The Most Expensive Guitars in the World

📅 Published : - Author : Dan Kopilovic
📌 Posted under: Memorabilia

This is a list of the most expensive guitars ever sold. A couple of notes before we begin – most of the guitars on this list were sold through auction, and usually for a charitable cause – which means that in some cases, their value is highly exaggerated.

But, in most other cases, a guitar is valued by the person who used to play it. Most valuable guitars are usually those owned by the most popular rock musicians, like Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, and David Gilmour – just to name a few.

So, with that out of way, here’s the list of the most expensive guitars in the world.

Kurt Cobain’s Martin D-18E

Sold for: $6,000,000

Bought by: Peter Freedman (Australian businessman, Rode Microphones)

This guitar is most famous for being used by Kurt Cobian during Nirvana’s “Unplugged” concert. Kurt bought it in early 1992, not long before that gig, and paid $5,000 for it.

That price is obviously pretty high already, but it made perfect sense, because this is a vintage instrument, and only 320 of this particular model have been produced by Martin. It’s a pretty unique and special instrument because this was Martin trying to fuse two worlds – acoustic and electric. Kurt himself didn’t really like the “electric” part of the guitar, so he installed a Bartolini 3AV soundhole pickup to make the guitar sound better.

The story of what happened to this guitar after Kurt’s death is somewhat complex. In short – it ended up with Kurt’s daughter Francis, who got married and, according to her husband Isaiah Silva, gave the guitar to him at some point. After their divorce in 2016, and after what seemed like a lot of back and forth, the guitar actually ended up with Silva.

In 2020, it appeared on auction at Julien’s and ended up selling for 6 million dollars – which is the highest price ever paid for a guitar.

If you’re interested in learning more about Kurt’s guitars, refer to our Kurt Cobain Gear Page.

David Gilmour’s “The Black Strat”

Sold for: $3,975,000

Bought by: Jim Irsay (American businessman)

If you’re a fan of Pink Floyd, then you know just how special David Gilmour is, and how special was this guitar to him. This is the instrument that David used on basically all of the band’s greatest songs, and the one you’d almost always see him play live.

The guitar is also special because it was pieced together by Gilmour, using parts that he thought to be perfect. So, it’s not just a vintage instrument that went through the hands of a famous musician – this is actually a product of that musician.

But, in 2019 David decided to let go, sell the instrument and donate all the profits to ClientEarth, a charity focused on protecting life on Earth – in their own words.

You know something? For me, I can let go of it. It’s going to bring a lot of people to have a look at this sale, and it’s going to do that job. It’s a lovely guitar. … I did my ‘Comfortably Numb’ solo on it. The notes for the beginning of ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ fell out of it one day.

David Gilmour

The guitar was bought by Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, the NFL team.

It’s also worth noting that Irsay is a well-known collector of memorabilia. Most notably he owns Bob Dylan’s “Newport” Stratocaster, Jerry Garcia’s “Tiger” guitar, as well as the original manuscript of the Jack Kerouac novel “On the Road”, which he paid $2.43 million for.

“Reach Out to Asia” Stratocaster

Sold for: $2,700,000

Bought by: Qatar Royal Family

This guitar was actually the most expensive guitar at the point time when it was sold, on November 14, 2005. Interestingly, the guitar itself is just a regular white Fender Stratocaster, and it’s not any more special than any other random Stratocaster that you could buy in 2005.

What made this Strat so valuable and expensive consisted of several factors. The first was the fact that it was auctioned for a good cause – to help the victims of the 2004 tsunami. Obviously, this was a globally known disaster, and people wanted to help.

The second – the Strat was signed by a number of popular guitarists/singers, which obviously contributed to the value. If you have something signed by the likes of Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, and Brien May (the list goes on), obviously it’s gonna skyrocket the price no matter what that something is.

Embed from Getty Images

But, there have been other guitars signed by rockstars and sold through auction, like this Multi-Signed Fender Stratocaster, but not one reached even close to the price of the Tsunami aid one. For instance, the guitar in the link sold only for around $11,000, even though it was signed by many of the same people mentioned above.

