Ten Most Valuable Musical Instruments

Most Valuable Musical Instruments

You might say these instruments are money to the ears of savvy collectors and investors. Musical instrument can be a valuable asset: guitars can sell for hundreds and thousands of dollars; violins in the millions. An instrument’s worth is determined by its history and its rarity, so it’s not unusual to see a Stradivari violin that was owned by Itzhak Perlman at the same auction as a partially melted electric guitar that Jimi Hendrix set on fire. It’s also not unusual to see both instruments sell

You might say these instruments are money to the ears of savvy collectors and investors. Musical instruments can be valuable assets: guitars can sell for hundreds and thousands of dollars; violins in the millions.

An instrument’s worth is determined by its history and its rarity, so it’s not unusual to see a Stradivari violin that was owned by Itzhak Perlman at the same auction as a partially melted electric guitar that Jimi Hendrix set on fire. It’s also not unusual to see both instruments sell for similar amounts, despite their very different histories.

Click ahead to see which instruments have sold for the highest prices at auction houses.

By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted Oct. 15, 2010

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10. Classical guitar—Robert Bouchet

Price: $122,500
Photo credit: Christie's

Sold for: $122,500

Robert Bouchet was a French guitar maker whose instruments can be heard on the early recordings of classical musician Julian Bream. He built only 150 guitars in his lifetime, making them highly desirable and very expensive.

This particular guitar was built in 1964 in Paris and was signed and dated by Bouchet on the inside of its body. Bouchet also put his Parisian street address, 169 Rue Ordener, beneath his signature. In October 2009, it sold for $122,500, a world auction record for his guitars.


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9. Classical guitar—Antonio de Torres

Price: $157,000 Antonio de Torres was a 19th-century Spanish guitar maker credited with creating the modern classical guitar. Most of today’s acoustic guitars are based on his original designs. Torres had been building his instruments for 18 years before he started signing them in 1871, so an authentic creation from those earlier years is a sought-after rarity that is almost guaranteed to command a high price. This is why this guitar, which was built in 1864, sold in October 2007 for $157,000, t
Photo credit: Christie's

Sold for: $157,000

Antonio de Torres was a 19th-century Spanish guitar maker credited with creating the modern classical guitar. Most of today’s acoustic guitars are based on his original designs.

Torres had been building his instruments for 18 years before he started signing them in 1871, so an authentic creation from those earlier years is a sought-after rarity that is almost guaranteed to command a high price. This is why this guitar, which was built in 1864, sold in October 2007 for $157,000, the world auction record for this maker.


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8. Violin—Giovanni Battista Ceruti

Sold for: $158,500 Giovanni Battista Ceruti quit the textile industry to teach himself how to make violins at the age of 40, definitely late in the game for 1796. Ceruti’s age, however, was the least of his problems, since he was working at a time when his native Italy was constantly engulfed in wars and political turmoil, which made it a challenge to find the appropriate materials for his instruments. As a result, he was forced to use cheap wood for his violins, but on every other score they we
Photo credit: Christie's

Sold for: $158,500

Giovanni Battista Ceruti quit the textile industry to teach himself how to make violins at the age of 40, definitely late in the game for 1796. Ceruti’s age, however, was the least of his problems, since he was working at a time when his native Italy was constantly engulfed in wars and political turmoil, which made it a challenge to find the appropriate materials for his instruments. As a result, he was forced to use cheap wood for his violins, but on every other score they were exquisitely crafted and constructed.

On April 3, 2009, one of Ceruti’s violins sold for $158,500, the world auction record for an instrument of his. Its vintage and authenticity was determined by a February 2009 tree-ring analysis that dated the wood to 1794.


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7. Viola da Gamba—Pieter Rombouts

Sold for: $212,500 The viola da Gamba is one of the more rare musical instruments in the world. Not to be confused with a standard viola, the instrument was mostly used during the Renaissance and is based in part on similar instruments of the period from Spain and Morocco. The instrument is still used today, most notably on a 1997 CD featuring compositions by several artists, including Elvis Costello. This viola da Gamba was sold for $212,500 on October 13, 2009, a world auction record for its m
Photo credit: Christies

Sold for: $212,500

The viola da Gamba is one of the more rare musical instruments in the world. Not to be confused with a standard viola, the instrument was mostly used during the Renaissance and is based in part on similar instruments of the period from Spain and Morocco. The instrument is still used today, most notably on a 1997 CD featuring compositions by several artists, including Elvis Costello.

This viola da Gamba was sold for $212,500 on October 13, 2009, a world auction record for its maker, Pieter Rombouts , as ell as this particular type of instrument.


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6. Violin—Carlo Giuseppe Testore,

Sold for: $218,500 Carlo Giuseppe Testore was an Italian instrument maker in the late 17th and early 18th century whose instruments are still played by classical musicians to this day. He was mostly known for his double basses, but he was also accomplished in the construction of a variety of instruments, including violas, cellos and violins. This violin dates to 1701 and was constructed in Milan. It sold for $218,500, the world auction record for a Testore instrument.
Photo credit: Chrisites

Sold for: $218,500

Carlo Giuseppe Testore was an Italian instrument maker in the late 17th and early 18th century whose instruments are still played by classical musicians to this day. He was mostly known for his double basses, but he was also accomplished in the construction of a variety of instruments, including violas, cellos and violins.

