The Most Expensive Guitars In Rock History

As any musician will tell you, a musical instrument is almost like a living thing. Over time, it takes on a personality synthesized from imperfections, wear and tear, and custom touches added by the musician. It's little wonder that some of the highest-paid and most famous guitarists in the world have fixated on specific guitars that gave them a sound or a "feel" they couldn't get with any other instrument. It's a mystical connection.

And it's also no surprise that fans of rock music would want to share in that connection, if only vicariously. Owning one of the guitars on this list — guitars that have been used to compose, record, and play some of the most famous rock songs of all time — is a way of owning a piece of history, and maybe a way of approximating what it must feel like to be one of those geniuses who can take a string of notes and seemingly effortlessly turn them into a soaring anthem, a legendary riff, or a searing guitar solo.

How do you put a price on all that? You can't, really, but these folks certainly tried, and the results are the most expensive guitars in rock history.

Jerry Garcia's Tiger: $957,500

For folks who grew up when rock 'n' roll exploded, took over the world, and became the soundtrack to the counterculture, the Grateful Dead were legendary. They were seemingly always on tour, and people would follow them around, trading bootleg concert recordings and celebrating a lifestyle focused on freedom and music.

Jerry Garcia, the band's frontman and lead singer, bought the custom-built guitar known as Tiger (because of the tiger illustration on the pre-amp cover) from luthier Doug Irwin in the early 1970s. He played it almost exclusively for the next ten years, using it in some of the Dead's most iconic appearances. Later, Tiger became Garcia's backup guitar, but at Garcia's final concert appearance, a problem with his main guitar saw him bring Tiger out one last time. It was the last guitar he played in public.

As SFGate reports, when Garcia died, he specified in his will that Tiger and other guitars built by Irwin be returned to the luthier, which was good news for Irwin, who'd fallen on hard times. But the band sued, claiming ownership of the guitar. The suit was settled, with Irwin getting ownership of Tiger and a second guitar, Wolf, with the stipulation that he sell them at auction. When the dust settled, Tiger had sold for a total of $957,500, making it one of the most expensive guitars in the world.

Eric Clapton's Blackie: $959,500

If you're a fan of guitar-based rock music, you know that Eric Clapton is considered one of the greatest blues-style guitar players of all time. There was a period in the mid- to late 1960s when "Clapton is God" was common graffiti around the world, and he's responsible for some of the most recognizable guitar riffs ever written, including the legendary riff for "Layla."

Professional musicians often build their own instruments in an attempt to capture a unique sound. Clapton originally played Gibson guitars, but in 1970, he switched over to Fender models. As Fender itself reports, he bought six vintage 1950s Stratocasters at a guitar shop in Nashville, noting that they were so out of fashion that they were cheap. He gave three away to friends (relative unknowns named Pete Townshend, Steve Winwood, and George Harrison) and kept the other three, which he took to a luthier and used to construct his ultimate Strat, using the body of one, the neck of another, and the pickups and other parts of the third. The result was Blackie, which was used to compose, record, and play some of his most famous songs, including "Cocaine," "I Shot The Sheriff," and "Wonderful Tonight."

According to Today, Clapton donated Blackie to a charity auction benefiting drug and alcohol rehab facility Crossroads Centre Antigua. The auction ultimately raised nearly $7.5 million — and $959,500 of that was for Blackie, making it the most expensive guitar in the world — for a while.

Bob Dylan's 1964 Fender Stratocaster: $965,000

When Bob Dylan plugged in his Fender Strat at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, it was a big deal. Dylan had become a superstar of the resurgent folk music scene, and his politically charged songs made him the unofficial spokesperson of an entire generation. His fans in the folk world saw his move toward electric guitar-based rock music as a betrayal. When he plugged in at Newport, he was booed, and for years, whenever he brought out the electric guitars in concert, part of his audience would rebel.

Today, it's easy to see Dylan's decision as part of his still-ongoing evolution as a musician. If he'd stayed safely within folk music, the world would have left him behind. As it is, his first public performance using electric instruments made the 1964 Strat he used world-famous. Incredibly, as the Daily Mail reports, it wound up in the possession of a family in New Jersey when Dylan left it behind on a private jet. The pilot called Dylan's management but never heard back, though there was some sort of a settlement years later.

When the guitar showed up at famous auction house Christie's in 2013, they had high hopes for a a selling price of $500,000 or so. Instead, as Rolling Stone reports, the guitar sold to a private individual for $965,000.

