Let’s face it, guitars are always going to be an object of desire. We usually start out by looking up to our heroes and often emulating them by purchasing a similar guitar model.
Throughout the history of modern music, there have been countless groups that have had worldwide success. More often than not, there’s usually a specific guitarist that provides that musical potency.
When guitars from certain players become for sale, you’ll often see these items being sold for an exorbitant price. The following guitars are some of the most expensive guitars that have ever been sold, ranging from $1,815,000 to over $6,000,000.
Take the time to learn about each in detail, with a video provided to see it in action.
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Kurt Cobain’s Martin D-18E
Vintage Martin acoustic guitars have always been highly sought-after instruments. It isn’t too uncommon to see true vintage Martins fetch a high price on the market.
But, when a cultural icon’s Martin acoustic guitar goes up for sale, the price is far more astronomical. That is precisely the case with Kurt Cobain’s Martin D-18E, which sold for just over $6,000,000.
Historically, the guitar itself was only produced between 1958 and 1959. That, alone, makes the D-18E an incredibly rare guitar, to begin with.
The guitar originally ran Cobain for $5,000 and is the 7th instrument produced in the limited series of 302.
In fact, if you search the used market, you can find models with a starting price of $43,000. That’s still nothing to sneeze at, and you’d need to have some serious disposable cash for such a purchase.
Typically, Martin is generally not known for producing acoustic guitars with pickups, but the D-18E is an exception. This model was traditionally equipped with a pair of DeArmond humbuckers in a design more typical of Gretsch guitars.
The guitar also came with a volume knob and a pair of tone knobs.
Kurt’s D-18E is a little bit more special, of course. Part of this is the fact that he added an additional Bartolini pickup to the guitar.
He also placed a 3-way switch on the shoulder of the guitar to be able to switch his pickup preferences. And, due to his left-handed orientation, he flipped the guitar and reversed the nut and bridge accordingly.
How Did Kurt Cobain’s Martin D-18E Come Up For Sale?
After Kurt passed away, many of his items ended up with his daughter, Frances, including the D-18E. In 2018, reports began to emerge that the beloved guitar was given to Frances’s soon-to-be ex-husband.
Some speculation has been given as to whether this was related to the divorce settlement or something else. It is a little unfortunate that it couldn’t stay in the family as a cherished heirloom.
The guitar eventually found its way onto the market, being sold through Julien’s Auctions in 2020. Thankfully, the guitar is still in a musical family, as Rode Microphone’s founder, Peter Freedman won the bid.
Freedman has plans to tour the guitar in an effort to raise funds for artist awareness programs. He’s also mentioned that he will eventually sell the guitar in order to make a profit for his charitable ventures.
One has to wonder just how much money Cobain’s D-18E will eventually rack up if it is sold again. 2020’s price was far and above a new record over any other guitar previously sold.
Another thought easily pondered is whether we’ll see Martin re-issue this as a Cobain signature model in the future. If someone paid $6,000,000 for the real deal, there’s probably a market for these types of guitars.
Then again, as with so many other guitar models, the reputation for this guitar comes from association with Cobain.
When Was The Martin D-18E Used?
Nirvana was known for their overt use of distortion, infusing a bit of chaos into standard pop-form songs. Most people would probably associate Cobain with his electric guitars (of which were many).
That is perhaps one of the biggest reasons the Martin D-18E is so special. It was his guitar of choice for the recording of the iconic MTV Unplugged In New York album.
Cobain’s choice of this guitar is quite ironic, especially given the acoustic nature of the show. This is about as close to an electric guitar as you can get without ditching the acoustic guitar design.
The performance was initially broadcast on MTV in 1993, with the official album released a year later. Upon its airing, the performance was found to be extremely moving and showed Nirvana in an intimate light.
Unfortunately, a few months after the airing of the performance, Cobain was found dead in his home. Conspiracy theorists are still trying to work out their versions of what might have happened.
Nevertheless, his death ultimately made the Unplugged session quite a bit more powerful. Fans connected with this album on a deeper level than likely anything else of its time period.
The obvious evidence of this fact is that Cobain’s guitar holds the record for the most expensive guitar ever sold. It is clear that the inspiration provided with this guitar is worth well beyond the price money could pay.
