David Gilmour’s Guitars Sell for Millions at Charity Auction
Update: The purchaser of the Black Strat and the Martin D-35 was Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay. Thew New York Post reports Irsay spent $5.245 million at the auction yesterday, accounting for approximately 24% of its total sales. He celebrated the purchases on Twitter: “The incomparable David Gilmour.. the greatest ‘phrasing’ guitarist in the world!! Honored to bring The Black Strat to the public. The most expensive guitar EVER purchased. And for charity!!!”
Original story: If you’re one of the well-heeled bidders who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at a guitar auction today, it’s time to have a cigar.
David Gilmour’s guitar collection set several auction records when nearly 130 instruments went up for bid at Christie’s in New York today. The former Pink Floyd frontman’s most iconic instrument, the so-called Black Strat, fetched $3,975,000, well above the estimated range of $100,000 to $150,000. Other big-ticket items included a 1954 Fender Stratocaster with the serial number 0001, which was used on the recording of “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” went for over $1.8 million, a 1958 Gretsch White Penguin went for $447,000, and a 1955 Gibson Goldtop Les Paul, also used on “Another Brick” sold for $447,000. Christie’s declared all to be “world auction records.”
An acoustic 1969 Martin D-35, which Gilmour has used as his main acoustic in the studio since 1971, went for a little over $1 million, surpassing a record set by a Martin owned by Eric Clapton. A 1974 Electric Console stele guitar that Gilmour used on live performances of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” went for $300,000 (it was estimated at $2,000). The 1976 Ovation Custom Legend he used to demo “Comfortably Numb” on went for $399,000. The guitar Gilmour played at Live Aid, a 1983 Fender Strat, went for $187,500. A 1984 Fender Stratocaster that George Harrison once played went for $212,500, while a 1986 Strat that Ringo Starr played went for $100,000. And Gilmour’s primary guitar for recording and performing between 1988 and 2005, the “Red Strat,” went for $615,000.
The auction’s final total was $21,490,750. It lasted eight hours, and bidders from 66 countries around the world participated.
“I’m both sad with losing some of the instruments and relieved to get this thing dealt with and that it will be doing some good,” Gilmour told Rolling Stone in January. “If I need a particular guitar, I’ll go out and buy another one. They are the tools of my trade. They have given me music, but in the end, they are the tools that I use.”
Interest in the auction was so high that online viewing maxed out early. The instruments had been shown at the auction house’s showrooms in London and Los Angeles earlier in the year before heading to New York. Before the auction was half over, Christie’s had logged over $10 million in total sales.
The auction’s centerpiece, the Black Strat, has a unique history, which is why it was so desirable. Gilmour purchased it at the instrument shop Manny’s in New York in May 1970 to replace another Strat that was stolen. Over the years, he made many modifications to it, changing its pickups, switches, inputs, tuners, and neck in the quest for the perfect sound. He played the instrument on nearly all of Pink Floyd’s iconic recordings from 1970 to 1983, including Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall. In the mid Eighties, Fender introduced a new line of Stratocasters and Gilmour picked up the Red Strat, retiring the Black Strat and loaning it to the Hard Rock Cafe. It was displayed in the restaurant chain’s Dallas location until 1997. Gilmour started using it again live for Pink Floyd’s reunion with Roger Waters in 2005 at Live 8. He continued to record with it on his solo albums, but Fender wound up making a replica of it in 2006 that he liked.
“You know something? For me, I can let go of it,” Gilmour told Rolling Stone. “It’s going to bring a lot of people to have a look at this sale, and it’s going to do that job. It’s a lovely guitar. … I did my ‘Comfortably Numb’ solo on it. The notes for the beginning of ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ fell out of it one day. It’s on so much stuff, but Fender have made replica ones that they sell, and I have two or three of those that are absolutely perfect. One of those might be my future guitar of choice or even, horror of horror, maybe I’ll even change the color.”
A day before the auction, Gilmour revealed that the money from the auction would benefit ClientEarth, which funds environmental lawyers and experts in the fight against climate change. “The global climate crisis is the greatest challenge that humanity will ever face, and we are within a few years of the effects of global warming being irreversible,” he said in a statement. “We need a civilized world that goes on for all our grandchildren and beyond in which these guitars can be played and songs can be sung.”
In an interview with Rolling Stone at the time the auction was announced, Gilmour underscored that the sale should not be interpreted as a step toward retirement. Instead, he said, he was merely cleaning house. “Retiring is not a hard and fast thing for me in my life,” he said. “I don’t really have to retire. I don’t have to say those words. I don’t have to state that have retired or anything like that. If I retire, it will be a quiet, unnoticeable process at some point. But I’m not at that moment.”