So lastly we come to the most likely reason for this guitar’s absurd price. The auction was held in Qatar, a country that houses some of the wealthiest people in the world. And, since the auction was held on their own soil, there was probably no way that the Qatar royal family would allow anyone to outbid them, there was just no chance.

This, of course, ended up being great for everyone involved. Some got to show off, and others got the money they really needed after the disaster. But even so, it’s important noting that this is perhaps the only guitar on the list that is highly overvalued, and unlikely to ever be re-sold for a higher price. It was a unique situation, with a lot of factors involved, but the guitar itself does not represent a significant piece in the history of rock music, as many of the other guitars on this list do.

John Lennon’s 1962 Gibson J-160E

Sold for: $2,410,000

Bought by: Unknown

It really should be a surprise that Beatles memorabilia is among the most sought after and as a result, the most valuable. And, you cannot find any better than John Lennon’s own acoustic guitar that he used in the early days of the Beatles, to come up with songs and record them in the studio. These included some of the band’s greatest hits like All My LovingLove Me Do, and From Me To You.

Unfortunately for John, the guitar ended up missing at the end of 1963, and he never got it back. John McCaw, who ended up buying the guitar from his friend Tommy Pressley, decided to do some research on it in, but only a long time after all this took place, in 2008. So all through those years, nobody was ever aware that they were playing the guitar that once belonged to John Lenon, and to this day, no one knows how it ended up in a store where Tommy Pressley first bought it.

In any case, John got in contact with Andy Babiuk, who is the person who wrote the Beatles’ Gear book, and had a lot of stories and knowledge collected on the guitars that the band used. He was able to confirm that this was indeed John Lenon’s Gibson J-160E though comparing the serial numbers.

So, this whole “long-lost” and “finally found” talk regarding the thing guitar obviously only increased the hype, and probably drove the price up. But nonetheless, even ignoring that part, this was an important guitar, one that John used very early on, both for coming up with songs and for recording them.

It’s not a surprise then that the guitar ended up selling for $2.4 million, albeit to an undisclosed recipient.

Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 “Woodstock” Fender Stratocaster

Sold for: $2,000,000 (approximately, price not public)

Bought by: Paul Allen (Microsoft co-founder)

This is the guitar Jimi Hendrix used during the famous Woodstock festival in 1969. That alone should give us enough of a reason to understand why would a guitar like this be so valuable. Hendrix was one of the most influential guitarists of all time, and it’s safe to say that music wouldn’t be the same without him. Furthermore, the Woodstock festival was a major point in the history of rock music and is nowadays often referred to as the greatest music festival of all time.

After Jimi died in 1970, any piece of clothing, any instrument, or any sort of memorabilia that once belonged to him almost immediately became almost sacred – something to behold. And among all of those pieces, there is probably only one that could be more important and valuable than the Woodstock Strat – which is the 1968 Fender Stratocaster that Jimi was last seen with. But that guitar, for the better or the worse, will probably not appear on auction any time soon.

Until it does, this guitar will probably remain the most expensive Jimi Hendrix memorabilia ever sold. Interestingly, the first time it was sold, Mitch Mitchell with whom the guitar remained until 1991, got “only” around $200,000 for it. He sold it to Gabriele Ansaloni, an Italian TV host, and music critic. The guitar was then sold once again after only two years to Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder for an undisclosed amount, but believed to be more than 2 million. From that point on, the Woodstock Strat is kept safe at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, founded by Allen in 2000.

The Woodstock Stratocaster on display
The Woodstock Stratocaster on display at the Museum of Pop Culture/EMP. Photo by: Justin Masterson/Flickr

If you’re interested in learning more about Jimi’s guitars, refer to our Jimi Hendrix Gear Page.

Jerry Garcia’s Doug Irwin “Wolf”

Sold for: $1,900,000

Bought by: Brian Halligan (co-founder of HubSpot)

Jerry Garcia purchased this guitar as a custom order from Doug Irwin and paid $1,500 in 1973. It became his main electric guitar, and he used it extensively until 1979, and then occasionally from that time on.