This violin dates to 1701 and was constructed in Milan. It sold for $218,500, the world auction record for a Testore instrument.


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5. Violoncello—Gennaro Gagliano

Sold for: $362,500 Gennaro Gagliano hailed from a long line of Italian luthiers. Based in Naples, he is estimated to have made this violoncello in 1765. On April 3, 2009, it sold for $362,500, a world auction record for the maker. The instrument was expected to command a price between $200,00 and $300,000, and it came with an analysis of the design and materials that verified its authenticity. The analysis found that the design was consistent with that of three other cellos that were built at th
Photo credit: Christies

Sold for: $362,500

Gennaro Gagliano hailed from a long line of Italian luthiers. Based in Naples, he is estimated to have made this violoncello in 1765. On April 3, 2009, it sold for $362,500, a world auction record for the maker.

The instrument was expected to command a price between $200,00 and $300,000, and it came with an analysis of the design and materials that verified its authenticity. The analysis found that the design was consistent with that of three other cellos that were built at the same time by three different instrument makers.


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4. Viola—Gasparo Bertolotti da Salò

Sold for: $542,000 This viola was made by Gasparo Bertolotti da Salò, a 16th-century musician and instrument builder from Italy. Gasparo Bertolotti da Salò built only 60 instruments in his lifetime, so his creations command a very high price. This particular viola, however, sold for the exceptional amount of $542,000, the world auction record for this maker.
Photo credit: Christies

Sold for: $542,000

This viola was made by Gasparo Bertolotti da Salò, a 16th-century musician and instrument builder from Italy.

Gasparo Bertolotti da Salò built only 60 instruments in his lifetime, so his creations command a very high price. This particular viola, however, sold for the exceptional amount of $542,000, the world auction record for this maker.


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3. Guitar—C.F. Martin and Company

Sold for: $554,500 C.F. Martin & Company has been manufacturing guitars in the United States since 1833, and they are best known for their acoustic, steel-string models, used primarily in country music. This particular guitar, the OM-45 Deluxe, was built in 1930, one of only 15 made in that year, and it set the world record for any instrument from that series when it sold for $554,500 in April 2009.
Photo credit: Christies

Sold for: $554,500

C.F. Martin & Company has been manufacturing guitars in the United States since 1833, and they are best known for their acoustic, steel-string models, used primarily in country music. This particular guitar, the OM-45 Deluxe, was built in 1930, one of only 15 made in that year, and it set the world record for any instrument from that series when it sold for $554,500 in April 2009.

Singing cowboy Roy Rogers of Sons of the Pioneers and silver screen fame was the original owner of this instrument. Originally a part of the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Missouri, the guitar sold for twice its expected price.


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2. Stratocaster guitar—Fender

Sold for: $959,500 The Fender Stratocaster is one of the most respected electric guitars in rock music. It was the instrument of choice for Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Buddy Holly, and is a personal favorite of Eric Clapton, who donated this guitar to benefit his Crossroads Recovery Center. Dubbed “Blackie,” the guitar is actually a composite made from three separate Stratocasters built in the 1950s. It was also the one and only guitar that Clapton would play for 15 years. At the time w
Photo credit: Christies

Sold for: $959,500

The Fender Stratocaster is one of the most respected electric guitars in rock music. It was the instrument of choice for Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Buddy Holly, and is a personal favorite of Eric Clapton, who donated this guitar to benefit his Crossroads Recovery Center. Dubbed “Blackie,” the guitar is actually a composite made from three separate Stratocasters built in the 1950s. It was also the one and only guitar that Clapton would play for 15 years.

At the time when he bought the guitars used to make “Blackie,” the Stratocaster was actually out of fashion, so he was able to buy them at a Nashville music store for rock bottom prices. However, there was nothing rock bottom about the guitar’s price at auction. Originally estimated to be worth $100,000 to $150,000, it sold for $959,500, the world auction record for any guitar.


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1. Violin—Stradivari

Sold for: $3,544,000 The violins made by Antonio Stradivari are acknowledged as the finest in the world, and they have sold for historically high prices whenever they’ve been on the auction block. However, this violin sold in May 2006 for $3,544,000, the world record for any musical instrument. The violin is known as “The Hammer.” Dating from 1707, it gets its name from Christian Hammer, a 19th-century collector from Sweden who was its first known owner. Before the auction, its last owner was a
Photo credit: Christies

Sold for: $3,544,000

The violins made by Antonio Stradivari are acknowledged as the finest in the world, and they have sold for historically high prices whenever they’ve been on the auction block. However, this violin sold in May 2006 for $3,544,000, the world record for any musical instrument.

The violin is known as “The Hammer.” Dating from 1707, it gets its name from Christian Hammer, a 19th-century collector from Sweden who was its first known owner. Before the auction, its last owner was a Japanese oil company who loaned it to violinist Kyoko Takezawa. She used it as her primary instrument for over 12 years. The violin was expected to sell for $1.5 million - $2.5 million. The auction buyer remains anonymous.


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