David Gilmour's Martin D-35 acoustic: $1.095 million

If you're a fan of rock music and you've ever tried to learn how to play guitar, chances are one of the first songs you tackled was Pink Floyd's 1975 classic "Wish You Were Here." The song's iconic guitar riffs are the perfect combination of simple (it's written in G Major and uses a lot of open-string chords) and subtly complex — and they're instantly recognizable.

Gilmour played a 1969 Martin D-35 when he recorded the song, whose lyrics are often linked to founding member Syd Barrett's mental deterioration. In 2019, Gilmour announced he'd be putting several of his guitars, including the D-35, up for auction in order to benefit ClientEarth, an environmental law charity. As Paste Magazine notes, the D-35 wasn't even the main attraction (that was Gilmour's Black Strat, which was used in recording most of Pink Floyd's most famous albums, including The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall), but it still fetched $1.095 million.

The winner of the auction was Jim Isray, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts. According to Consequence of Sound, Gilmour described the D-35 as the "best guitar I own," and the auction price set a record for Martin guitars. The money raised by the auction (more than $5.2 million) will be used to combat climate change.

The 1958 Gibson Explorer: $1.1 Million

Unlike some famous guitars, the 1958 Gibson Explorer isn't famous just because some really famous guitarists played it — or at least not only because of that. It's also famous because it's an incredibly rare model. As Reverb notes, the Explorer was originally developed in 1957, but only about 50 were ever produced and shipped from the factory. Aside from an unusual body shape for the time, the distinctive guitar used Korina wood, a rare and difficult-to-obtain African wood (also known as Limba).

The Explorers that made their way into the world became prized collector's items. As times changed, the futuristic body shape became extremely popular among hard rock and heavy metal musicians, and Gibson brought the Explorer back into production using more traditional wood for the bodies. But the original Explorers from the late 1950s remained a sort of Holy Grail for professionals.

As Ultimate Guitar reports, a 1958 Gibson Explorer described as "the holy grail of vintage instruments'" was sold by Denmark Street Guitars (a London music store) for $1.1 million. This particular Explorer was famous for having been owned and played by legends like Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, Kirk Hammett of Metallica, and Slash of Guns N' Roses.

Bob Marley's Washburn 22 Hawk: $1.2 million

Jamaican musician Bob Marley was an astoundingly talented man. A trailblazer who combined elements of reggae, ska, and other musical forms to create a sound that was unlike anything else the world had ever heard, he became famous across the globe. Songs like "One Love," "I Shot the Sheriff," and "No Woman, No Cry" have become embedded in pop culture.

Marley was known to be a very simple person in his personal habits, and unlike other rock stars who collected multiple instruments, Marley was known to have owned a grand total of seven guitars over the course of his lifetime. The Washburn 22 series Hawk was reportedly Marley's favorite.

When Marley passed away from cancer at the age of 36, rumor has it that the Jamaican government was quick to declare many of his iconic possessions to be national treasures and spent huge sums to acquire them. One of the items they reportedly bought was his Washburn 22. While there is no confirmation of the sale or the sale price, The Telegraph reports that this iconic guitar is valued at somewhere between $1.2 and $2 million.

Jerry Garcia's Wolf: $1.9 million

Fans of the Grateful Dead are among the most passionate and dedicated in the world, so it's no surprise that they paid attention to every detail of the band's recordings and live performances — including the guitars that lead singer Jerry Garcia used. Garcia played a lot of different guitars over the course of his long career (and was famous for giving them away when he no longer played them), but he was closely associated with just a handful that he played throughout his career.

According to the official Jerry Garcia website, the guitar known as Wolf was the first that Garcia asked Doug Irwin to customize for him. After taking delivery, Garcia affixed a sticker of a bloodthirsty wolf to the guitar, thus earning the instrument its nickname. Garcia used it as one of his main guitars from 1973 to 1995. As reported by Variety, when Garcia died, he left the five guitars built by Irwin to the luthier, but the band sued, claiming ownership of the instruments. When they settled, Irwin was granted ownership of two of the guitars, including Wolf, with the agreement that he would put them up for auction.

According to Rolling Stone, that worked out okay for Irwin, because Wolf sold for an astonishing $1.9 million. The guitar was purchased by Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot, with the money benefiting the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Peter Green and Gary Moore's 1959 Les Paul: $2 million

Guitar players know that every guitar is unique, and certain models have certain qualities — qualities that are often impossible to quantify. The 1959 Les Paul Standard (example pictured above) is one of those guitars. As famed guitarist Joe Bonamassa explains, the 1959 Les Paul Standard is revered for its special tone and is highly prized by professional guitarists, who will often pay six figures to acquire one. Ironically, the guitar was marketed as an affordable model by Gibson when initially released.

