A rock-and-roll hall of fame’s worth of instruments take center stage at Heritage Auctions this spring. Not to mention a 1956 Bigsby electric guitar made for Louisiana player and poet Luke Charpentier Jr. – and, likely, the last axe ever made by Paul Bigsby, the oft-unheralded genius and solid-body pioneer who quietly did as much as anyone to make music loud. This Bigsby’s inclusion alone would make the April 11 Guitars and Musical Instruments Signature Auction event, which features more than 200 lots, a landmark sale.
“But the breadth of this event is just staggering, even to those of us who put it together,” says Aaron Piscopo, Director of Vintage Guitars & Musical Instruments at Heritage Auctions. “These aren’t just pieces owned or played by famous people. These are the tools used to craft milestone moments, and iconic instruments that resulted in indelible sights and sounds. Frankly, it’s an honor and privilege just to be around them, to hold them, much less share them with fans for whom these are treasured memories as much as collectible keepsakes.”
Perhaps none more so than the 1965 Martin D-35 being offered, which looks like, feels like and plays like any other ’65 Martin D-35, which is to say better than most guitars ever made. The pickguard’s been changed out; the neck, dinged by use; the three-piece Brazilian rosewood back cracked a bit by age. But that just means the guitar, among the first D-35s ever made, has character. Experience.
Except this one isn’t like any other 1965 Martin D-35. This one you’ve heard; this one, you know.
This one, Bruce Springsteen used on May 2, 1972, when he famously auditioned for talent scout John Hammond at Columbia Records’ New York City offices. This one, Springsteen held that same night, when he played a hastily put-together gig at Greenwich Village’s Gaslight to show Hammond he could hold an audience. This 1965 Martin D-35, Springsteen used during the recording of his first two records, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, which bookended 1973 and made a national star out of the local hero from Freehold, New Jersey.
“He plays it on ‘It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City,’ ‘Growin’ Up,’ ‘Incident on 57th Street,’ ‘New York City Serenade,’ ‘4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),’” says Bob Spitz, who would know. There were other songs, too. Some released; many, still unheard.
The guitar belonged to Spitz, who among Springsteen’s first management team in the 1970s. Spitz, who grew up in Redding, PA., says his parents drove to Gibson’s factory in Nazareth to buy the guitar for the then-exorbitant price tag of $450. In time, others would play that Martin, Spitz says, among them Graham Nash and Phoebe Snow. But every time Spitz held that guitar, or just looked at it, he thought of that scrawny, scrappy comer from Jersey.
“It brought back a wave of memories and took me right back to the early 1970s,” Spitz says. “We were in New York, and he was staying in my tiny studio apartment on the nights he didn’t go back to Asbury Park. Bruce was in the hammock I had strung across the room. He would have a notebook on one knee and the guitar on the other while he composed. Those are the memories I have.”
Spitz, too, has brought to this event a 1957 Martin D-18, gifted to him by Suze Rotolo while the writer worked on his acclaimed 1989 tome Dylan: A Biography.
Rotolo told Spitz she, too, had received the guitar as a present – from none other than folksinger and songwriter Tom Paxton, who was at Gerde’s Folk City the first night Dylan ever performed on a Greenwich Village stage.
“Suze and I became close when I was working on the book,” Spitz says. “I lived a couple blocks away, and when she was packing up to go back to Italy permanently, she said, ‘I have this guitar, do you want it? I know you play.’ She said, ‘It belonged to Tom Paxton, who left it here, and that Bob wrote on it when he lived here.’
“I mean. There was Suze right in front of me, the woman standing with Dylan on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. I said to her, ‘You will know I will take good care of this guitar and play it often.’ And I did. For decades. And now it’s someone else’s turn.”
Just as it’s soon to be someone else’s shot at wielding the ESP 400 Series Natural Solid Body Electric Guitar Kirk Hammett can be seen playing in the forever-haunting video for “One,” the final single off the band’s 1988 album … And Justice For All. The video was a landmark moment in MTV history for countless reasons: It was the band’s first video; it famously alternates between performance footage and devastatingly haunting excerpts from the 1971 antiwar film Johnny Got His Gun; and a decade after its 1989 debut, MTV put “One” at No. 38 on its list of the 100 Greatest Music Videos Ever Made. It’s also one of the greatest metal moments in the history of the volume knob.
So, too, of course, is any guitar Eddie Van Halen ever touched, including the Kramer Striker/Ripley Rosewood Fingerboard Frankenstrat Solid Body Electric Guitar appearing in this event. To be sure, Van Halen had myriad Frankenstrats over the years; most he made, some were rendered by others. This one, believed to have been used as a backup during the tours supporting 1984 and 5150, was specially crafted by one of EVH’s most trusted collaborators: the late Steve Ripley, who most famously made the guitar used on “Top Jimmy.”
Speaking of: Jim Heath, best known as the Rev. Horton Heat, has consigned to this auction two extraordinary items – not merely his 1964 Fender Jazzmaster Sunburst Solid Body Electric Guitar, which helped transform this hero of Dallas into an international myth and matinee idol and would be headline enough, but the blue-plaid suit the Rev wore on the cover of his band’s Sub Pop Records debut 1990 Smoke ‘em If You Got ‘em. Heath has been man things in his storied career, among them: The Last Rockabilly, Slicked-Back Punk in a Late-Night Lounge, Gentleman County Swinger. A little bit of all of that resides in this combo platter in the midst of this rock-and-roll buffet at auction April 11.
And then there is this smash hit from Buddy Rich: the very same 1978-79 Ludwig White Pearloid Drum Set the voluble speed demon brought on The Tonight Show during those epic showdowns with Johnny Carson’s house-band drummer Ed Shaughnessy. So enamored of this kit was the late-night host – and drummer himself, and a pretty good one at that – Carson would up taking home Rich’s drums. The provenance is as spectacular as a Rich solo: The set comes from Don Sweeney, who spent 20 years working on the show and eventually telling its history in a 2006 book. Now, he shares a piece of that Rich history at Heritage Auctions.