Online auction sites like eBay grab all the press these days, even though consumers spend double the money at live auctions (some $268 billion a year). And while auction houses can be a bit hermetic, several are enjoying rock-star status in the media right now—by putting some world-famous musical instruments on the block.
“We generally have to work hard to garner publicity,” said Darren Julien, founder of Julien’s Auctions. But not now. On May 17, the L.A. house will sell a 1962 Rickenbacker used by The Beatles.
The story’s the same at Nashville’s Gruhn Guitars, which just sold the first production Fender Stratocaster. “Our shop can get quite a bit of attention from those interested in fine fretted instruments,” said manager Sarah Jones, but this sale put the store “in a much wider spotlight.”
Arlan Ettinger has known the value of earned media since founding Guernsey’s in 1975. “Interesting auctions draw the media and help us reach a greater audience,” he says—and Ettinger’s has drawn lots of attention for the 265 of the world’s rarest guitars he sold on April 2-3 in New York.
Below, a few things for that musical wish list.
George Harrison’s Rickenbacker
In 1963, the Quiet Beatle bought this Rickenbacker 425 from a music store in Benton, Illinois. Later, he played it on “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” If you want to hold this six string in your hand, head for Julien’s Auctions in New York on May 16 (and bring a little more than $600,000, which is the estimated high.)
The Fender Stratocaster (As in: The First One)
You just missed your chance to drop $250K on this, the very first Strat that Fender made (no. 0100, turned out in 1954) from Nashville’s Gruhn Guitars. “We see a lot of great instruments,” operations manager Sarah Jones told us. “But everyone here feels very lucky to have met this one.”
The McDonald Stradivari Viola
The last Stradivarius to go on sale was the “Lady Blunt” violin in 2011—and it went for $15.9 million. But there are some 600 violins made by Antonio Stradivari out there, and only 10 violas. Which means this one’s going to set a record. Sealed bids (minimum $45 million) will be opened at Christie’s on June 25. (Wanna hear it? David Aaron Carpenter goes to town on this video. )
1930 Martin OM-45 Deluxe (and 264 other amazing guitars)
California collector Hank Risan easily has the most impressive collection of vintage guitars in the world. But everyone needs to ease off eventually, and on April 2 and 3, Guernsey’s was scheduled to sell of 265 of Risan’s, uh, extras—including rarities like an 1862 Antonio de Torres, a 1936 Epiphone Emperor and this 1930 Martin (starting bid $875,000.)
Paul McCartney’s 1907 Bechstein Grand
If you remember the Beatles film Help!, you’ve seen this piano before—but the 107 year-old concert grand has an even more enduring place in history: This was the piano on which Paul McCartney wrote “Yesterday.” On March 20, it sold at London’s Omega Auctions for just under $99,000—a price that’s very today.