One of B.B. King’s iconic Gibson electric guitars — each affectionately nicknamed “Lucille” — will soon hit the auction block. The late blues musician’s black ES-345 prototype, a gift from the guitar company to mark King’s 80th birthday, is valued between $80,000 and $100,000 for Julien’s Auctions’ September 21st sale.
The instrument, which includes a crown inlaid with mother-of-pearl and a headstock emblazoned with “B.B. King 80,” was one of the guitarist’s primary instruments in his later touring years. It is accompanied by a hard leather case featuring “B.B. King” embroidered in gold.
The auction also features other items from the King estate, including a National Medal of Arts presented in 1990 by George H.W. Bush (valued between $20,000 and $30,000), a stage and photoshoot gold ring with ‘BB’ on the top ($8,000 to $10,000), his 2010 G35 Touring Van used during his final tours ($8,000 to $10,000), an 18-karat yellow gold Hopkins & Hopkins pocket watched gifted by U2 (engraved “B.B. King” on the back and “Love U2 ’89” in the interior) ($3,000 to $5,000), his Hollywood Walk of Fame plaque received in 1990 ($4,000 to $6,000), his honorary 1977 Doctorate of Music diploma from Yale University ($800 to $1,200) and a handmade red leather guitar case embossed “Lucille and B.B. King” and inscribed “Happy Birthday from the B.B King Orchestra” ($1,000 to $2,000), among other items.
King, who died in 2015 at age 89, owned a series of “Lucille” guitars over the years. The legend is traced back to 1949, when, after a fire broke out during a brawl at one of his shows, he entered the burning building to rescue the guitar; upon realizing the fight was over a woman named Lucille, he named his future guitars the same — a reminder, Julien’s notes, “to never fight over a woman or run into a burning building.”
The 80th Birthday “Lucille” has an equally fascinating backstory. King used the guitar as his primary stage instrument until it was stolen during the summer of 2009. Months later, a guitar trader named Eric Dahl stumbled upon the axe at a Las Vegas pawn shop, unaware of the instrument’s value. “The whole thing was covered in sweat. The strings were nasty,” he told Gibson.com. “Then I flipped it over and looked at the headstock and it said, ‘Prototype 1’ in a white stamp … I assumed it meant this was one of the original 80th Birthday model Lucilles that B.B. King had approved.”
Intrigued by the headstock, Dahl reached out to Gibson and eventually learned its history. King met with Dahl and traded him a new “Lucille” for the 80th Birthday model.