Top 10 Most Expensive Guitars of All Time


Top-10-Most-Expensive-Guitars

Guitar is the second-most popular instrument in the world, and it’s also one of the most affordable. But while most guitars might only set you back a few hundred bucks, others sell for millions!

The most expensive guitar in the world is Kurt Cobain’s 1959 Martin D-18E. Cobain played this guitar during the November 1993 MTV Unplugged session featuring Nirvana, making it instantly iconic when the episode aired in December of the same year. This guitar sold for $6.01 million in 2020.

If you’re a guitarist looking to add a high-value six-string to your collection, or you’re simply curious about the world’s priciest instruments, you’ll want to check out this ranking of the priciest guitars of all time.

Here Are the Top 10 Most Expensive Guitars of All Time:

  1. Kurt Cobain’s 1959 Martin D-18E – $6.01 million
  2. Kurt Cobain’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Fender Mustang – $4.55 million
  3. The Black Strat – $3.97 million
  4. Reach Out to Asia Fender – $2.7 million
  5. John Lennon’s Gibson J-160E – $2.41 million
  6. Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Fender Stratocaster – $2 million
  7. Peter Green and Gary Moore’s 1959 Les Paul – $2 million
  8. Jerry Garcia’s “Wolf” Guitar – $1.9 million
  9. David Gilmour’s White Fender Stratocaster – $1.8 million
  10. David Gilmour’s Studio Acoustic – $1.09 million

10. David Gilmour’s Studio Acoustic – $1.09 Million

David-Gilmour's-Studio-Acoustic
photo source: Christie’s

Acoustic guitars are often worth far less than electric models. That’s because acoustic guitars are often more fragile than electric ones, and they’re far less compatible with live performances, as they typically don’t come with built-in tuners or amps.

But this acoustic guitar breaks the mold, selling for $1.09 million at a Christie’s auction in 2019. For perspective, that’s about 77 times pricier than the most expensive concert tickets ever sold.

Still, this isn’t your typical six-string acoustic. No, this acoustic was once owned and played by classic rock legend David Gilmour.

Why It’s Expensive

Pink Floyd is one of the most revered classic rock bands of the 20th century. David Gilmour was Pink Floyd’s lead guitarist, making him one of the best-known guitarists on the planet.

Because of this fame and popularity, Gilmour’s guitars, including this acoustic one, can sell for insanely high prices. But while this million-dollar six-string is far from cheap, it’s not the most valuable of Gilmour’s guitars.

9. David Gilmour’s White Fender Stratocaster – $1.8 Million

David-Gilmour's-White-Fender-Stratocaster
photo source: Christie’s

This cream-white Fender Stratocaster also belonged to David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame. Like other vintage Stratocasters (this one was released in the 1950s), its base worth starts at about $10,000 but can easily exceed $100,000.

But unlike other used Fender Stratocasters from this period, this guitar is worth more than a million bucks. It sold for $1.8 million when it went to auction in 2019!

Why It’s Expensive

This guitar is valuable for the same reason that Gilmour’s acoustic guitar is valuable. It once belonged to a founding member of Pink Floyd, making it worth far more than the average used Fender Stratocaster.

8. Jerry Garcia’s “Wolf” Guitar – $1.9 Million

Jerry-Garcia's-Wolf-Guitar
photo source: Guernsey’s

Jerry Garcia, the lead guitarist (and vocalist) of the Grateful Dead, is such a famous figure that one of the most popular flavors of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is named after him!

His trusty guitar, nicknamed Wolf due to the cartoon wolf figure beneath the bridge, sold for $1.9 million when it went to auction in 2017. The wolf figure in question resembles a cross between Silly Symphony’s Big Bad Wold and Tex Avery’s Slick Joe McWolf, and it’s an image that Deadheads (fans of the Grateful Dead) will always associate with Garcia.

Why It’s Expensive

Wolf sold for almost $2 million due to Jerry Garcia’s fame, as well as his impact on popular music and culture.

Though this guitar might not be the most technically advanced of Doug Irwin’s custom guitars, it’s a historically significant instrument thanks to its constant usage by one of the world’s most talented classic rock guitarists, Jerry Garcia.

7. Peter Green and Gary Moore’s 1959 Les Paul – $2 Million

Peter-Green-and-Gary-Moore's-1959-Les-Paul
photo source: Michael Putland/Getty Images

If you’re unfamiliar with the names Peter Green and Gary Moore, you’re not alone. These two musicians aren’t as well-known as other rock greats like Elvis Presley or Keith Richards.

That said, the 1959 Les Paul that once belonged to these men is infamous among guitarists. It has a reversed pick-up that gives it a Stratocaster-esque sound.