As far as the actual performance goes, the entire album is packed with emotionally-driven songs. Where Did You Sleep Last Night, and Something In The Way, are especially potent.
Be sure to check out their cover of Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World. You’ll get to hear the guitar’s electric pickup in full glory.
Kurt Cobain’s 1969 Fender Competition Mustang
Offset guitar designs are probably far more popular today than they were in their original release in the 60s. Much of this has been due to the fact that many 90s alternative rockers opted to use them.
Especially with regard to Fender offsets, these were not really all that desirable. This essentially made their prices extremely affordable, making them the most economical option available to the common guitarist.
Kurt Cobain was an avid lover of Fender offset body styles. In fact, Fender has released a number of different signature models over the years, replicating Cobain’s beloved originals.
While the Jaguar was probably used more in performances, most people associate Cobain with the Mustang. Around 1991, Kurt managed to find a 1969 Fender Competition Mustang at an incredibly low price.
With a rumored initial cost of about $50, the Competition Mustang has had an incredible rise in value. The guitar sold for $4,500,000.
Throughout the years, there have been several accounts stating that this was Cobain’s most prized guitar. It played a seminal role in the album creation of Nirvana’s biggest commercial success, Nevermind, released in 1991.
This particular model comes from the period just before Leo Fender sold the company to Columbia Broadcasting Service (CBS). Most guitarists consider this the tail end of the true golden era of Fender guitars during their original production.
Kurt’s Mustang is easily recognized with its lake placid blue color finish and racing stripe decal. He modified it by adding a Tune-o-Matic bridge and a Seymour Duncan pickup at the bridge position.
It’s important to note that left-handed guitars made in the 1960s are incredibly rare. That, alone, makes the Competition Mustang a unique guitar in its own right.
How Did Kurt Cobain’s 1969 Fender Competition Mustang Come Up For Sale?
There has been some debate as to what actually happened to this guitar once Kurt passed away. By most accounts, Kurt had a pretty extensive collection of guitars, including multiple Mustang models.
The general consensus seems to agree that the guitar was given as a gift to someone by Courtney Love. As to who that individual was remains to be a mystery.
Whoever possessed the guitar at the time did allow for the guitar to be publicly viewed. It was on display for over a decade in the Museum of Pop Culture, located in Seattle.
In 2022, Julien’s Auctions gave the announcement that the Competition Mustang was to be available in an auction. Jim Irsay (a name you’ll see again), ended up with the winning bid.
To honor Cobain, the estate donated proceeds to Kicking The Stigma, a charitable organization for mental health awareness.
Irsay has a massive collection of iconic guitars, with which he frequently provides a touring exhibition. It’s a safe bet that this Mustang will find its way into the exhibit.
For the most part, Jim Irsay has a pretty stellar reputation regarding his guitar collection. At least this beloved instrument is in safe hands for the foreseeable future.
When Was The Competition Mustang Used?
If you’re looking to see the Mustang in action, the best place to start is with Smells Like Teen Spirit. This was really the first documented instance of Cobain actually using the guitar.
And really, this is the video that really launched Nirvana into realms of success that were completely unimaginable. Smells Like Teen Spirit literally became the grunge anthem for teenagers of the early 1990s.
This is especially evident with the performance of the Nevermind album, which had a slow crawl to the top. By its peak, it was selling more each week than most average bands could hope to sell in a year.
It was this music video that gave the youth of the time a glimpse at the person they would come to idolize. The video also prominently shows the Competition Mustang in full detail.
Because of this video, the Competition Mustang became one of the most famous Mustang models of all time. It also became the reason why so many associate Cobain with the guitar.
Outside of this music video, Cobain had used the guitar up until about 1993. Despite being a favorite, Kurt cared enough about it to destroy a mixing board with the guitar in 1991.
It’s also been stated that, while likely used on Nevermind, it was played during the recording for In Utero.
The 1969 Champion Mustang was the horse that took Nirvana to international stardom. It proved to be a valuable companion to Kurt during those meteoric years.
David Gilmour’s Black Stratocaster
When it comes to influential rock bands, Pink Floyd has probably experienced the most widespread acclaim. It seems as if just about everybody and their 3rd cousin can find a deep-felt appreciation for their music.
