A trio of vintage Strats fetched stratospheric prices at a Christie’s auction in New York on Oct. 13, 2006, including one that once belonged to early Fender legend Bill Carson. Of the 262 lots on the block that day at the prestigious New York auction house’s Rockefeller Plaza site, the very first was Carson’s personal Stratocaster, which sold for a whopping $66,000. The guitar, a 1959 model with a Fiesta Red finish, matching painted headstock, synchronized tremolo and thick-slab rosewood fingerboard, was custom made for (and partially built by) Carson for his own personal use. The neck plate bears the stamped number 45813.
At auction, the Stratocaster was accompanied by two letters from Carson, dated Feb. 9 and Feb. 15, 1996, relating to his ownership of the guitar and its production during his employment at Fender.
“Carson was very involved with the final shaping of the neck among other aspects of this guitar,” said Kerry Keane, Christie’s musical instrument specialist. “It closely resembled the profile and thickness of an ‘A’ Stratocaster neck, and was inscribed ‘Carson’ in pencil on the underside.”
Carson was an accomplished western swing guitarist who was instrumental in Fender’s early history, particularly in regard to the development of the Stratocaster. Leo Fender hired him to the Fender Electric Instruments Company as a part-time assembly worker and field tester, and he spent the next 40 years with the company, rising to supervisor for guitar production, director of artist relations and national sales manager.
Carson is generally regarded as the guitarist for whom Leo Fender designed the Stratocaster, which first appeared in 1954. The curvaceous model quickly became one of the world’s most popular electric guitars, hailed worldwide as a design classic of form and function. Carson himself suggested the Stratocaster’s distinctive body contours, saying that the guitar should fit the body “like a well-tailored shirt.”
Two other Stratocaster guitars also fared very well at the auction. Lots seven and eight were, respectively, a 1963 model with a gold-sparkle finish that sold for $50,400 and a 1962 walnut-finish model that brought in $3,600.
“I was a bit surprised by the result of the ’62 Strat,” Keane said. “Because this guitar had been heavily altered. Though it did play like a dream.”
The Carson and gold-sparkle Stratocaster guitars were among the highest selling instruments at the auction, which brought in a total of $2.3 million. Christie’s next Fine Musical Instruments sale is scheduled for April 2, 2007.