In addition, this six-string has belonged to two talented guitarists; Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac and Irish musician Gary Moore. For this reason, it sold for a cool $2 million to Kirk Hammett, lead guitarist of Metallica.

Why It’s Expensive

This antique Les Paul electric guitar is expensive due to its unique configuration and ownership history. By the time Hammett’s ready to sell (if that ever happens), this guitar will likely be worth millions more than he paid, as Hammett is a hugely famous guitarist.

6. Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Fender Stratocaster – $2 Million

Jimi-Hendrix’s-1968-Fender-Stratocaster
photo source: Justin Masterson/Flickr

The 1969 Woodstock Festival was far more than a series of live concerts. It was a history-changing event that’s still discussed today, and the final tune to bring this multi-day free-love festival to a close was “The Star Spangled Banner,” played beautifully by rock icon Jimi Hendrix.

As you might imagine, the guitar Hendrix used throughout his Woodstock performances became nearly as legendary as the man himself. Hendrix’s white 1968 Fender Stratocaster purportedly sold for a solid $2 million, becoming part of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s private guitar collection.

Why It’s Expensive

Some moments in music history have the power to change the world, and Jimi Hendrix’s festival-ending performance is one of them. His 1968 Fender Stratocaster lies at the heart of this moment, making it a historically significant item that also happens to enjoy previous ownership by one of the world’s most beloved rock n’ roll legends.

5. John Lennon’s Gibson J-160E – $2.41 Million

John-Lennon's-Gibson J-160E
photo source: Julien’s Auctions

The Beatles changed the course of the entertainment industry in several unique ways, and they’re still beloved for their impact on modern pop and rock music. Sadly, John Lennon, one of the most controversial members of the Fab Four, suffered a violent and tragic death in 1980, leaving behind his family, his band members, his fans, and several possessions.

Some of these possessions, including a traditionally-styled Gibson J-160E, have sold for incredible prices. This acoustic guitar sold for a whopping $2.41 million in 2015, far exceeding the maximum sales estimate of $800,000.

Notably, other instruments once owned by Lennon have also sold for millions. In fact, one of the most expensive pianos in the world is Lennon’s Steinway Model Z, a compact upright that sold for £1.45 million (about $2.34 million) in 2000.

Why It’s Expensive

Though this acoustic Gibson isn’t Lennon’s first or last guitar, it is one of the few that managed to trade hands before his death. Initially sold sometime during the 1960s, this guitar enjoyed several additional owners until 2008, when John McCaw (then the current owner) discovered its music-changing past.

This unique history and association with The Beatles make this vintage Gibson J-160E a treasure worthy of its staggering auction price.

4. Reach Out to Asia Fender – $2.7 Million

Reach-Out-to-Asia-Fender
photo source: Fandom

Not all of the most expensive guitars sell to private buyers for pure profit. Some generate profits for charitable causes, potentially making the world a better and more harmonious place.

The Reach Out to Asia Fender is a prime example. This a black-and-white electric guitar featuring the signatures of some of the world’s most beloved guitarists and musicians, including:

  • Paul McCartney
  • Mick Jagger
  • Jimmy Page
  • Eric Clapton

This collection of signatures makes the guitar inherently valuable, which is likely why it managed to fetch $2.7 million at auction in 2005. The proceeds of this sale went toward aiding victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

Why It’s Expensive

This Fender guitar features the signatures of more than a dozen music greats, setting it apart from single-signature instruments. It’s a one-of-a-kind six-string that’s impossible to replace, making it a valuable item for any classic rock fan or music-focused museum.

But hopefully, the primary reason behind this guitar’s high auction price is that people were eager to contribute to the Reach Out to Asia charity.

3. The Black Strat – $3.97 Million

The-Black-Strat
photo source: Christie’s

Few guitars have names outside their brand and model, but The Black Strat is an exception. Like several other high-value guitars, The Black Strat once belonged to Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, but this is by far the priciest of the guitarist’s six-strings.

This jet-black vintage Fender sold for a jaw-dropping $3.97 million in 2019, despite its obvious wear and tear.

For that price, you could afford to buy one of the most expensive Aston Martins! But, of course, if you appreciate the striking tones of a high-quality, well-used guitar more than the beauty of a classic car, investing in the iconic Black Strat would likely be the more satisfying choice.

Why It’s Expensive

Like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd is often described as one of the most influential classic rock bands of all time. Guitars that once belonged to Pink Floyd band members (like The Black Strat) can easily sell for big bucks due to their historical significance.

But Gilmour played this guitar during some of Pink Floyd’s most memorable shows (and on several albums), elevating it to a status that few modern instruments enjoy. There’s even a book written about this guitar!