Throughout their illustrious career, the band was able to produce music that no other band could come close to recreating. Their brand of lush psychedelia with a progressive edge proved to be quite the addictive and distinct sonic elixir.
The most popular era of the band is after the early Syd Barrett days when David Gilmour entered the group. If you’re a guitarist, you probably know that he’s considered one of the best.
And like most guitar heroes, David Gilmour had a choice guitar he was always usually seen with. For him, it was a 1969 Fender Stratocaster, which had a black color finish applied on top of a sunburst.
When the guitar was offered up for auction in 2019, it sold for nearly $4,000,000, breaking records at the time. None other than Jim Irsay was the buyer.
At the time, Pink Floyd was on tour and actually had their gear stolen, along with Gilmour’s Strat. What has been dubbed “The Black Strat” was actually a replacement for his stolen guitar, which was never recovered.
While this guitar was his pride and joy, it was also a fertile playground for trying out different modifications. He wasn’t afraid to try out different hardware to find what works best for him.
If you take a closer look, you might notice some funny areas in the finish. Aside from the normal road wear, Gilmour actually repaired his guitar after a failed modification.
A handful of necks have also been used on the guitar. When it was sold in auction, the installed neck was from 1983.
How Did David Gilmour’s Black Stratocaster Come Up For Sale?
In 2019, it was announced that David Gilmour was auctioning off 120 different guitars through Christie’s. For many fans, this seemed like a baffling thing to do, especially considering his selling of The Black Strat.
However, the real reason behind it was to raise money for charitable causes. In true Pink Floyd fashion, he donated to help fight famine and climate change, rather than pocketing the cash.
Gilmour has said time and again that he tends not to be overly sentimental about the guitars in his collection. Rather, he views them as tools to help him craft the projects he’s working on.
His fearlessness regarding guitar modifications is all the evidence one would need to see that mindset. It’s likely what allowed him to be able to part with the guitar that literally changed rock music forever.
But he does have the assurance that, if he needed to, he could likely track down a faithful replica. Fender did produce a signature relic series back in 2008.
As was previously mentioned, Jim Irsay (owner of the Indianapolis Colts NFL team) made the winning bid. His love for Pink Floyd proved that he was unafraid to break a world record to own the guitar.
And while the guitar itself fetched nearly $4,000,000, that wasn’t all that Jim bought that day. You’d need to protect that investment somehow, so he opted to purchase its case as well.
While we’re not sure what the most expensive guitar case in history might be, this has to rank up there. The Black Strat’s case, alone, sold for $175,000.
Like Irsay’s other guitars, The Black Strat is sure to find its way to a traveling exhibit near you.
When Was The Black Stratocaster Used?
As Gilmour purchased the guitar in 1970, it can be found on every Pink Floyd release up to the 1980s. Its first performance was actually with an orchestra, performing what would come to be known as, Atom Heart Mother.
Eventually, the album of the same name was released later that year, followed by Meddle in 1971. Meddle is notable for having the iconic Pink Floyd track, Echoes.
For any serious Pink Floyd fan, Echoes ranks as one of the best, and most psychedelic songs in their catalog. You’ll hear a wide range of experimental guitar playing, all of which took place on The Black Strat.
When the band did their famous Pompeii performance, Gilmour was primarily using The Black Strat. This ultimately helped the guitar to become synonymous with his public image.
Of course, the band’s most successful albums start with The Dark Side Of The Moon up to The Wall. Out of all of those albums, there isn’t a bad track, and you can’t go without hearing The Black Strat.
Some of the most notable songs to check out include:
- Shine On You Crazy Diamond
- Have A Cigar
- Pigs (Three Different Ones)
- Comfortably Numb
Gilmour has also used the guitar on his solo projects, as well as a few guest spots on other songs. The guitar, unfortunately, hung in a Hard Rock Cafe for almost a decade before he got it back again in the 1990s.
When Pink Floyd reunited for a one-off performance for Live 8 in 2005, Gilmour busted out The Black Strat. It would be the last time the 4 members would share the same stage under the same name.
John Lennon’s 1962 Gibson J-160E
Out of any band, none has been quite the cultural phenomenon that The Beatles were during the 1960s. There really hasn’t been another group that has caused the same type of hysteria.
