Clapton Raises $2.2 Million for Rehab Center, Guitar Prices Soar

2005 Fender Stratocaster
A 2005 Fender Stratocaster Eric Clapton Signature Model, Serial No. CN98950. Source: Bonham's via Bloomberg

Eric Clapton raised $2.2 million at a Bonhams auction in New York yesterday, as buyers competed for his guitars, amplifiers and other memorabilia.

The tally for the sale, benefiting the U.K. musician’s Crossroads Center Antigua for drug and alcohol rehabilitation, was almost four times its presale total of $400,000 to $600,000.

One of the top bidders was Russian collector Vladimir Avetisyan. Sitting in the middle of a packed room, he bought lot after lot, from a $1,098 Crossroads gift bag to the day’s priciest item, a 1948 Gibson L-5P guitar that fetched $82,960. Prices include the buyer’s premium.

“This is the main hobby of my life,” said Avetisyan, who plays guitar and is a vocalist for a Moscow-based Clapton tribute band called D-Black, which has a website “I love blues.”

Clapton fans, dealers and collectors pushed the prices for most pieces far above their estimates. Every one of the auction’s 138 lots sold.

“It just shows you the strength of feeling that people have for Eric Clapton,” said Carey Wallace of the U.K.-based firm Wallace & Hodgson, which organized the auction. “I am blown away.”

A 2008 Martin acoustic guitar on which Clapton played the song “Motherless Child” sold for $70,760, way over its presale estimate of $3,000 to $5,000.

A 1920s mandolin-banjo with a presale estimate of $300 to $500 sold for $3,904. A gold sales award for the album “Me and Mr. Johnson,” estimated at $600 to $900, fetched $39,040.

A pair of 1997 Fender Twin amplifiers, used by Clapton on his Legends tour in Europe that year, fetched $42,700, compared with the estimated $9,000 to $12,000.

Three Sales

The sale, featuring 75 guitars and 55 amplifiers from Clapton’s collection, was the third in which he offered items for charity. A 1999 Crossroads sale totaled $5.1 million and one in 2004 took in $7.4 million. Both were at Christie’s International and every lot sold, including a black Stratocaster for $959,500.

The selection at Bonhams was much more affordable, Wallace said.

Avetisyan paid $51,240 for a 2008 sky-blue Stratocaster designed for Clapton by the Fender Custom Shop. The presale range was $20,000 to $30,000. It was probably used in concert appearances with Steve Winwood and Jeff Beck.

He also got a stained hardwood Fortune amplifier made around 1979, for $5,124, up from its $600 to $900 presale range.

“I can use these old amps,” he said. “It’s hard to find a sound like this these days.”

Stephen Becker, who practices internal medicine in Queens, New York, paid $24,400 for a 1982 custom-designed guitar by Strings & Things that had been estimated at $3,000 to $5,000.

Lifetime Chance

“I am a big fan and I figured it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Becker, who threw his hands up in the air after placing the winning bid and got applause from the audience. “I’ve been playing guitar since I was 5.”

Not everyone was lucky to land a piece of Clapton. Warren Rybak, 58, who first heard Clapton in the late 1960s, was outbid on a 1979 Danny Ferrington guitar he coveted. It fetched $42,700, about 100 times its presale range of $300 to $500 --and above Rybak’s budget for the guitar.

“I was more in mid-teens,” said Rybak, who lives in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. “No matter what you pay here, when you walk out, the value will be higher.”

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