These guitars have their own unique histories forged by the legendary musicians that have played them over the years. One 1959 Les Paul Standard in particular became one of the most sought-after guitars of all time because it was owned by Peter Green, who founded the iconic band Fleetwood Mac, and later by his protégé Gary Moore. The Les Paul has a peculiar tone because of an unusual setup, which has made it a must-have for guitar aficionados.

As reported by Guitar World, Metallica lead guitarist Kirk Hammett spent years trying to acquire the guitar, finally paying $2 million for it. Hammett has said that he thinks it's better to play these guitars than to have them owned by people who regard them solely as investments.

Jimi Hendrix's Woodstock Strat: $2 million

Fifty years after his death, Jimi Hendrix remains one of the most famous guitarists in history. His virtuosity and innovation with the instrument continue to influence musicians today, and his live performances continue to thrill. One of the most iconic of those performances was his appearance in 1969 at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair.

Hendrix was famous for setting guitars on fire, a practice The Daily Telegraph reports began as a way to garner attention and get some publicity. But the guitar that collectors put the most value on isn't one he burned — it's the 1968 Fender Stratocaster he played at Woodstock. As Fender itself proudly notes, this is the guitar that Hendrix used to play his wild version of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Hendrix affectionately named the instrument Izabella. It was also the last guitar he played in public before his untimely death.

According to The Telegraph, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen bought Izabella in 1998 for a cool $2 million. Since most guitarists can't come up with that kind of money (or Allen's phone number), Fender introduced an official replica that matches Izabella's specs. It's still not exactly cheap, going for about $7,000 — and only 250 were manufactured, ensuring that the price will only get higher.

The Reach Out to Asia Fender Strat: $2.7 million

Sometimes, guitars become incredibly valuable because of their tone and sound. Sometimes, they become valuable because of what genius musicians managed to do with them — the songs they were played on, the concerts in which they were used. But sometimes, their value is engineered, which is what happened with the white Fender Stratocaster known as the Reach Out to Asia Strat.

The Reach Out to Asia project was organized by Canadian rock star Bryan Adams to raise money for the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and the resulting tsunami. As The Telegraph reports, the Strat was signed by some of the most famous guitarists and rock stars of all time, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Brian May, Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, Mark Knopfler, Ray Davies, Liam Gallagher, Ronnie Wood, Tony Iommi, Angus and Malcolm Young, Paul McCartney, Sting, Ritchie Blackmore, Def Leppard, and, of course, Bryan Adams himself.

The Irish Examiner notes that the idea to auction off a signed guitar came from Adams. The guitar went up for auction and sold for $2.7 million — making it, for a moment, the most expensive guitar of all time.

David Gilmour's Black Strat: $3.975 million

Some guitarists play a wide variety of instruments, jumping from model and manufacturer depending on the needs of the material. Some are extremely loyal to specific models but always sport new gear. And others, like Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, form bonds with specific instruments and use them for decades. In Gilmour's case, there was one particular guitar that became legendary in rock circles: the Black Strat.

According to Fender, Gilmour bought the Stratocaster in 1970 and debuted it that year onstage. It quickly became his primary electric guitar, and what makes it truly unique is that Gilmour never stopped customizing it. Gilmour and his guitar technicians installed different necks, pickup swaps, and other adjustments over the years. The end result was a guitar that was literally one of a kind — a unique instrument that had been played on Pink Floyd's most famous albums: The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall.

According to Paste Magazine, Gilmour put several of his guitars up for auction to benefit charity in 2019, and the Black Strat naturally garnered most of the attention — and most of the bids. It finally sold to Jim Isray, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, for an astonishing $3.975 million.

Kurt Cobain's MTV Unplugged Guitar: $6 million

It's official: The most expensive guitar in the world is a grunge icon. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the customized 1959 Martin D-18E that Kurt Cobain played during Nirvana's 1993 MTV Unplugged appearance — less than a year before the rock star killed himself — sold for a whopping $6 million at auction. That price makes it far and away the most valuable guitar of all time.

The guitar was extremely valuable even before Cobain made it legendary. According to Consequence of Sound, only 300 were made, making it a rare and sought-after instrument to begin with. The guitar was originally in the possession of Cobain's family. Most recently, his daughter, Francis Bean, had the guitar. But as Guitar World reports, when she divorced her husband Isaiah Silva in 2018, Cobain gave the guitar to him as part of the settlement. Silva claimed that she'd given him the guitar as a gift, which Francis Bean denied.

The guitar was not expected to sell for such a high price despite its pedigree. Rolling Stone reports that it had been estimated that the guitar would fetch about $1 million — still an impressive amount of money, but nowhere near the legendary price it actually got. It was purchased by Peter Freedman, owner of Røde Microphones.