Guitar Auction Shocker

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There was much hype in the build up to the recent Artistry of the Guitar auction at Guernseys in New York. A collection of 260 instruments assembled by enthusiast Hank Risan over three decades was thought to include some of the most sought after models to come to market in recent years and record prices were expected. Sadly these did not materialise and the sale proved to be a bit of a shocker.

Misery for Investors

During the recent harsh economic times many investors have turned away from financial institutions and looked for alternative ways to achieve growth. Whilst vintage cars, gemstones, jewellery and high end watches have all performed well, guitar prices actually fell. With more promising economic times ahead the guitar auction was seen as a testing ground for prices and it was thought by many that a recovery in the market was likely but their hopes have proved unfounded. The prices achieved indicate that far from recovering ground, the market has actually sunk still further.

The Sales

To illustrate the point a beautiful Flamenco with pearl inlay by Manuel Ramirez had an estimated value of $150,000 but achieved only $14,000. A Gibson L-5 expected to sell for up to $210,000 realised only $10,000 and A Gibson L-4 valued at $60,000 sold for just $3,500. A 1934 D’Angelico Excel that was to be one of the stars of the show and had an estimated price tag of $450,000 realised a paltry $35,000.

The Complete Flops

To make matters far worse several instruments failed to sell at all as they had not reached the reserve price and some did not receive any bids during the auction. Considering that there were several pieces owned and played by such celebrities as Eric Clapton this was all a big surprise. In the past the instruments of the stars have made big bucks but the thirst for the pieces seems to have evaporated completely.

The Collection

As the Risan collection was about as good as it gets and basically told the complete story of the guitar in the 20th century the auction should have been a remarkable and record breaking occasion but interest is clearly at an all-time low. The collection of flattop, classical and Flamenco instruments could have been worth millions just a few years ago but now it is struggling to attract any interest at all.


Some observers have suggested that the high estimates for the guitars may have scared some bidders off but this was probably only a minor factor in the outcome. Bidders intimidated by the publicity in advance of the auction were never going to be significant spenders. Basically the outcome is purely indicative of the state of the guitar market and proof positive that there is no recovery in sight.

Looking on the bright side the interest in historic instruments is bound to recover eventually and so those who have made a purchase might be big winners in the end. That is no consolation to Hank Risan, though, who has watched his carefully assembled collection fail miserably.

Sally Stacey is a keen writer with her eye on the collectables market

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