“It’s one of the most important instruments in rock ‘n’ roll history”: Jim Irsay names his favorite guitar from his billion dollar collection

Jim Irsay and his favorite guitar – Dylan’s 1964 Newport Fender Stratocaster
(Image credit: Steve Jennings / Andrew Burton / Getty)

When it comes to the world’s most renowned guitars there is one collector who stands head and shoulders above the rest: Jim Irsay. 

The businessman and Indianapolis Colts owner has spent 25 years amassing a collection that will bring a tear to your eye. Now, in a recent interview with Eddie Trunk, Irsay was asked to pick out a favorite guitar from his awe-inspiring haul.

“Probably my favorite guitar is Dylan’s Strat that he plugged in at Newport Folk Festival in 1965,” says Irsay. “When Pete Seeger threatened to cut the wires because he was supposed to be a folk singer.” 

Irsay acquired Dylan’s Newport Strat in December 2013 (after it was, remarkably, found in an attic), paying a then-record $965,000 for the instrument. While the price was deemed high at the time, the move now looks completely prudent, particularly in an era when Kurt Cobain’s Martin D-18E sells for over $6 million

Jim Irsay’s favorite guitar – Dylan’s 1964 sunburst Fender Stratocaster, as used at Newport Folk Festival

(Image credit: Andrew Burton / Getty)

The Colts owner says the 1964 sunburst Stratocaster remains his prize pick for its historical significance. 

“You can hear the recording [from that era] where they’re calling him a Judas – and he’s like, ‘Play real fucking loud!’ And he broke into Like a Rolling Stone,” says Irsay.

“That [time] changed music. Then came Revolver and Rubber Soul and The Byrds and all different kinds of folk rock because of Dylan plugging in in 1965. So that guitar is really one of the most important instruments in rock ‘n’ roll history.”

Dylanologists will point out that Irsay appears to be conflating the 1965 Newport show – in which the songwriter debuted his electric band to boos from the audience and Seeger’s disapproval – with Dylan’s 1966 Manchester Free Trade Hall gig in the UK. 

It was while performing the latter show – confusingly mislabelled on the bootleg as ‘the Royal Albert Hall show‘ – that Dylan received the famous ‘Judas’ heckle and the limited images available from it appear to show the songwriter playing a Telecaster.

All pedantry aside, though, the Newport Strat is still undoubtedly the finest representation of Dylan first ‘going electric’ – one of the most revolutionary moments in both rock music and electric guitar history. 

Irsay has some perspective on the matter, too. He also owns David Gilmour’s famed Black Strat (as used on Pink Floyd’s most famous recordings), Kurt Cobain’s Smells Like Teen Spirit Mustang and numerous Beatles instruments. 

His collection is essentially priceless, though that hasn’t stopped people trying to put a value on it. Indeed Irsay tells Trunk “a middle east element” recently approached him with an offer to purchase his collection for more than a billion dollars.

Head to Sirius XM or check out The Eddie Trunk podcast to hear Irsay’s full interview.

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Matt Parker

Matt is a staff writer for GuitarWorld.com. Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.