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Not My Market

The David Gilmour black Strat was bought at auction for $3.975 Million by a very wealthy fan and NFL team owner named Jim Irsay. Why would anyone pay nearly $4M for a modified 69 Stratocaster? Because he can.

My shop (OK Guitars) is located in Kent, Connecticut; a little tourist centric town 85 miles from New York City. So, I get a lot of tourists who come in with no knowledge or interest in guitars. The most often asked question from this crowd? “Were any of these owned by somebody famous?” The answer is usually “no.” There has been a whole lot of interest in celebrity guitars lately. It must be the one percenters because the prices have been, frankly, insane. The Gilmour auction was a real good example. I get the allure of an instrument played by somebody famous, especially somebody you admire. Would I love to have one of George’s guitars (I’ll take the 345 if anybody knows where it is)? You bet I would but I’m pretty sure I won’t be paying a million (or $4 million) for it. It’s out of my league for sure and I think it’s a little excessive.

When Clapton’s ’64 335 sold for $800K and change, we were all a bit surprised that provenance alone could thrust a $14,000 guitar (at the time) to that lofty figure. I thought, “oh, it’s the Guitar Center guys-they’re going to replicate it and sell copies…” which they did (and they were great by the way). Then, I attended the next Clapton auction and saw crappy little $200 Fender practice amps-that he may or may not have actually used-sell for thousands of dollars. It became clear to me that this was a market that had some real potential. But it’s not my market.

My market is players and player/collectors. Most are amateur players, many are well heeled professional people-doctors and lawyers and Wall Street types and a few rock stars and more than a few lesser known pro players. One thing it isn’t is billionaire fans. My wealthier clients are not buying million dollar guitars. I don’t think a lot of rock stars are buying them either. That $3.975 million black Strat is probably not going to get played much (if at all). It’s simply a different crowd of buyers.

I would wager that someone who can easily afford to spend a million or four million bucks on a guitar probably doesn’t much care about the potential investment value. He simply wants to own it and its attached bragging rights. (I’d love to put Lennon’s J160-E in a big ol’ glass case in my shop but I didn’t have $1.2M on hand that day). I would also wager that it isn’t an investment at all. I’m going to take some heat for this but in 20 years, who, in the next generation of billionaires, is going to care that much about Pink Floyd (and I like Pink Floyd). Most kids don’t know who David Gilmour is. They know who the Beatles are and kids a dozen generations from now will know who the Beatles were but Pink Floyd? Maybe not so much.

So, what’s my point here? Go back and look at the title of the post. I deal in instruments, not memorabilia. I deal in nostalgia for sure but not in hero worship (unless you’re a Beatle). If you can afford the price of admission, knock yourself out. Buy cool stuff that was owned by famous people. I recently bid on Don Everly’s black ’63 Gibson J-180 “Everly Brothers” guitar. I bailed out at $25K because, much as I like Phil and Don, I don’t like them that much. I think it sold for around $26K, so it was me and one other bidder. I wish I had gotten it but it didn’t break my heart either. I’m bidding on a couple of Walter Becker’s guitars this week. I like Steely Dan a lot but I won’t be spending $4 million. I don’t have $4 million and I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to clone a rock star from the DNA left on the frets. But if I could, I’d trade you two David Gilmours for a Walter Becker.

Phil and Don with their signature guitars. I’m not sure why this one (or one like it) is worth $26K while the Gilmour black Strat is worth $4M. I’d rather have Don’s guitar.

6 Responses to “Not My Market”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, well said! It would be cool to own a guitar played by one of my guitar heroes (B.B., Eric, Albert C.) but I wouldn’t pay much extra for the opportunity. Similarly, as you’ve espoused before, I don’t like nor would pay anything for an autographed guitar. First thing I’d do is try and remove the autograph. If some fat cat wants to spend $4M on a former rock star guitar for bragging rights let him. Probably the same dude who’d spend big bucks on a sweaty torn football jersey!

  2. Joe S says:

    Agreed 100%. One thing we can be sure of: celeb-owned guitars are doomed to a life of never being played.
    There are ancient books that are never opened or touched by a human being again… Sad, but in this case lack of use preserves them.
    Guitars on the other hand are NOT preserved better by lack of use; quite the opposite! At least that truss rod needs to be adjusted every once in a while to keep it functional:
    Years left with no strings or loose truss rod= wrong!
    Years left with strings up to pitch, with a tight truss rod= wrong!
    Truss rod=Use it or lose it.

  3. leedsy says:

    Apotheosis vs intrinsic value.

  4. Rod says:

    I wonder if the guys who pay this sort of money ever experience Buyer’s Remorse? And, if so, is it commensurately greater than normal people experience?

  5. davek says:

    Interesting post Charlie – which firstly confirmed my own zero interest in owning star guitars. I played an ex-Keith Richard/Mick Taylor Burst recently. Apart from getting a quick smartphone clip to show my bandmates I felt no desire to own it, even if I had the big money that such guitars cost. Incidentally, it still had decades-old strings on it and was badly in need of a set up, but of course remains in the condition that the Stones presumably left it.

    I then thought about the big money that I read is paid for burnt and/or smashed guitars demised by Messrs Townshend and Hendrix. These must be the extreme end of the Guitar Heros guitar memorabilia spectrum and they arguably can no longer even be defined as guitars. I must ask my wife as she studied Philosophy at Oxford!! Imagine paradoxically paying big money for one and taking it to a restoration specialist to decimate its value by turning it into a playable guitar!!

    I’m fortunate to have an original 1962 SG Special which somehow escaped Townshend’s attention during his late 60s/early 70s SG Special period (including The Who’s iconic live performances at Woodstock, Leeds etc). He reputedly bought up all the SG Sp’s he could find on the UK market and is documented to have smashed at least 35 of them (not to mention Strats and the occasional 335).

    So when I occasionally take the SG out for a gig I’m relieved it isn’t one with a Guitar Hero association!!!

  6. okguitars says:

    I you’re worth $1B, spending $4M on a guitar would be like me spending around $2500 if I’ve done the math correctly. So, probably not.

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