to many when he performed with a full electric band at the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival.
While the performance didn’t necessarily mark the end of Dylan’s influence, it did signal that he was a true artist that was willing to branch out into new and uncharted territory. The sheer significance of the event is a primary reason why the 1964 Fender Strat he used sold at auction for close to $1.0 million,
8. Keith Richards’ 1959 Gibson Les Paul ($1,000,000)
1959 Gibson Les Pauls are often known as one of the ‘holy grails’ of all guitars. Yes, they can command a hefty price tag, but Keef’s ‘59 certainly is up there on the list.
One notable aspect of this guitar is that it was his instrument of choice for the inaugural appearance of The Rolling Stones on The Ed Sullivan Show. It is also a bit unique because it is equipped with a Bigsby tailpiece, which is pretty uncommon for a Les Paul in general.
Keef wasn’t the sole owner, however. At one time, he passed it on to Mick Taylor (the Stone’s replacement guitarist after Brian Jones’ untimely death), and it passed through several hands over the years (including being stolen).
7. 1958 Gibson Korina Explorer ($1,100,000)
This fine Gibson specimen is unique from others on our list due to it not being associated with or played by any particular artist. Its value comes from the sheer rarity, as only 19 of these prized models were ever produced.
A few guitarists are known to own similar models in their own personal collections, with Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick), Kirk Hammett, and Slash being among the most notable.
6. Jerry Garcia’s ‘Wolf’ ($1,900,000)
The late, great Jerry Garcia from The Grateful Dead was known for playing a good number of exotic instruments, with many of them given unique one-word nicknames. Following in that tradition is ‘Wolf,’ which was produced as one of several ‘one-of-a-kind’ works of art by luthier Doug Irwin.
‘Wolf’ was last played by its namesake owner in 1993 (before Garcia’s untimely death from a heart attack in 1995). From there, the rights to the instrument reverted back to Irwin, who then sold it at auction in 2002 for $700,000. It last was sold for $1.9 million at a charity auction in 2017.
5. Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Fender Stratocaster ($2,000,000)
Jimi Hendrix was known for being primarily a Strat player, and this 1968 specimen (nicknamed ‘Izabella’) may be among the most noteworthy.
On the morning of August 18, 1969, Hendrix used Izabella for his fantastic performance at Woodstock. This is the guitar that he used to create his legendary version of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ which, incidentally, was part of a much longer medley of tunes that was over a half-hour in length.
This iconic guitar attained its iconic price when Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (known to be quite a guitar player on his own merit) bought it for a cool $2 million back in 1998.
4. John Lennon’s 1962 Gibson J-160E Acoustic-Electric ($2,400,000)
One of the two acoustic guitars on our countdown, the Gibson J-160E that John Lennon played is very often seen in older performance pictures of the Beatles. He also used it extensively in the studio, particularly on such early Beatles classics as ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘P.S. I Love You’.
It was lost on a Beatles tour in 1963, where it ended up getting sold for the un-Beatle-y sum of $175 in 1969 to an ‘average Joe,’ where it languished until around 2014. Then, due to some clever detective work by its then-owner, he discovered what he really had on his hands.
Once the guitar’s true identity was established, it was sold at auction in 2015 for the very Beatle-y sum of $2.4 million. Not too bad for a $175 investment!
3. “Reach Out To Asia” Fender Stratocaster ($2,700,000)
Unlike all of the other choices on our list, this particular Strat wasn’t ever really owned (or played) by any one specific artist. It was conceived as a charity offering by Bryan Adams for the benefit of those impacted by a major tsunami in the Indian Ocean during 2004.
This pricey instrument has the unique distinction of being autographed by 19 artists, ranging from Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page to the members of Def Leppard.
Good company to be in, indeed, and the ultimate price of $2.7 million is definitely worthy of its noble cause.
2. David Gilmour’s famous ‘Black Strat’ ($3,975,000)
When David Gilmour decided to auction off part of his guitar collection to benefit a personal charity interest, he may not have known how much he would be able to raise. The auction was a rousing success by all accounts when Pink Floyd mega fan Jim Irsay (owner of the Indianapolis Colts) had the winning bid coming in just shy of $4 million.
Irsay is a long-time guitar aficionado who often used to get into bidding wars with the late Paul Allen, all in the name of owning some relatively priceless pieces of music history.
1. Kurt Cobain’s 1959 Martin D18E ($6,000,000)
Topping our list of the most expensive guitars ever sold is yet another acoustic, but not just another acoustic – Kurt Cobain’s 1959 Martin D18E.
Sure, it was the seventh out of only 302 D18E’s ever built, but that’s honestly besides the point. This was the guitar that the grunge icon used during Nirvana’s 1993 performance on MTV’s Unplugged, which is highly regarded as one of the best that series had ever produced. It showed Nirvana was more than just a typical grunge band, as it displayed that the band could be just as ferocious and dynamic in an acoustic setting as they could be during their energetic live concerts.
It was purchased at auction by Peter Freedman, the Australian founder of Rode Microphones (way back in 2020), for his own personal collection.
With prices such as the ones we looked at, it’s sometimes hard to keep in mind the fact that many of these expensive guitars are truly not much different from the same model that you could buy yourself – and often for a price that is less than 1% of what these are going for! It just goes to show that the respect and admiration given to certain artists can make all the difference in the world.
Now, if only the ability to play like these artists was included in the price, then we may have a list of absolute bargains here…