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Les Paul, Chet Atkins guitar prototypes headed to auction

Original prototype for Gibson's Les Paul electric guitar will be auctioned Feb. 19 in New York

Two historic electric guitar prototypes will go up for auction next month in New York, including the original “Black Beauty” model of Gibson’s Les Paul guitar that became one of the most widely used instruments in rock ‘n’ roll.

The Black Beauty guitar belonged to musician and guitar innovator Paul, one of the early champions of the solid-body electric guitar that helped transform the instrument from a supporting role in musical ensembles into front-and-center prominence in the rock era.

It will be offered at auction on Feb. 19 at Arader Galleries in New York City by Guernsey’s auction house, along with the prototype of Chet Atkins’ Gretsch model electric guitar, known as “Dark Eyes,” an instrument that’s also been a favorite of numerous guitar heroes.

Gibson’s Les Paul was the company’s response to the solid-body electric instrument introduced in 1950 by California guitar maker Leo Fender, whose Broadcaster model, which later became known as the Telecaster (and set the stage for Fender’s widely popular and influential Stratocaster) made quality solid-body instruments relatively affordable and capable of being mass produced.

The announcement of the auction of the Black Beauty guitar notes that it “is the prototype for all Les Paul models produced by Gibson to this day.” Paul was both an influential guitarist and technological innovator with his advances in instrument design and recording techniques.

Paul himself used the instrument from 1954 until 1976, then gave it to a close friend, luthier Tom Doyle, who is offering it for auction from his private collection, along with the Dark Eyes prototype.

No pre-auction estimate has been set for either guitar, according to a Guernsey’s spokeswoman. The record for the sale of an electric guitar at auction is held by the Fender Stratocaster that Bob Dylan played at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, when Dylan famously “went electric.” It sold for $965,000 a little more than a year ago. Nearly a decade earlier, Eric Clapton's famous "Blackie" Stratocaster was auctioned for $959,000.

The auction also includes other Paul-related items including the stool he used during performances at Fat Tuesday’s in New York, and the original Ampex tape recorder from his home studio.

A catalog detailing all the items in the auction is due later this month at Guernsey’s official website.

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