One of world's 'most recognizable' guitars heads to auction

Rory Gallagher used the famous guitar until his death in 1995

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The guitar has a estimate pre-sale estimate of $900,000 to $1.28 million. (Credit: Bonhams)

One of the most recognizable Fender Stratocasters in history is poised to hit the auction block this fall at Bonhams, with a pre-sale estimate of $900,000 to $1.28 million.

Owned by Rory Gallagher, an Irish guitarist described by Rolling Stone as “Hendrix and Clapton rolled into one." Gallagher has been dubbed “the greatest guitarist you’ve never heard of” and has influenced guitarists ranging from Brian May of Queen to Bob Dylan.

Eric Clapton once told the BBC that Gallagher should be credited with “getting me back into the blues.”

Gallagher’s talent as a guitar virtuoso is indelibly tied to his 1961 Fender Stratocaster, which is said to have been purchased for £100 in 1963. Legend has it the guitar was the first Stratocaster to reach Ireland. The guitar would become part of Gallagher’s identity, traveling with him for his entire career.

“Well, actually with a guitar like this I can play both parts, rhythm and lead, we won't need a rhythm player so I can earn more money and pay it off,” Gallagher is quoted in the book "The Story of Rory Gallagher" regarding the high cost of the guitar.

Until his death in 1995 at the age of just 47, Gallagher continued to use his famous Strat, never refurbishing it, despite nearly all of its finish wearing away over time.

"Rory Gallagher's 1961 Fender Stratocaster is one of the world's most recognizable guitars,” Claire Tole-Moir, Head of Bonhams Popular Culture department, said in a statement. “It was an enormous part of Rory Gallagher's life and was with him from the very start of his career right until the end. It could be said that it was on this guitar that he carved out his legacy of being one of the greatest guitarists of all time.”

Adding to the instrument’s intrigue is the time that it was stolen in 1966, only for Gallagher to find the guitar a few days later in a ditch.

The guitar has remained in the custody of Rory’s brother and former manager, Dónal Gallagher, since his death.

“As far as I'm concerned he's one of the all-time great guitar players,” Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash said upon hearing of Gallagher’s death. “I didn't listen to him either to study him because I don't think you should do that really. You should just enjoy the music. And I loved Rory's music.”

Will Stern is a reporter and editor for cllct.