Chris Cornell’s “Superunknown” Jazzmaster sells for $125k – but Clapton’s $1m 1954 Strat fails to attract bids

Chris Cornell's Jazzmaster sells; Eric Clapton's Strat does not
(Image credit: Gotta Have Rock and Roll)

In the past week we’ve seen Eddie Van Halen and smashed Kurt Cobain electric guitars nab impressive sale prices at auction. But not every instrument attached to a rock icon manages to sell – especially when it has an outsized price tag attached to it. 

Auction house Gotta Have Rock and Roll recently offered up Eric Clapton’s 1954 “Slowhand” sunburst Fender Strat, heavily used by the guitar great between 1979 and 1985. The stage and studio hardtail model had a starting price tag of $1 million – more than the $959,500 Clapton’s coveted “Blackie” Strat sold for back in 2004.

Likely as a result of the excessively high reserve, the Slowhand guitar did not receive a single bid at the auction (a similar fate befell a Yamaha dreadnought used and signed by Jimmy Page, which was offered with a $90,000 starting price).

Clapton's Slowhand 1954 Strat is being auctioned

(Image credit: Gotta Have Rock and Roll)

One guitar that did find a new owner at the Gotta Have Rock and Roll auction, however, was Chris Cornell’s well-worn Candy Apple Red 1966 Jazzmaster, which he used on Soundgarden’s seminal 1994 album, Superunknown.

The Jazzmaster sold at its starting price of $125,00, falling short of its $175,000-$250,000 estimate.

Which makes it something of a steal for the new owner, as the guitar is attached to serious grunge history. According to producer Michael Beinhorn, Cornell played just three guitars on Superunknown: a Gretsch Duo Jet, double-cutaway Gretsch Silver Jet and the Jazzmaster, which he used on single Fell on Black Days.

Chris Cornell 1966 “Superunknown” Fender Jazzmaster

(Image credit: Gotta Have Rock and Roll)

“It was one of the best-sounding Jazzmasters I’ve ever used in my life,” Beinhorn told Music Tech.

Cornell also played the Jazzmaster during live performances in 1993 and 1994, where it was tuned to EEBBBB to perform My Wave and The Day I Tried to Live.

The guitar was lost in Cornell’s divorce to first wife Susan Silver, and subsequently ended up with his childhood friend, Chris Bond, who supplies a letter of provenance with the sale.

These weren’t the only instruments up for sale at the Gotta Have Rock and Roll auction. Also on the block was a Chuck Berry-signed and played 1967 Gibson ES-345, Bruce Springsteen Fender Tele from his River tour and a Jimi Hendrix-owned 1966 Gibson Melody Maker. Like the Clapton Strat, all of them failed to sell.

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.