Many consider The Beatles to be fundamental in reshaping and pushing the boundaries of pop music. However, before their experimental days, it was the group’s early work that charmed the hearts of millions.
One of the most iconic instruments from this period is John Lennon’s 1962 Gibson J-160E. When auctioned off in 2015, the guitar sold for $2,410,000.
In some ways, the guitar shares similarities with Kurt Cobain’s Martin D-18E. This dreadnought acoustic had a pickup just below the neck, with knobs for both volume and tone.
Unfortunately, Lennon’s beloved guitar would eventually become lost to time. One of the crew members accidentally left the guitar behind after the group’s Christmas concert at Finsbury Park.
But that certainly didn’t make it any less iconic. Of the film that exists from that period, the early acoustic performances tend to always depict Lennon with his Gibson.
How Did John Lennon’s 1962 Gibson J-160E Come Up For Sale?
Out of most of the guitars on this list, John Lennon’s J-160E might have the most interesting backstory. It was generally assumed that, like David Gilmour’s Stratocaster, the guitar would never be found.
Over 50 years had passed by before this mystery would start to show promise of resolve. It would take a keen eye, along with a dedicated Beatles fanatic, to be able to put the pieces together.
A man by the name of John McCaw happened to be flipping through Guitar Aficionado magazine one day. When he saw a picture of George Harrison’s model, he began to look deeper.
John and George had identical models, with the only difference obviously being the serial number. And yet, strangely enough, the guitar McCaw owned looked an awful lot like Lennon’s.
McCaw ended up contacting Beatles expert, Andy Babiuk, to consider the investigation. What Babiuk ended up uncovering was that, indeed, McCaw’s guitar was the same as Lennon’s.
Interestingly enough, the guitar found its way into a music shop in San Diego around 1967. In 1969, McCaw bought it from his friend, Tommy Presley, who originally bought it from the shop.
Of course, once McCaw had positive confirmation about the guitar, he didn’t feel right owning it. After all, it was a colossal piece of music history, and one that deserves to be in a preservative collection.
Fortunately, McCaw was only a casual player, and the guitar remained safe in his closet. An unknown buyer purchased the guitar in the auction held by Julien’s.
When Was The 1962 Gibson J-160E Used?
Out of most of the other instruments the group used, the 1962 Gibson J-160E was a bit short-lived. This acoustic guitar was used primarily in 1962 and most of 1963.
As such, you’ll hear it primarily on the band’s first 2 records. In a way, this guitar was foundational in the group’s initial songwriting processes.
Some of the most famous tracks you’ll recognize the guitar on include:
- All My Loving
- She Loves You
- Please Please Me
- Love Me Do
Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Fender Stratocaster
As far as the guitar is concerned, Jimi Hendrix is perhaps one of the most important of all time. He forever changed the way that the instrument would come to be played.
While many excellent guitarists had existed before him, Hendrix had some special voodoo magic. In some ways, he embodied a John Coltrane-like trance when playing the guitar.
This obviously had an effect on his audiences as people had never seen something as groundbreaking. The echo continues to ring as generations of countless guitarists unknowingly incorporate his essence into their playing.
There are many things that serve as a symbol for Hendrix, but none more than a backward Stratocaster. More specifically, his 1968 polar white Stratocaster, commonly called “Izabella.”
Hendrix purchased this guitar in New York City and consists completely of stock components. Part of what makes this guitar so iconic is its oversized Fender headstock shape.
While there isn’t an exact price, Hendrix’s famed Stratocaster was sold to Paul Allen (of Microsoft) in 1992. Rumors have it that the guitar changed hands for the princely sum of $2,000,000.
How Did Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Fender Stratocaster Come Up For Sale?
For years, the Izabella Stratocaster was actually in the possession of Mitch Mitchell. For those that are unaware, Mitchell played drums in the original lineup of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
The public was completely unaware of this until Mitchell decided to sell the Stratocaster in 1990. Gabriele Ansaloni was the buyer in that sale, purchasing the guitar for £198,000.
Ansaloni only had the guitar for a couple of years until it was sold again, this time to Paul Allen. Since then, the guitar has been proudly exhibited in Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture.
