“I don't think he would have swapped it for anything in the world. Truthfully, it was his wife”: Rory Gallagher’s legendary ’61 Stratocaster to be sold at auction

Rory Gallagher's Stratocaster, stood against a Vox amplifier
(Image credit: Future)

Rory Gallagher’s instantly recognizable 1961 Fender Stratocaster is set to be sold at auction, leaving his family’s charge for the first time. 

It was the Irish blues sensation’s weapon of choice as he carved out a superlative legacy as one of the world’s most inventive electric guitar players, across a career spanning three decades. 

Purchased by a then 15-year-old Gallagher for £100 in 1963 from Crowley’s Music Store in Cork, Ireland, and paid for in installments, it has been preserved by Rory’s brother and former manager, Dónal, since his passing in 1995. 

Now, Dónal believes the time is right for someone else to “cherish” the instrument. 

“Since 1995, I have always felt that there was a mission to be fulfilled to cement Rory's legacy and widen the knowledge of his music,” he says. “So, in what is one of the most difficult and sensitive decisions to reach, I have decided to facilitate the release of his instruments for sale, so that these emblems of his legacy can be enjoyed by others.”

Rory Gallagher – holding his beloved '61 Strat – photographed for his Top Priority album cover on June 11, 1979

(Image credit: Brian Cooke/Redferns)

The auction is being handled by Bonhams, which has previously sold iconic guitars once owned by Peter Green and George Harrison. Considering its history, it is set to be offered with an estimated value of £700,000 – £1,000,000 (up to approximately $1.3 million).   

The guitar represents the star piece in Bonham’s The Rory Gallagher Collection, which includes a select number of his guitars, amps, and virtuoso-approved accessories. 

While Gallagher played a number of electric guitars over the years, including a ’59 Fender Esquire, a ‘63 Gretsch Corvette, and a 1932 National Resonator, his Stratocaster was the one he was rarely seen without, and it has a storied past. 

The instrument first belonged to Jim Conlon of The Royal Showband, who was supposedly forced to play the sunburst model despite ordering a red finish. 

It’s said to be the first-ever Stratocaster to make its way to Ireland, but the accolade wasn’t enough for Conlon to keep hold of the instrument, and he sold it six months later. That led to Gallagher’s ‘63 purchase and, because of its rarity, the sunburst Strat quickly became synonymous with Gallagher’s talents.  

Rory Gallagher - Tattoo'd Lady (From "Irish Tour" DVD & Blu-Ray) - YouTube Rory Gallagher - Tattoo'd Lady (From
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The guitar’s stripped and rugged look is a huge part of its palpable aura. Yet, while many will believe it’s the result of tireless touring beneath Gallagher’s fingers – and that is indeed a major contributor – it isn’t the only reason it looks the way it does. 

The guitar was stolen from Gallagher in 1966, with national TV channel RTE subsequently running a news report on its disappearance. 

Perhaps then realizing they’d bitten off more than they could chew, the thief discarded the instrument in a rainy ditch, where it was left for several days. 

The damage caused during those days broke the finish's resistance and Gallagher’s punchdrunk playing did the rest. 

Gallagher changed the pickups on the guitar several times, while a neck replacement was required after the guitar had soaked up too much of Gallagher’s sweat during his high-intensity live shows. Its original tuners and pickguard have also been replaced.  

Rory’s right-hand technique was notably aggressive, hence the number of pinch harmonics that would seep into his playing, and thus, the second pickguard has been split through playing, noticeable above the neck pickup. 

Rory Gallagher's 1962 Fender Stratocaster and Vox AC30 amplifier, with a copy of his 1971 self-titled debut solo album

(Image credit: Future)

Allowing Guitarist to get up close and personal with Rory's cherished axe, Rory's nephew, Daniel, said “it meant a hell of a lot to him, and was a huge part of his sound.

“He played it to death. I don't think he would have swapped it for anything in the world,” he added. “Truthfully, it was his wife.”  

“Rory Gallagher’s 1961 Fender Stratocaster was an enormous part of his life and was with him from the very start of his career right until the end,” says Claire Tole-Moir, Head of Bonhams' Popular Culture Department. 

“It could be said that it was on this guitar that he carved out his legacy of being one of the greatest guitarists of all time.” 

The auction, which takes place on October 17, will surely stand as one of the most high-profile guitar auctions of 2024. If the final figure reaches the upper echelons of the estimate, it could become one of the most expensive six-strings to be sold at auction. 

Head over to Bonhams to find out more.

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.