The Clapton Theory

This is what I came for. The prototype "Crossroads" 335's that went for $30K-$35K or so. I bailed out at just under $20K

If EC played it on stage, it went for big bucks. As long as you could carry it. This 1948 L5 was the highest seller at around $83,000

I like theories. Conspiracy theories. Relativity theories. Theory of evolution. Theories make stuff fit into little boxes and keep the world a little less random and a little more organized. Then there’s The Eric Clapton Sale of Guitars and Amps auction held today at Bonham’s in New York. I went early and got a good seat right in the thick of it. I knew things were going to go at inflated prices and I wasn’t disappointed. Earlier Clapton auctions to benefit the Crossroads Centre had the big guns like the “Crossroads 335” and “Blackie” that approached a million dollars and attracted real guitar aficionados as well as Clapton fans who just wanted a piece of the man to remember him by. That sounds like he’s dead. Let’s say to honor the man instead. Anyway, I went because I wanted to buy one of the three “prototype” Gibson “Crossroads 335s”. I’ll get to that later. What throws any theory of why things sold for what they sold for into the crapper is the fact that none of it made any sense. First item was a Fender Blues Junior from 2005. That’s about a $400 amp. The Clapton Blues Jr. went for $8400 (including buyers premium). Yikes.

How about $39,000. It'll fit in your briefcase too.

Thats somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000% over it’s value because EC used it on stage. Later, another Blues Jr came up but it wasn’t stage used and it went for $1680 or around 400% over retail. Eric’s 2008 12 string Martin went for $70,000 (with B). That’s a $1500 guitar. So, the Eric premium on this one was nearly 5000% over its retail value.  So my theory that starts emerging is that if EC played it, it goes for some huge premium. If he just donated it and didn’t play it onstage, it’s only maybe 4 times the normal price. Except when it doesn’t hold true. A lot of 4 JCM 800 Marshalls and 2 cabinets went for $7500. Supposedly, these were his stage amps in the 80’s. That’s only slightly more than retail. Break that set up and sell them separately and you could make some serious money from ES fans, I think. I didn’t. So, now my theory is shot. So, maybe it’s only stuff you can easily carry out that gets the huge premium.  A blues JR in a “woody” cabinet used onstage went for $24,000, so small and stage played seems to be the key. But wait, a pair of custom built Fender Tweed Twins goes for $$42000. Not exactly something you can carry out with you. His real modded ’57 Tweed Twin went for $38,400. That, I think was the real iconic piece at this show-perhaps as iconic as some of the six figure guitars of the earlier auctions. I was as familiar with this beat up old tweed as I was with Blackie. This amp saw a lot of stage time. I expected it to break $75,000. A Japanese Zemaitis copy for $80,000 and not used onstage? Clapton’s stage used L5 from 1948 should have been double that but nope-about the same -$83,000. So, I have no theory. I don’t get it. On another subject, what about the bidders. They were a pretty dull group. There was some heated bidding but almost no enthusiasm. One gentleman threw his hands up in victory after winning one of the amps, I think. That was the only outburst of any kind. Maybe senility was settling in. This was not a young crowd. Like the Philly Show last Fall, I should have had a booth for prostate exams. Mostly men-mostly 50-62. And what about the guitars I came for? Well prototype 001 wasn’t a prototype at all. It was just a 2001 335 given to EC by Gibson. It was nothing like the Crossroads reissue as it had Kluson tuners and an ES-345 fingerboard. So why did it go for more than the 2 real Crossroads prototypes? That one went for $34,000 while the real prototypes both went for $30-32K which I thought was a pretty good deal if you have the money to spend. Finally, there were the awards like gold records (almost $40,000) and BMI awards for “only” $4,000 or so.  So, where’s my theory? I don’t have one. It seemed to make little sense in terms of consistency. In fact the most consistent element of the auction was the apparent boredom of most of those in attendance.

This isn't even a real "woody". It's a made in Mexico Blues Junior in a woody cabinet. Only $24,000.

By far the most iconic piece in the show, IMO. The tweed Twin that was modded by the late Cesar Diaz. $39,000 didn't even seem that high. A young girl bid on this and one other lot. Got them both and promptly left. She wouldn't tell me who she was bidding for. The suit he's wearing here went for $7200. I'll bet it would have fit me, too.

2 Responses to “The Clapton Theory”

  1. Rob says:

    Does the date April 15, 2011 ring a bell?

  2. OK Guitars says:

    Yeah, it does. I understand that a good size chunk of what you pay in is tax deductible but with a 20% buyers premium which isn’t, the average taxpayer is only being subsidized to about 36% of 80% of the purchase price (minus the intrinsic value of the item). I’m not a CPA, so I don’t quite know how this works. I’ve never had enough money to have to shelter any of it from Uncle Sam. The audience did not look like guitar people to me for the most part.

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