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Iconic Les Paul 'Black Beauty' Guitar to Hit Auction Block

  • Reuters

One deep-pocketed bidder will get a chance to own a piece of rock and roll history when the iconic Les Paul guitar known as “Black Beauty” goes up for auction in New York next month.

The electric instrument, which is the original prototype for the Les Paul Custom guitars made by the Gibson Guitar Company, will be sold by Guernsey's Auctions at the Arader Galleries on Feb. 19.

Les Paul's Original 1954 Black Custom 'Black Beauty" (Photo: Courtesy Guernsey's Auction House)

Les Paul's Original 1954 Black Custom 'Black Beauty" (Photo: Courtesy Guernsey's Auction House)

No pre-auction estimate, or reserve price, has been put on the instrument. But some music experts believe it could exceed the 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.

“This instrument,” said Guernsey's President Arlan Ettinger, “is referred to as the grail, the Holy Grail, because it was the first Les Paul guitar made by Mr. Les Paul that gave birth to the thousands and thousands of instruments that bear that name and that resemble this instrument.”

Paul, a pioneering musician and inventor, collaborated with guitar makers Gibson, who approached him in the early 1950s to build a true electric guitar.

The solid body guitar was delivered to him in 1954 and continuously modified as Paul sought to perfect its sound until it was last used in 1976, when he gave it to his close friend Tom Doyle. The black guitar with gold hardware features fine inlays and bindings around the entire instrument.

Ettinger said the instrument originally had different hardware and attachments and the pickguard did not look the same.

“But through the next 20 years it evolved as he was experimenting to get new sounds and the maximum excitement of what he created,” he said.

Many people, Ettinger added, suggest the guitar's electric sound gave birth to rock and roll.

The upgrades, modifications and changes on the “Black Beauty” set the standard for other Les Paul guitars, which are owned by musicians such as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Neil Young and Jeff Beck.

The February sale will be a litmus test in the auction market for vintage guitars.

When a bidder bought Dylan's 1964 Fender Stratocaster for its record price it was nearly double its pre-sale estimate and surpassed the $959,500 paid in 2004 for Eric Clapton's Fender Stratocaster.

Last year, however, an auction featuring 265 prized guitars from California collector Hank Risan produced disappointing results.