Les Paul’s ‘Number One’ Gibson guitar in ‘exceptional’ New York sale

Son describes instrument at Christie’s as most ‘valuable, pivotal and important’

It has been described as the guitar that helped transform the sound of modern music, and now one fortunate bidder will be able to take home Les Paul’s personal “Number One” electric guitar.

The solid body electric guitar, made by Gibson between 1951-1952, is being offered for auction by Christie's in New York on October 13th. The auction house has placed an estimate of €85,000-€130,0000 on the gold top guitar.

Les Paul picked up his first guitar in Wisconsin when he was 11, and began experimenting with amplification a few years later. He used items such as steel train rail and rail spikes, a telephone mouthpiece, his father's radio phonograph and his mother's tube radio in an attempt to get the sound he wanted.

He finally achieved that in 1941 when he came up with his log guitar, which included a solid piece of pine. He later recalled that when he brought it to the guitar manufacturers Gibson they “laughed a lot” and he became known as “the character with the broomstick with pickups on it”. Years later Gibson came up with its own version of the solid body electric guitar and approached Les Paul to work with them on it and endorse it.


Out of that collaboration came the Les Paul Model guitar and this custom made “Number One”. It is being sold by Les Paul’s son, Gene Paul, and Les Paul’s long-time collaborator Tom Doyle.

Gene Paul described this guitar as “the most historically significant, valuable, pivotal and important guitar to my father, his crowning achievement”.

It comes with a Gibson hard-shell case, a console magnetic tape recorder from the New Jersey recording studio of Les Paul and his wife Mary Ford, a bar stool reportedly used by Les Paul during his performance run at New York’s Fat Tuesday’s, and a framed original photograph of Les Paul and Mary Ford in their studio.

Rare table

It is one of 26 lots being offered by Christie’s in what it is calling “The Exceptional Sale”. Other guitars on offer include a customised Rickenbacker bass guitar owned by The Clash’s Paul Simonon, and BB King’s 1967 semi-hollowbody electric guitar. They are both estimated at €85,000-€130,000.

In keeping with its “exceptional” tagline the auction is offering a rare Roman bronze and niello table which dates to circa 1st century BC, 1st century AD, and is estimated at €680,000-€1 million.

Also leading the sale offerings is an Ausburg elephant automaton clock which was restituted to the heirs of Maximilian Baron Von Goldschmidt-Rothschild. The baron was forced to give up his collection to the city of Frankfurt after the pogrom against Jews in 1938. The clock, which is 35cm tall, is thought to date back to the early 1600s and is estimated at €600,000-€850,000.

Of Irish interest will be Lot 25, a pair of George II giltwood console tables, circa 1750, guiding at €85,000-€130,000. According to Christie’s, a closely related pair of consoles was supplied to Marcus Beresford, 1st Earl of Tyrone, for his country seat Curraghmore in Co Waterford, “leading to the intriguing possibility that the tables offered here could also be Irish”.