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Record $7.5 Million Paid For Rick, But Price Raises Questions

...interested in "historical preservation," and that negotiations to place it in a prominent museum in either the U.S. or Europe were underway. The previous record, according to the Guinness Book of World Records," was held by a Stratocaster autographed by Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and Bryan Adams that fetched $2.7 million in 2005. In 2004, Guitar Center paid $1.0 million to acquire Eric Clapton's famed Strat "Blackie."

Rickenbacker is credited with developing the first electric guitar in 1931 when it outfitted a small lap steel guitar, dubbed the "Frying Pan," with a George Beauchamp-designed electro-magnetic pickup. Four years later, they installed a similar pickup on a Spanish-style instrument to create the Ken Richards model. Approximately 50 were produced over a four-year period. Lee stated, "The Ken Roberts model is undisputedly the world's first full-scale electric guitar." Pointing to the similarity between the Ken Roberts model and subsequent Fender and Gibson electrics, he added, "Scales haven't changed; functionality hasn't changed. That guitar single-handedly revolutionized electric guitars. It was, literally, decades before its time, and that's why it failed in the 1930s."

Lee says he came across the Ken Richards model by accident while building a replica of Les Paul's "Log," the rough prototype Paul developed to test the concept of a solid-body electric guitar. A distinguishing feature of the Log was a Kaufman Vibrola, an early hand-operated tremolo designed by Doc Kaufman, Leo Fender's first partner. The search for an extremely rare Kaufman tremolo eventually led Lee to a Ken Richards model Rickenbacker. About six years ago, he bought the guitar sight unseen just to get his hands on the tremolo. However, in the time between placing the order and the arrival of the guitar, he "came to realize the historical significance of the guitar" and set aside plans to pry off the tremolo.

Although few would argue with the historical significance of the Ken Richards model, a number of noted vintage guitar dealers have expressed a combination of surprise and skepticism at its $7.5 million price tag. Similar guitars have sold for between $6,800 and $10,000 in the recent past, prompting the question, "Why the sudden stratospheric leap in price?"

Lee responded to the skeptics, stating, "The value in an item, regardless of the item, is 100% contingent on what a buyer is willing to pay." He added, "If there is not an historic value in the first 25"-scale electric guitar that set the bar for all to come--with a tremolo/vibrola, I might add--then I suppose I, the buying party, and three of the world's greatest museums are in a clouded vision of faux reality. I can accept that, if that's the case."

Lee said the first installment payment on the guitar is due in January, 2018 with the balance to be paid over a ten-year period. Assessing the guitar, he says its playability is "perfect," but from a cosmetic standpoint it's "well worn," rating a four on a scale of ten.

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