That seems to be a fitting place for the Strat, as Hendrix was born in Seattle. His gravesite is also in the area and makes for a great vacation stop for any adoring fan.
When Was The 1968 Fender Stratocaster Used?
There tend to be some discrepancies about the actual usage of Izabella. The reality is that Hendrix had a massive amount of guitars, especially Stratocasters.
Making matters even more difficult, Hendrix was known to have another polar white Stratocaster in use around 1970. Nevertheless, there is one singular moment in time that makes this guitar have so much fame behind it.
You probably know that Hendrix performed at the Woodstock music festival in 1969. This was one of his most iconic performances as an artist and helped to concrete his status as a legend.
Indeed, it was the Izabella Stratocaster being used during this performance. One of the seminal jams from this performance is, The Star Spangled Banner.
In some ways, Hendrix’s rendition of the national anthem is just as famous as the original. He took artistic liberties that others would never have considered, and they proved to be fitting for the times.
If you’re looking to see Izabella in action, The Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock is the perfect starting place. It should be considered required viewing for anyone that has the desire to play the guitar.
Jerry Garcia’s Wolf Guitar
The Grateful Dead continues to be a relevant band in the 2020s, with Garcia’s playing continuing to find new ears. This band was the first to ever have a traveling society following them from show to show on each tour.
Part of what made the Dead so popular was the fact that each show was improvised and completely unique. It was a guarantee that you would never see the same show twice.
The Dead had a massively long touring career that certainly didn’t slow down one bit. In some ways, the band has only gotten bigger, despite the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995.
Garcia’s guitar collection has become an object of fascination over the years. Many of his choice instruments are completely unique, with certain features that allow them to be easily identified.
One of his most famous is the Wolf guitar, which was custom-built by luthier, Doug Irwin. Wolf has an exquisitely ornate Flamed Maple top, with a bound Purpleheart running down the middle.
The guitar takes its name from a cartoonish wolf sticker placed on the instrument by Garcia. It has since become an embedded image that can be found throughout many years of marketing and merchandise campaigns.
Eventually, the guitar did need some repairs, and Doug Irwin took the opportunity to replace the sticker with an inlay.
Wolf has an interesting SHH pickup configuration, which isn’t often seen on a guitar. The Dead experimented heavily with electronics, and you’ll find a number of switches and knobs on the guitar.
This guitar truly is an icon of the rambling, free-spirited nature of the Grateful Dead and their extended jams. When sold in 2017, Wolf went for $1,900,000.
Wolf originally cost Jerry Garcia $1500.
How Did Jerry Garcia’s Wolf Guitar Come Up For Sale?
Before we get into the details, it’s important to note that Irwin made 5 different guitars for Garcia. Each one is unique in its own way, with a signature look and an unforgettable name.
When Jerry died in 1995, there was a huge question as to who actually retained ownership of the guitars. One might assume that Garcia’s estate would own them, but at the same time, the Dead felt they owned them.
In a simple twist of fate, Jerry had kept Irwin in mind when he was writing his will. Doug ended up with the guitars he made for Jerry, which didn’t sit well with the band.
After a drawn-out lawsuit, it was deemed that Irwin was the rightful owner of the guitars. Once the decision was made, Irwin decided to sell each of the guitars in 2002.
During this sale, Wolf was purchased for $790,000 by Daniel Pritzker, who has a familial link with Hyatt Hotels. Dan enjoyed his purchase, playing it himself and allowing others to play it.
In 2017, Daniel put Wolf up for auction through Guernsey’s, where Brian Halligan made the winning bid. Pritzker would make well over $1,000,000 above what he initially paid for Wolf in 2002.
Halligan took inspiration from The Dead while helping to put together his startup, Hubspot. So far, it appears that Wolf is in a good home with a loving environment.
When Was The Wolf Guitar Used?
The Grateful Dead is known for its live performances, most of which were taped by audiences. Because of this, you can easily find recordings where Wolf is likely being used.
It’s the general consensus that Wolf came about in 1973, which he used that year and in 1974. Touring eventually took its toll, so it was given back to Irwin, where it stayed for a number of years.
Garcia would eventually get the guitar back in 1977, complete with minor repairs and modifications. He would then go on to use it extensively during the fall of 1977, as well as 1978.