After Garcia died, it was discovered that he willed four of his guitars to their maker, Doug Irwin. The Grateful Dead band challenged this and insisted that the band owned the instruments. A settlement was reached in 2001 and Irwin was awarded two of the guitars, Tiger and Wolf, while the band got the other two, Rosebud and Headless.

Upon receiving the guitar, Doug Irwin decided to put them on auction. The Wolf was first sold to Daniel Pritzker, son of Jay Pritzker who was the co-founder of the Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, for $789,500. The guitar was then sold once again in 2017 to HubSpot co-founder Brian Halligan for $1.9 million, making it the third most expensive guitar ever sold at that time. Today, the guitar resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Also, Brian Halligan is actually a huge Grateful Dead fan, so the guitar was not purchased just as an investment.

They were the original social media marketers before there was social media. They kind of turned the model of the music business back then on its head.

I’m never going to sell it. It’s going to be with me the rest of my life.

Brian Halligan

Bob Marley’s Washburn Hawk Custom

Sold for: $1,200,000+ (approximately, price not disclosed publicly)

Bought by: Jamaica’s government

Bob Marley is definitely one of the legends in the music industry, and one of the icons of reggae. So it shouldn’t surprise that his memorabilia is among the most valuable out there.

This guitar in particular wasn’t really one that Bob used all that much. In fact, people have yet to find a single occasion where he used it in a concert setting. Nonetheless, somehow it became one of his best-known instruments. The reason for that is the story told by the guitar technician Gary Karlson who received this guitar as a present from Bob in November of 1979. Just two years after that Bob died, and this guitar became an invaluable piece of history.

Sometime around 2010, Gary decided to put Bob’s guitar on auction for a charitable cause. It’s unclear what exactly happened during all this, there was some sort of a raffle involved it seems, a whole website was made where people could sign up to potentially win the actual guitar.

In any case, the website doesn’t state if this “raffle” ever took place, and newspapers have been reporting that the guitar was somehow “secretly” sold to the Jamaican government. Apparently, no one even knows where it is right now.

Peter Green’s/Gary Moore’s 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard “Greeny”

Sold for: $1,000,000 (approximately, price not disclosed publicly)

Bought by: Kirk Hammett (Metallica guitarist)

This guitar is probably one of the most legendary guitars in rock music. It was originally owned by Peter Green, who became famous after replacing Eric Clapton in John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers in 1965. Two years later, Peter joined Fleetwood Mac with whom he recorded one of the anthems of rock music – Black Magic Woman.

Sometime around 1970, Peter decided to sell the guitar to an up-and-coming guitarist from Belfast. That guitarist was Gary Moore, with whom the guitar spend the majority of its lifetime – from 1970 to the mid-2000s. A few years after Gary had sold it to a collector, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett heard that the guitar could be up for sale, and decided to buy it.

Kirk never revealed how much he paid for it, but many have guessed that it was around 1 million. In any case, if he ever decided to re-sell it, it will probably go for at least double the amount. But, in the meantime, it’s nice that the legendary “Greeny” guitar is still being played and that people are still using it to record new music. Surely, in a few decades, the guitar will end up in a museum, because, it is after all a significant piece of history.

Learn More about the “Greeny” Les Paul

Guitars to Watch Out For in the Future

There are still guitars out there that could potentially find themselves on this list, or even top it, in case they ever appear on auction.

Kurt Cobain’s Fender Jaguar is definitely among them, as well as his Fender Mustang used during the Smells Like Teen Spirit – which is in fact about to hit auction.

Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstein could easily top this list, as could Jimi Hendrix’s “Black Beauty” Stratocaster, John Frusciante’s 1962 Fender Stratocaster, Jimmy Page’s Number 1 Les Paul, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s 1961 Fender Stratocaster, Rory Gallagher’s 1961 Fender Stratocaster – just to name a few.

We’ll keep a close eye on these guitars, and update this list in case any of them end up at auction.

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2 years ago

I only wish I could at least just touch any of these guitars