The $500,000 guitar

Original Les Paul sunburst guitars are going for $500,000. When does a guitar become too expensive to play?

Every time I read a guitar-porn article like yesterday's piece on Les Paul sunbursts in the L.A. Times, I'm reminded of the scene in Spinal Tap when Marty DiBirgi (Rob Reiner), the "documentary" maker, gets a guided tour of Nigel Tufnel's (Christopher Guest) guitar room. At one point, Marty notices a guitar that has never been played, and Nigel quickly shoos him away from it: "Don't touch it!...Don't point. It can't be played."

I'm sure these original sunbursts sound great, but I'd never know--I've never seen anybody play one live. (Jimmy Page's sounds pretty good in the Led Zeppelin DVD.) The folks who are rich enough to collect them aren't gigging musicians, I guess, and the musicians who have one are probably too afraid to get them ripped off on the road.

I think of instruments the way a wine collector once explained expensive wines to me: a $500 Bordeaux might not be objectively "better" than a $100 Bordeaux, but each is unique, and sometimes you can only get that exact taste from that exact bottle. With guitars, the price disparity is even greater: I've seen hacks try to work their way around brand new $3,000 axes at Guitar Center, and one of the best guitarists I've ever played with coaxed remarkable sounds out of a 40-year-old Danelectro Silvertone. Those guitars were considered cheap starters, and originally sold exclusively through Sears, and they go for about $300 on eBay these days.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Rosoff is an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, where he covers Microsoft's consumer products and corporate news. He's written about the technology industry since 1995, and reviewed the first Rio MP3 player for in 1998. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network. Disclosure. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattrosoff.


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