This is an excerpt from the all-new MAY/JUNE 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this complete story and more photos, plus features on Beatles gear collectors, Dave Mustaine and his Mustaine Vineyards wines, Twisted Sister guitarist Eddie Ojeda and his new line of hot sauces and D’Angelico signature model guitar, and our Ultimate Luxury Products Guide, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.
BUYER’S CLUB: Collectors and celebrities converged in Manhattan for Guernsey’s 2016 Guitar Auction.
By Alan di Perna
Encompassing about 250 lots, Guernsey’s February 27 Guitar Auction at Manhattan’s Bohemian National Hall offered a dazzling array of celebrity, historic, rare, and beautiful guitars. Sale items embraced a balanced cross-section of acoustic and electric guitars—solidbodies, archtops, and flattops dating back as far as 1880 and moving right up through the present day. Instruments from the industry’s biggest names—Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, Ibanez, Martin, PRS, Rickenbacker, Taylor, and more—were well represented, as were guitars from bygone masters like Joseph Bohmann, John D’Angelico, Jimmy D’Aquisto, the Larson Brothers, and Stromberg, and current classics from Beardsell, Benedetto, Buscarino, and Traugott.
Instruments owned by celebrity players like Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, George Benson, Eddie Van Halen, and Johnny Winter attracted most of the attention and highest bids, but the auction also included various historically important guitars played by Billy Bauer, Tony Mottola, and Don Peake (a session guitarist with the Wrecking Crew). Many top players were also in the crowd that converged on the Bohemian Hall to observe the sale and bid for items.
“It was thrilling to have someone like Pat Metheny in attendance at the auction and buying,” says Guernsey’s president Arlan Ettinger, “just as it was to see the folks from Martin and other people who rank high in the world of guitars. The sale looked great. We couldn’t have been complimented more on the presentation of the instruments. Everybody had a good time, and we’re pleased with that. We sold probably three-quarters of the items, and there have a been a lot of callers since then, looking to acquire what remains.”
For those who missed the event, here are 10 noteworthy guitars that went up on the block.
Tony Mottola’s 1952 Gibson Super 400 CES Seven-String Custom
This unique and gorgeous archtop electric is one of only two seven-string Super 400s ever made, and the only one built with 24 frets. It was custom-made for top-ranking session guitarist Tony Mottola (1918–2004), noted for his work with Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and Doc Severinsen’s Tonight Show Orchestra. As Gibson didn’t normally produce seven-string Super 400s, the Mottola guitar is remarkable for its many custom appointments, including dual P-90 pickups with seven pole pieces, and a bridge and tailpiece specially tooled to accommodate seven strings. Carrying a pre-sale estimate of $60–70,000, this historic guitar unfortunately didn’t find a buyer.
Eddie Van Halen’s 1982 Charvel
This guitar played a brief role in metal icon Eddie Van Halen’s long and sometimes turbulent history with Charvel Guitars. The story began in the mid-Seventies, when Van Halen built his iconic black-and-white-striped “Frankenstein” guitar from parts he purchased from Wayne Charvel and Lynn Ellsworth. After Grover Jackson purchased the Charvel name in late 1978 and began producing “Van Halen Model” instruments without the guitarist’s authorization, Ed’s relationship with the Charvel company soured. Van Halen issued a cease-and-desist order in 1982, but just prior to doing so he apparently took delivery of five Charvel/Jackson guitars. The guitar in the Guernsey’s auction was one of the five, given to Van Halen free of charge, presumably as a peace offering from Grover Jackson.
Features of this guitar include a wide nut width, slim neck profile, DiMarzio Super Distortion humbucking pickup, and brass vintage Strat-style non-locking vibrato tailpiece. Each Charvel “Van Halen Model” had a unique striping pattern, so this instrument is easily identifiable as the one Van Halen played on a 1982 episode of the Entertainment Tonight television program. (A DVD of the segment was included with the lot.) This distinctive piece of heavy metal history claimed a final sale price of $84,375 (including buyer’s premium).
