The David Gilmour Guitar Collection
Christie’s New York
June 14, 2019
When you hear “David Gilmour,” the phrase “rock god” should spring to mind. As guitarist and vocalist for the classic rock group, Pink Floyd, mere mention of his name should evoke in your mind clear, clean, lyrical and technically perfect guitar playing. Now, imagine being able to peruse Gilmour’s collection of guitars, one of the most extensive guitar collections in history, in person? Better yet, own one of David Gilmour’s guitars? This unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is yours this week as Christie’s unveils The David Gilmour Collection.
The David Gilmour Collection is on display now at Christie’s in NYC. The exhibition runs from June 14-19 and is open to the public every day from 11am-4pm. Entry to the exhibition is free, however reservations are required and can be secured here. The Auction is scheduled for June 20, 2019 at 10:00am. Christie’s NYC is located at 20 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020. Questions about the sale should be directed to Michelle Rusinek at (212) 636-2000.
According to Kerry Keane, Musical Instruments Specialist at Christie’s, at 126 guitars, this is the largest collection from a single artist to come to market in the last 15 years. This collection, Keane told me, is comparable to the Eric Clapton collection from 1999, with around 100 guitars in that collection or the Les Paul collection from 2012.
The gallery is sectioned off into several adjoining rooms, all white walls to showcase the myriad guitars lining the walls. There is a large video screen with Sennheiser speakers blasting some of Gilmour’s best known music, including “Comfortably Numb” from the 1979 album, The Wall, and it’s chill-inducing guitar solo played on The Black Strat. Speaking of this iconic guitar, as I turn right into the last room, the The Black Strat is there, front and center. It makes quite a statement, hanging there on its own.
To walk into these rooms as a music fan is simply staggering. Knowing the impact Pink Floyd has had on music for the last 50 years to say nothing of David Gilmour’s unique contribution and influence, seeing this collection left me awestruck. You walk into the first room and you’re greeted with a 1-2 punch of a both floor to ceiling pictures of a young and more contemporary Gilmour, as well as the showcasing of two of his most famous guitars: The White 0001 Strat and his 1955 Gibson Les Paul. The White 0001 Strat was made famous after bring featured the album The Wall and is coveted by collectors because the 0001 signifies the serial number; the first one off the line. The Gibson Les Paul is a beautiful golden guitar.
Keane delighted us with the origin story of the Fender Black Stratocaster. The band was touring in 1970 in the US and during a stop over in New Orleans, one of the equipment trucks was stolen, including 4 of Gilmour’s guitars. The remainder of the tour was cancelled and Gilmour organized a lay over in New York, with an intentional stop at Manny’s Music. Here, he purchased the Black Stratocaster, affectionately known as “The Black Strat.” This is a well-known guitar to music fans. This guitar was the main guitar used to record Pink Floyd’s masterpiece album, Dark Side of the Moon. It was also the guitar used to record the legendary solo from “Comfortably Numb.” According to Caitlin Graham, Christie’s Pop Culture Specialist, Gilmour is quoted as saying that songs popped out of that guitar, such as “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” The guitar is so weathered; you can tell this is a well-loved guitar. It just oozes coolness and history.
The candy apple red Stratocaster became a go-to in the mid-1980s for Gilmour. It became a favorite guitar after it was used during his 1985 Live Aid performance. When his first Fender Stratocaster failed during the first song, he famously swapped guitars mid-solo and looked completely unfazed by it. The Red Stratocaster went onto become his familiar companion for a number of years.
The Martin D35 acoustic was bought by Gilmour on the street outside Manny’s on 48th Street in Manhattan. That was the kind of familiar music culture on 48th Street in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Because Gilmour is so attached to this guitar, Keane told us that its inclusion in this collection for sale was a a question mark for about a year. This guitar was used on “Wish You Were Here.” The Zemaitis acoustic guitar, well-known for the heart shaped sound hole is another gorgeous acoustic. Gilmour was turned on to these unique acoustics by George Harrison, of The Beatles.
Gilmour was his own guitar tech in the early days. He made customizations to his guitars to suit his playing style as well as manipulating the guitar to produce the sound he wanted. You can see evidence of his successes and failures on The Black Strat. He installed a 5 position switch, believed to be the first on a guitar, to isolate and combine specific pick-ups in order to produce the sound he was looking for. There are visible patches of wood glue as well to show where something didn’t work. He also found the whammy bars on the Fenders to be too long and often hacked them down himself.
Mr. Keane said guitar design follows cultural trends. We see this in several guitars that reflect the au naturale style of the mid 1970s. There are some uniquely customized axes in the collection as well, including a Fender Stratocaster from the 1950’s. On this guitar, David stripped the white color down to the bare wood, reflecting this au naturale look.
Gilmour had distinctive touring and studio guitars, but this was more in the acoustic line. Ms. Graham indicated that David toured with many of the electric guitars used in the studio and most of them are in this collection. She also told me that Gilmour would use the Ovation acoustics on tour because, as he told them, his daughter could kick them around and not damage them. So those were naturally the smarter ones to bring out on the road to get banged up.
Viewing this vast collection, I was curious about what will remain in Gilmour’s personal possession to play? Keane told us that David is keeping a few for himself, including a Fender Telecaster. “It’s a sunburst guitar beat to smithereens,” Keane said. Also, a pre-war Martin D18 acoustic Gilmour has referred to as, “a great guitar.”
When asked what they project this collection’s highest yield would be, both Keane and Graham were optimistic that The Black Strat would fetch the highest price and without being too precise, were hopeful that the guitar would finish safely around the $1 million mark. For comparison sake, Ms. Graham told me that the highest selling pre-owned guitar to date is John Lennon’s 1962 Gibson acoustic which sold for $2.4 million in 2015.
There are some sleepers, or dark horses, in the collection, according to Keane, that will appeal to all kinds of collectors. In Mr. Keane’s opinion, guitar collectors, not necessarily Gilmour fans, will gravitate towards a few unique pieces in the collection. Pressed for an example, Keane indicated the white Penguin, of which there are less than 50 in existence in the world, and the Lake Placid blue colored Stratocaster that previously belonged to Homer Haynes, an American country star.
I wanted to know how the average collector would fare in this high-profile auction? In Ms. Graham’s opinion, there are definitely some pieces in the collection that would be in the price range for someone looking to own a piece of music history, including a guitar case used to transport The Black Strat around during The Wall tour. The expectation is that the case will go for around $1500. There are really great guitars in the collection at many price points which would be in reach for a newer collector or a fan.
According to both Graham and Keane, the legacy of this collection is not in question. To prove her point, Ms. Graham pointed to the resurgence of vinyl records, noting that the iconic record, Dark Side of the Moon, sold 67,000 copies in 2018 … on vinyl! There is a high level of nostalgia for quality musical items from the British Invasion-era that has been so influential. Graham added that there is longevity in this collection due to the timeless nature of Pink Floyd’s music, telling me “good music is just good music.” For his part, Mr. Keane focused on the future of these instruments, indicating his hope that they’ll go back into the community and will become vehicles for performers for more musical pieces.
The David Gilmour Collection exhibit is open to the public at Christie’s from 11am to 4pm from Friday, June 14th – Wednesday, June 19th. The exhibition is free but reservations are required. The value estimates for the guitars in this collection range from $300 – $150,000. For more information on Christie’s and the The David Gilmour Collection, please head to Christie’s website here. For any fan of Gilmour, Pink Floyd, or music in general, I would highly recommend this exhibit. I’ll see you on the Dark Side of The Moon.
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