Les Paul’s Groundbreaking Guitar Prototype Is Headed for Auction
Guitar Player magazine mentioned Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend of the Who and Peter Frampton. Arlan Ettinger, the president of Guernsey’s, an auction house on the Upper East Side, mentioned more: Paul McCartney and George Harrison of the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, Carlos Santana, Sheryl Crow, Lenny Kravitz.
None of them would have achieved their fame, Mr. Ettinger said, without Les Paul — and without the guitar that Gibson Guitar began manufacturing in the 1950s to Mr. Paul’s specifications. Bob Marley not only owned one, he was buried with it. (Not to mention a Bible, a soccer ball and some marijuana.)
But before there were all those guitars, there was one, a prototype that came to be known as Black Beauty. Guernsey’s is preparing to auction it on Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. at Arader Galleries on Madison Avenue. The auction catalog does not list a presale estimate, but Mr. Ettinger said it could sell for over $2 million.
It was, in fact, the second prototype, said Thomas Doyle, a luthier who worked with Mr. Paul for more than 30 years. Mr. Paul had declared the first unsatisfactory, even unplayable.
But Mr. Paul was a tinkerer — he had made his own solid-body electric guitar in 1940 or 1941 — and he told Gibson what he wanted. Mr. Paul’s godson, Steve Miller, said the result was “literally part of the lexicon and fabric” of music history. “Without this very guitar, no other Les Paul guitars could exist in the form that we have come to know and love,” he wrote recently. “From the mid-50s right up until this moment, every guitar hero and rock star we have all ever listened to that played one of Les’s masterpieces would literally not exist.”