“Brownie” was sold at a June 1999 auction at Christie’s for an impressive $497,500, but that haul was only about half that of Clapton’s most prized instrument.
That guitar, which Clapton calls “Blackie,” sold for $959,500 in 2004. It was his main stage and studio instrument for fifteen years, to the exclusion of almost all others, and it appeared on a string of successful solo albums in the 1970s and 1980s.
Other instruments with whopping price tags are not necessarily the ones played by the biggest celebrities, but those whose place in history is significant. (Take a look at some of the most expensive instruments sold at auction in our slideshow.)
Scotty Moore is not exactly a household name, but his 1956 Gibson Super 400 sold at a London auction for $106,256. Moore was Elvis Presley’s guitarist during the singer’s commercial zenith in the 1950s, and the instrument can be heard on such classics songs as “All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock.” The songs helped provide the foundation for rock and roll, and a pedigree that more than justifies the instrument’s very high asking price.
One factor that must not be overlooked when considering a guitar as an investment is its condition.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve found a left-handed Gibson Firebird custom-built for Jimi Hendrix if the body is chipped, the frets are worn and a third of the original parts have been replaced.
A truly valuable guitar should look flawless, with a few light dings at the most and only minor wear from being played. This is a tall order, as most guitars associated with famous musicians have been played and played again all over the world as the owners lived their colorful lives.
But the rare instrument that a famous musician has taken great care to preserve will have a considerable price tag and represent an excellent investment opportunity.
Needless to say, finding a guitar of this stature is no easy feat, and you will not see one hanging in the window of the average Sam Ash store. (The average price range is $1000-$5000.)
Typically, a guitar of this quality passes from the musician who owned it to the private collector with the resources to outbid all others. (And there's plenty of stock-option millionaires out there to do that.)
However, if you’ve got the cash and you know what to look for, fine instrument auctions present opportunities to invest in bona fide treasures. Just don’t forget about one of the most important features of the guitar—the sound.
“People today are willing to pay top prices for a Martin OM-45 Deluxe,” says Keane, “simply because they sound better than any of the others.”