Consequently, the ongoing popularity of Pink Floyd and a near-mythological status within the classic rock community are the two factors responsible for making The Black Strat one of the most valuable guitars.

2. Kurt Cobain’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Fender Mustang – $4.55 Million

Kurt-Cobain's-Smells-Like-Teen-Spirit-Fender-Mustang
photo source: Julien’s Auctions

The teal-blue Fender Mustang Kurt Cobain played throughout the music video for Nirvana’s hit song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is one of the most easily recognizable and valuable guitars in the world. When it sold for $4.55 million in 2022, few were surprised to see it reach a multi-million-dollar price.

After all, the average used Fender Mustang can sell for thousands, but this particular guitar was owned and played by one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, let alone the 1990s.

Why It’s Expensive

Anything that once belonged to Kurt Cobain is bound to be worth a small fortune. That’s because Cobain is a legendary figure within the music industry (and the pop culture sphere at large).

But this guitar has another thing working in its favor—it featured in one of the most iconic music videos of the early 1990s. This music video has more than 1.5 billion views on YouTube, which is an excellent indicator of how popular “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is, even today.

The guitar Cobain shreds throughout the video is bound to capture interested buyers’ attention (and their wallets).

1. Kurt Cobain’s 1959 Martin D-18E – $6.01 Million

Kurt-Cobain's-1959-Martin-D-18E
photo source: Julien’s Auctions

The most expensive guitar of all time is Kurt Cobain’s 1959 Martin D-18E.

This modified antique guitar sold for $6.01 million when it went to auction in 2020. In addition to once being owned by one of the most influential musicians of the last century, this guitar also appeared on MTV Unplugged.

Nirvana, the band Cobain fronted during the latter portion of his music career, became part of the cultural zeitgeist of the 1990s. Their fame and recognition only continued to increase after Cobain’s untimely death in 1994.

The MTV Unplugged featuring this left-hand-friendly guitar became infamous for being one of the final public performances Cobain would ever give, adding a certain amount of morbid mystique to the now-recognizable 1959 Martin D-18E.

Why It’s Expensive

As this ranking has shown, many of the world’s priciest guitars once belonged to notable musicians who were celebrities in their own right. So, what is it about Kurt Cobain’s 1959 Martin D-18E that makes it so much pricier than all other guitars?

There are several answers to this question.

Firstly, there’s the legendary status that Cobain achieved during (and after) his music career. Few modern musicians have inspired such a devoted fan following. Cobain’s controversial death only added to his mystique, making items that once belonged to him almost relic-like.

But this guitar outsold Cobain’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” six-string, so Cobain’s reputation isn’t entirely responsible for its incredible selling point.

More than likely, the final boost in value that helped make this guitar the most expensive ever sold is its appearance on MTV Unplugged in 1993. That said, the fact that it’s an antique would inherently make it more valuable than a high-quality guitar made today.

Why Are Some Guitars So Expensive?

The average entry-level acoustic guitar only costs about $100, and electric guitars aren’t too much pricier. So why is it that some guitars sell for millions?

Nine times out of ten, the answer is memorabilia.

Guitars once owned by music greats or pop culture icons can sell for outstanding prices, far more than what you’d typically pay to own a brand-new, high-quality guitar. Prices can reach unbelievable highs if said celebrity or musician is deceased.

Kurt Cobain’s guitars are a top-notch example of this phenomenon. But nearly all the priciest six-strings in the world once belonged to notable musicians.

The only exception to this unwritten rule is archaic guitars with historical value.

Antique guitars produced during the early 20th century can sell for hundreds of thousands. A fantastic example is the beat-up acoustic six-string once owned by country music legend Roy Rogers. Despite its poor condition, this vintage C.F. Martin & Company guitar managed to fetch a noteworthy $554,500 in 2009.

To sum up, two factors can make a guitar unbelievably valuable:

  • Age, and
  • Previous ownership by a celebrity or famous musician

So, if you want to add a costly six-string to your musical instrument collection, be on the lookout for guitars that meet these requirements.

What’s the Most Expensive Guitar of All Time?

The most expensive guitar ever sold is Kurt Cobain’s 1959 Martin D-18E. This iconic guitar sold for $6.01 million when it went to auction in 2020, outselling Cobain’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” guitar by almost $1.5 million.

The primary reasons this guitar sold for such a high price include its previous ownership (having once belonged to Kurt Cobain), its television appearance on MTV Unplugged, and its antique status. Few guitars check all these boxes, making Cobain’s 1959 Martin D-18E a rare find.

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Eric Lyons

Eric is a subject-matter expert on the world's most expensive luxuries and collectibles. He has explored thousands of luxuries and collectibles over the past few years and now brings them to readers around the world.

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