It’s difficult at the best of times to put a price on instruments with a past. Some musicians may well balk at the prices paid for vintage models and guitars that once belonged to super stars.
When a guitar fetches hundreds of thousands of pounds at auction however, you know there must be something about the instrument that marks more than just celebrity or style.
A two-day sale of Les Paul’s instruments and personal effects at Julien’s Auctions has managed to raise almost $5 million (£3.2 million) for the Les Paul Foundation – the charity founded by one of music’s great innovators to support music education, medical research and invention.
The auction featured such illustrious lots as Les Paul’s 1951 Fender Nocaster, which fetched an incredible $216,000, and a 1940s Epiphone Zephyr, which went for $144,000.
However, it was a one-off prototype guitar designed by Les Paul himself that drew in the crowds. It may not have secured the highest price of the evening, but the 1968 Les Paul recording prototype was the item everyone wanted to see.
Les Paul model guitars have become one of the most widely played electric guitars in the world and earned him the name as the godfather of the electric guitar. The prototype sold for $180,000.
Other lots featured items that are the stuff of collectors and museums’ dreams, with amps, research notes and a personalised number plate, as well as some of the great man’s multitrack recording gear, which Les Paul also pioneered.
People weren’t just buying a slice of history, but the possessions of a man whose contribution to modern music is arguably unrivalled.
Although a talented player in his own right who enjoyed a celebrated jazz and country music career, Les Paul will always be remembered for being an inventor. Some say that his solid body guitar made rock’n'roll possible, while his pioneering recording techniques, commissioning the first 8-track tape recorder, revolutionised music production and record distribution forever.
Les Paul died in 2009 from complications related to pneumonia. The auction of his epic personal collection was held on what would have been Les Paul’s 97th birthday.
What legendary gear do you covet or are you more interested in making a name with your own instrument?