Ian Curtis’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” Vox Phantom VI Special guitar is up for auction

(Image credit: Bonhams)

We’ve seen an incredible run of acoustic and electric guitar auctions recently, including David Gilmour's Black Strat, Prince’s Blue Angel and Kurt Cobain’s battered Martin D-18E.

Now we can add to that Ian Curtis’ iconic Vox Phantom VI Special, the electric guitar he played – or mostly held – in the video for Joy Division’s 1980 single Love Will Tear Us Apart.

The guitar is up for auction at Bonhams, and features a pentagonal mahogany body finished in white, with a Jennings Bigsby B5-type tremolo, Tune-o-matic roller bridge and three pickups with six push-button controls (including the misprinted “Replat” for “Repeat”) and five rotary controls.

There’s also a one-piece maple neck, zero-fretted rosewood fingerboard with original frets and dot markers, original strap buttons, a back cavity for PP3 battery conversion, a laminated scratchplate, a headstock with a Phantom VI Special decal, a chrome truss rod cover and non-original Schaller tuners.

(Image credit: Bonhams)

The Vox was purchased in September 1979 by Joy Division's manager, Rob Gretton, and used by Curtis onstage during the band’s 1980 European tour, as well as on the recording of their track Heart and Soul.

In an interview for Pat Graham's book Instrument, bandmate Bernard Sumner said, “Ian really liked this guitar. The Phantom had tons of effects built into it, as an added bonus. It had a pause unit, and a thing called the 'replat.’ When we got the guitar, half the effects didn't work, and we were thinking, what the hell is replat?

“We got the guitar repaired, and it turned out that 'replat' is actually 'repeat' – it was just a misprint. The guitar has a battery in it, and if you press the buttons in the wrong combination it will go into self-oscillate mode and start to make this strange twittering sound that Ian liked very much. 

"It is a pretty wacky guitar. It sounded like some of the thinner guitars on Velvet Underground tracks, clean and jangly.”

Following Curtis’ death in 1980 the Vox was used by Sumner and later gifted to Curtis’ daughter, Natalie Curtis.

Said Sumner, “We did use it on a couple of New Order recordings, the one I remember is Everything's Gone Green. On the rhythm guitar part on that song, you can hear this guitar."

(Image credit: Bonhams)

The Vox comes in a hard rectangular, plush-lined case, accompanied by a copy of a 12-inch single for the 40th anniversary of Love Will Tear Us Apart on vinyl, and a letter of provenance from Natalie Curtis.

The starting estimate for the guitar is $77,000 – $100,000.

For more information, head to Bonhams.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

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.