DALLAS – Like the song says: Everybody wants a thrill. This weekend’s event at Heritage Auctions starring guitars from the Neal Schon Collection provided more than a few.
The July 31 auction was held only hours before Schon and Journey headlined Lollapalooza in Chicago (to rave reviews), and as a warm-up act more than 90 instruments from the guitarist’s historic assemblage sold for more than $4.2 million. That includes two Holy Grails now in the hands of new owners: One 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard Sunburst sold for $350,000, while another of the six-string Ferraris favored by arena-rock gods realized $300,000.
Those two guitars are now the most expensive vintage instruments sold in Heritage Auctions’ history, with seven of Schon’s guitars ranking among the Top 20 in the auction house’s hall of fame.
Nearly 500 bidders from around the world, on the phone and online and on the floor at Heritage’s global headquarters, took part in the sale. Among them was an NFL owner who added one of Schon’s most famous instruments to his own world-renowned collection.
Schon’s 1977 black Gibson Les Paul, played on 1981’s chart-topping, 10-million-selling Escape, was acquired during the auction by the Jim Irsay Collection.
The Journey founder and songwriter used the Les Paul on Don’t Stop Believin’, one of the most performed, covered, downloaded and streamed songs in history, well before its inclusion in The Sopranos finale in June 2007. Irsay’s latest rock-and-roll acquisition was made only two weeks after the Indianapolis Colts owner and CEO bought from Heritage Auctions Elton John’s longtime touring Steinway.
Irsay says he wanted to include Schon’s Les Paul in his acclaimed collection of historic and culturally significant artifacts assembled during several decades. Among the items in that collection: President Abraham Lincoln’s walking cane, a Jackie Robinson bat from 1953 (the year of the Colts’ founding), and instruments used by Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Prince, Jim Morrison and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.
“Rock music is a uniquely American art form, and the instruments and artifacts that created its rich history should be protected and preserved,” says Irsay, who regularly tours his artifacts and one day hopes to open a museum in which to display them. “I look forward to sharing this and other pieces of the collection in the hopes that they may educate and inspire others to do great, meaningful things.”
Ten of Schon’s guitars, including the Escape Les Paul, sold for six figures, among them a 1959 Gibson ES-335 natural semi-hollow body that sold for $137,500, a 1957 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop solid body that realized $131,250, and a 1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard Goldtop solid body that achieved $125,000.
“The vintage market remains strong,” says Aaron Piscopo, Heritage Auctions’ Director of Vintage Guitars & Musical Instruments. “Neal pretty much covered all aspects of electric-guitar collecting, and the condition of these instruments is just extraordinary. The variety of finishes, vintages and details within his collection was just breathtaking. As a result, we had many new bidders, as this collection caught the eye of some of the most prestigious collectors in the world. I am sure they’re grateful that Neal made them available, and working with him and his collection was an honor and a pleasure.”