“He played the inspired solo with a broken arm... like all great artists, he truly suffered for his art”: Ian Bairnson's Wuthering Heights Les Paul Custom surpasses expectations as it's sold at auction

Ian Bairnson's Les Paul Custom
(Image credit: Gardiner Houlgate)

The Les Paul Custom responsible for the solo on Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights has sold for £21,500 (approx $27,500) at auction. 

The figure vastly surpasses the estimated £10,000 it would accumulate at the auction at Gardiner Houlgate in the UK. Before fees, the winning bid clocked in at £17,000 (approx $21,824). 

The 1974 Les Paul Custom was played by Ian Bairnson, who had a broken arm at the time of tracking the chart-topping hit. 

Bairnson passed in 2023, aged 69, with Kate Bush taking to her website to remember his talents.   

She said: “We lost touch after we worked together on my early albums but I remember he had a lovely, warm smile and he played the inspired solo on Wuthering Heights with a broken arm. He was still wearing the cast! He was in a lot of pain but soldiered on and like all great artists, he truly suffered for his art.” 

Auctioneer Luke Hobbs had said the price “was quite deserved,” despite the fact that modifications to the guitar had impacted its value. 

“The guitar itself – in original condition – is worth probably £5,000,” says Hobbs. “With the modifications that it had, probably more like £3,000-4,000. That guitar has done significant work over the years.” 

The guitar sports a cherry sunburst finished maple veneer on a mahogany pancake body, and an ebony fretboard. There's a buckle rash patch on its back, with “further dings and marks” noted by the auctioneer. 

According to Gardiner Holgate, Bairnson’s modifications include replacement Tom Holmes Vintage Style humbucker pickups with aftermarket coil switches.  

However, its desirability at auction has surpassed expectations. 

“I have been quite blown away by the response to the sale of his collection [which includes 12 of his guitars],” Hobbs told Antiques Trade Gazette. “In this same auction, we are offering the ex-Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden’s collection as well as guitars owned by Eric Clapton, Gary Moore, Peter Green, and many more.

Ian Bairnson's Kate Bush/Pilot 1974 Gibson Les Paul Custom | June 2024 Demos | Guitar Auctions at GH - YouTube Ian Bairnson's Kate Bush/Pilot 1974 Gibson Les Paul Custom | June 2024 Demos | Guitar Auctions at GH - YouTube
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“The reaction to Ian Bairnson’s collection has so far surpassed interest in some of these mammoth names in the guitar world. I think that says it all!”

It's fitting that the guitar would exceed expectations at auction when the song it was used to track itself exceeded initial expectations. 

Released in 1978 as a tribute to Emily Brontë's classic gothic novel, it became the first UK number one written and performed by a female artist. It topped the charts in six countries in total, including Italy and Australia. 

Ian Bairnson's Les Paul Custom, sitting in its case

(Image credit: Gardiner Houlgate)

Bairnson bought the guitar in 1974, and it quickly became his go-to six-string. It featured throughout his work with his band, Pilot, as well as with the Alan Parsons Project and Kate Bush's first four studio albums.  

The guitar sold with its original hard case, featuring a ‘Pilot’ stencil logo.  

For more info on the guitar, visit Gardiner Houlgate.

Phil Weller

A freelance writer with a penchant for music that gets weird, Phil is a regular contributor to ProgGuitar World, and Total Guitar magazines and is especially keen on shining a light on unknown artists. Outside of the journalism realm, you can find him writing angular riffs in progressive metal band, Prognosis, in which he slings an 8-string Strandberg Boden Original, churning that low string through a variety of tunings. He's also a published author and is currently penning his debut novel which chucks fantasy, mythology and humanity into a great big melting pot.