x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan’s electric guitar sells for $965,000

Instrument he played in 1965 festival appearance fetches record price at auction.

Bob Dylan’s electric guitar has become part of rock history. Alice Ochs / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
Bob Dylan’s electric guitar has become part of rock history. Alice Ochs / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

The sale of Bob Dylan’s electric guitar for $965,000 at a New York auction this month – the highest price ever paid for a guitar – will surely make folk music lovers happy. For it was this guitar that made history in 1965 as the gravel-voiced, epoch-making musician plugged away at the Newport Folk Festival and “went electric”, turning his back on his folk music roots. A buyer identified only as a private individual paid the world record price.

The guitar has become part of rock history, with the Newport crowd booing Dylan for his embrace of electric rock ‘n’ roll marking a sea change in his career. Although it is uncertain whether the festival audience was barracking Dylan for his brief three-song set, the dreadful distortion on the sound system or his new electric sound.

The pre-sale estimate by Christie’s for the guitar, which was sold with its original black leather strap and Fender hard shell case, had been $300,000 to $500,000. The previous record for a guitar sold at auction was held by Eric Clapton’s Fender, nicknamed “Blackie”, which sold at Christie’s for $959,500 in 2004.

With a classic sunburst finish and original flat-wound strings, Dylan’s guitar had been in the possession of a New Jersey family for nearly 50 years after he left it on a private plane following his festival appearance. The pilot’s daughter, Dawn Peterson, said her father asked Dylan’s management what to do with the instrument, and nobody ever got back to him.

Last year, she took the guitar to the US network programme PBS, where the show History Detectives authenticated it, with rock memorabilia experts matching its wood grain to close-up colour photos of Dylan’s instrument at the 1965 festival.

Christie’s also auctioned hand and typewritten lyric fragments found inside the guitar case, early versions of some of Dylan’s songs. They had a pre-sale estimate ranging from $3,000 to $30,000. But only one of them sold, it went for $20,000 and contained draft lyrics for I Wanna Be Your Lover.

ascott@thenational.ae