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s circa 1966-67 Fender Stratocaster
Like many of the guitars owned and played by the late Texan ax icon Stevie Ray Vaughan, this three-tone sunburst Strat bears several custom touches added by the artist himself during his lifetime, including his autograph, signed in gold ink and dated ’90. A familiar feature from other Vaughan Strats are the initials SRV spelled out in automotive lettering stickers, while a faded and worn sticker with the word “Cobras” barely legible is affixed to the pickguard. This would seem to associate the instrument with Vaughan’s 1975–’77 tenure with Paul Ray and the Cobras in Austin, Texas. In another custom blandishment, again characteristic of SRV, the rear body neck plate is engraved with the legend STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN DALLAS, TX. The guitar sold for a solid $80,000 (not including buyer’s premium).
Gordon Waller’s 1964 Gibson J-160E
While the J-160E model is most closely associated with the Beatles, it was a favorite of many British Invaders, including Gordon Waller (1945–2009) of the hit-making mid-Sixties duo Peter and Gordon. As substantial play wear indicates, the guitar was one of Waller’s favorites, used on many Peter & Gordon hits, such as the Lennon–McCartney-penned “World Without Love.” The guitar has come down through the years pretty much unaltered, save for one new reproduction control knob and some internal signs that an additional acoustic pickup was added and subsequently removed at some point in the instrument’s history. The guitar claimed $4,000 (not including buyer’s premium).
1971 Rickenbacker Model 331 Lightshow Guitar & 1970 Transonic TS100 Amp
(See photo at top of articles)
A Rick model long coveted by collectors, the legendary Lightshow guitar was produced by Rickenbacker in relatively small quantities between 1970 and 1975. The Guernsey’s sale paired a Lightshow guitar in museum condition with another innovative Rickenbacker design from the same period, a 1970 Transonic TS100 combo amp. The Lightshow guitar was the company’s response to the late-Sixties vogue for light shows at rock concerts. It was based on the Rickenbacker Model 330, but was outfitted with a bound neck, translucent plastic top, and a series of colored lamps built into the body. Different colors lit up depending on the frequencies played on the guitar: red for treble, yellow for mids, and blue for bass. Case candy offered with the guitar included setup instructions, transformer, extra bulbs, cables, and cleaning cloth.
Dating from the same period, the 100-watt, solid-state Rickenbacker Transonic amp was a highly innovative design incorporating a built-in fuzz circuit, guitar tuner, and eye-catching trapezoidal cabinet shape. Sold as a pair this dynamic duo claimed a final sale price of $20,000.
Johnny Winter’s Erlewine Custom White Lazer
A dramatic late entry to the Guernsey’s sale was an Eighties-era Erlewine Lazer guitar owned and played by the late blues guitar legend Johnny Winter. It was consigned by the Winter family and touched off some of the auction’s most vigorous bidding. Winter first discovered headless, lightweight Lazer electrics in 1984 when luthier Mark Erlewine brought a production model to one of the guitarist’s shows in Texas. Suffering from back problems at the time, Winter appreciated the instrument’s light weight and also felt that it combined the best characteristics of a Les Paul and a Strat. He played a Lazer on his 1984 Guitar Slinger album, also featuring the instrument on the cover.
The white Lazer in the Guernsey’s sale is one that Erlewine custom-made for Winter in 1989, and which Winter later decorated with decals. This iconic instrument became the basis for the Erlewine Johnny Winter signature model Lazers. Bidding for the guitar began at $90,000, climbing to a final sale price of $180,000 (not including buyer’s premium).
To see other guitars included in this auction, pick up the May/June 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado.
This is an excerpt from the all-new MAY/JUNE 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this complete story and more photos, plus features on Beatles Gear Collectors, Dave Mustaine and his Mustaine Vineyards wines, Twisted Sister guitarist Eddie Ojeda and his new line of hot sauces and D’Angelico signature model guitar, and our Ultimate Luxury Products Guide, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.