1978 is especially notable because it marks the year that The Grateful Dead Movie came out. The film features live cuts, with Wolf often taking center stage during the film’s various camera angles during the performances.
That year is also special because it contained the band’s famed The Closing Of Winterland performance. The show was an all-night party with a breakfast to follow and had some noteworthy jams.
Wolf would eventually find its way to obscurity until Jerry brought it back out again in 1989.
Interestingly enough, Wolf has found its way out of the cage in recent years. Some notable performances have happened with it, including:
- Phil Lesh & Friends, featuring Ryan Adams and Jimmy Herring, in 2005
- Dark Star Orchestra in 2006
- Chris Robinson Brotherhood, featuring Neal Casal, in 2012
- Warren Haynes in 2013 and 2017
- Dead & Company, featuring John Mayer, in 2019
For a guitar that symbolizes musical freedom, it’s nice to see it still getting some occasional action. Any other guitar on this list really doesn’t have the same kind of credentials.
David Gilmour’s 0001 Stratocaster
David Gilmour is certainly one of the foremost thought of as a Stratocaster player. The guitar’s unique single-coil tones play an important role in elevating his deeply melodic passages.
While The Black Strat is the most famous, Gilmour had a Stratocaster with the serial number 0001. Interestingly enough, the guitar features a white finish with a gold pickguard and gold hardware.
The gold hardware is an especially uncommon thing to find on an early Fender. The consensus seems to point to the idea that it might have originally been made for a Fender employee.
Most of the guitar’s origins are also a bit murky, but it is considered to be a genuine 1954 model. It’s just not very likely to have been the very first Stratocaster ever made as the serial number would indicate.
Gilmour purchased the guitar in 1978, though the price paid is not exactly known. It has been alluded to that the guitar was a splurge for Gilmour.
When sold at auction in 2019, it fetched a price of $1,815,000 to an unknown buyer.
How Did The 0001 Stratocaster Come Up For Sale?
Gilmour’s 0001 Stratocaster has some debated origins, particularly concerning the memory of Seymour Duncan. What is known is that Duncan was a crucial piece of the guitar’s lineage in order to find David.
In some accounts, it’s rumored that a young guitar student had actually owned the guitar first. As the story goes, they wanted Duncan to perform some modifications and a different color.
Duncan being the wise one he is realized what it was the young student had. He then took ownership of the guitar, eventually selling it for $900, to where it would find Gilmour.
David eventually put the guitar up for auction in 2019, along with 119 other guitars. This was the same auction that featured The Black Strat.
When Was The 0001 Stratocaster Used?
The 0001 definitely doesn’t have the same mileage that The Black Strat has in terms of sheer usage. In some ways, it seems as if the guitar was used more in a promotional aspect, for televised events.
Much of this has to do with the fact that, regardless of the serial number, it’s an incredibly valuable guitar. 1954 was the first production year of the Stratocaster, so it rightfully should be protected at all costs whenever possible.
However, the 0001 Stratocaster did find its way into a number of recordings. The most notable and recognizable come from Parts 1 and 2 of Another Brick In The Wall, in 1979.
These tracks are notable for their inherent funkiness that seems to be a bit derivative of disco. It does seem as if Gilmour enjoys this guitar, so it’s possible that the guitar inspired that elegant feeling within.
The 0001 Stratocaster was used in a number of collaborative recordings, including:
- So Glad To See You Here (Paul McCartney, 1979)
- Is Your Love Strong Enough (Bryan Ferry, 1986, which includes a music video)
Outside of that, the guitar has only been used briefly on stage, with the most notable being in 2004. The performance was fitting as it was an anniversary celebration for the Stratocaster.
Most Expensive Guitars Of All Time, Final Thoughts
Guitarists certainly inspire us, but it’s often their instruments that leave a lasting impression in our psyches. These are the tools that created historic moments, no different than tools made to etch prehistoric cave walls.
Every year, it seems as if music connoisseurs are willing to spend a fortune on these historic guitars. Fortunately, they tend to allow the public to get to see and experience them for themselves.
It’s a safe bet that, once these guitars go back on auction, they’ll fetch even higher prices. Only time can tell what will break the record for the most expensive guitar ever.