Bob Dylan's Newport Folk Festival Electric Guitar Up for Auction
The sunburst Fender Stratocaster, on which he played an iconic acoustic encore, could sell for half a million dollars.
Bob Dylan's sunburst Fender Stratocaster made rock history when he played it at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Now it is again set to make news when it goes on the auction block, where it could sell for half a million dollars.
The festival was a defining moment that marked Dylan's move from acoustic folk to electric rock 'n' roll.
Now viewed as a moment that irrevocably changed American music, Dylan's three-song electric set at the Rhode Island festival was met by boos from folk purists who viewed him as a traitor. He returned for an acoustic encore with "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue."
The presale estimate by Christie's auction house for the guitar, which is being sold on Friday with its original black leather strap and Fender hard shell case, is $300,000 to $500,000. The current record for a guitar sold at auction is Eric Clapton's Fender, nicknamed "Blackie," which sold at Christie's for $959,500 in 2004.
Christie's also is selling five lots of hand- and typewritten lyric fragments found inside the guitar case -- early versions of some of Dylan's famous songs. They have a presale estimate ranging from $3,000 to $30,000.
The lyrics for sale include "In the Darkness of Your Room," an early draft of "Absolutely Sweet Marie" from Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde" album and three songs from the record's 1965 recording session that weren't released until the 1980s: "Medicine Sunday" (the draft is titled "Midnight Train"), "Jet Pilot" and "I Wanna Be Your Lover."
With a classic sunburst finish and original flat-wound strings, Dylan's guitar has been in the possession of a New Jersey family for nearly 50 years. Dylan left it on a private plane piloted by the owner's late father, Vic Quinto, who worked for the musician's manager.
His daughter, Dawn Peterson, of Morris County, N.J., has said that her father asked the management company what to do with the guitar but nobody ever got back to him.
Last year, she took it to the PBS show "History Detectives" to try to have it authenticated. The program enlisted the expertise of Andy Babiuk, a consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and owner of an upstate New York vintage instrument shop, and Jeff Gold, a Dylan memorabilia expert. Both men, who appeared on the episode, unequivocally declared the artifacts belonged to Dylan.
Babiuk took the instrument apart and also compared it to close-up color photos of the guitar taken at the 1965 festival.
"I was able to match the wood grain on the body of the guitar ... and the unique grain of the rosewood fingerboard. Wood grains are like fingerprints; no two are exactly alike," Babiuk said. "Based on the sum of the evidence, I was able to identify that this guitar was the one that Bob Dylan had played in Newport."
Dylan's attorney and his publicist didn't respond to email and phone requests for comment. Dylan and Peterson, who declined to be interviewed, recently settled a legal dispute over the items. The terms weren't disclosed.
"Representatives for Bob Dylan do not contest the sale of the guitar, and are aware of Christie's plan to bring it to auction," a statement issued through Christie's said.
Dylan has generally looked upon his instruments to convey his art, akin to a carpenter's hammer, Howard Kramer, curatorial director of the Rock Hall, said last year. "I don't think he's dwelled on a guitar he hasn't played for 47 years," he said. "If he cared about it, he would have done something about it."
Festival founder George Wein, 88, said that when Dylan finished playing at Newport, Wein was backstage and told him to go back out and play an acoustic number because that's what people expected. Dylan said that he didn't want to do it and that he couldn't, because he had only the electric guitar. Wein called out for a loaner backstage and about 20 musicians raised their acoustic guitars to offer them.
Dylan's "going electric changed the structure of folk music," Wein said. "The minute Dylan went electric, all these young people said, 'Bobby's going electric; we're going electric, too.'"