Owner of the Colts Pays Six Figures for a Les Paul Six-String
The owner and chief executive of the Indianapolis Colts — who has a collection of guitars that were played by the likes of Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia and Elvis Presley — added another on Thursday night, a 60-year-old electric guitar that some musicians say occupies an important place in guitar history.
The guitar sold for $335,500, far below some estimates, in an auction in Manhattan. The winning bid was placed by Christopher McKinney, who serves as guitar curator for Jim Irsay, the Colts’ owner. The auction was held by Guernsey’s at the Arader Galleries on Madison Avenue, near 78th Street.
The guitar, known as Black Beauty, originally belonged to Les Paul, a guitarist, inventor and inveterate tinkerer. He had experimented with electronic amplification in the 1930s and by 1941 had built a forerunner of Black Beauty. But not until the mid-1950s did he hit on a solid-body instrument for mass production that he was pleased with, and he understood how different it was.
“You’re changing from an apologetic instrument that could hardly be heard into a giant, where you could be the leader of the band,” he said in 2008.
The guitar gained quickly on competitors, becoming a favorite over time of stars like Frank Zappa, Carlos Santana and Bob Marley (who was buried with his), as well as George Harrison and Paul McCartney of the Beatles.
“I asked Paul McCartney, I says, ‘Did I influence the Beatles?’ ” Mr. Paul recalled in 2008. “He says, ‘You made the Beatles the Beatles.’ ”
The guitar that was sold on Thursday was actually the second prototype that was made for Mr. Paul, according to the seller, Thomas Doyle, who worked with Mr. Paul as a luthier for more than 30 years. Mr. Paul had rejected the first one.
Mr. Paul’s godson, Steve Miller, wrote in the auction catalog that “without this very guitar, no other Les Paul guitars could exist in the form that we have come to know and love.”
Black Beauty, Mr. Doyle said, was the product of a collaboration between Mr. Paul and Ted McCarty, the former president and chief executive of the guitar maker Gibson. Mr. Paul played more than 150 shows with Black Beauty from 1954 to 1976.
“We know the importance of the guitar historically,” said Mr. McKinney, who has looked after Mr. Irsay’s guitar collection for 17 years. “This guitar was used by Les in recordings, in television. It was his main guitar for innovations. It shows his thinking and progress as an inventor. A lot of the things that were done to this guitar went on to become industry standard.”
Several other items in the auction that had belonged to Mr. Paul did not sell, among them the vinyl-cushioned stool he sat on during appearances at the nightclub Fat Tuesday’s in the 1980s. A sign that said “Les Paul Appears Every Monday Night” also did not sell. Arlan Ettinger, the president of Guernsey’s, said he was disappointed that the guitar did not attract a higher price.
Mr. McKinney said he had been prepared to bid as much as $625,000 for Black Beauty.
“Had this guitar been tied to an Eric Clapton or a Jimmy Page or a contemporary figure,” he said, “it would have brought more. Les is an artist from a different era. The people who are Les Paul fans are guitar people.”
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