Music historians say “Black Beauty,” the very first Les Paul guitar, is the instrument that gave birth to rock and roll — and now it’s hitting the auction block.
The word priceless is used often when it comes to collectibles, but Arlan Ettinger, the president of the Guernsey’s auction house, says that’s the only way to look at this:
“Auctions are unpredictable events and just when you say, ‘well, I’ve been doing this a long time so I should know what this will bring,’ I know that I don’t know. Because there is no precedent to point to. If this were the third or the fourth or the fifth like it and one or two others have been sold at auction, than you say, ‘ok, before one like it brought X amount of dollars,’ but that isn’t the case. So it’s anyone’s guess.”
Paul originally received the guitar in 1954, and spent two decades working on it, in partnership with Gibson. He ended up with new hardware and attachments, and an instrument that many experts say created new sounds — giving birth to rock and roll.
Recently, Paul’s friend and co-inventor Tom Doyle talked about “Black Beauty”:
Insiders call it the “Holy Grail” of guitars, because it was the first Les Paul guitar made by Paul himself, and while it’s not fancy, the history makes it particularly attractive to collectors.
“Is it the most beautiful guitar ever made? Clearly not,” says Ettinger. “Is the wood any finer than the wood you could get at a good guitar shop today, probably not. But it’s not about that, it’s about this being the pioneering effort that made a difference, that changed the world in terms of music.”
The changes that Paul made to “Black Beauty” are now standard on Les Paul guitars that some of the most legendary musicians use or have used, including Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Neil Young and Jeff Beck.
Reuters reports that some experts believe the bids for this guitar could go higher than the current record auction price of $965,000 paid in 2013 for the guitar owned and played by Bob Dylan at his first electric performance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.
In the same lot are 14 other items, including Chet Atkin’s prototype guitar, which Paul helped develop, and some of Paul’s studio equipment, handwritten set list notes and other gear.