A gift from Les Paul, with no strings attached: Musical pioneer's guitars up for auction

More than 100 signed instruments were intended for the world's biggest stars. But almost half were never claimed and are to go on sale

He has as good a claim as any to have given the world rock'n'roll. The name Les Paul is synonymous with both the musician and the guitar; from AC/DC to ZZ Top. He not only gave modern bands their most potent instrument in the form of the eponymous Gibson guitar, but also pioneered the recording techniques that made it possible to capture the music that resulted. But, unknown to many, Les Paul also gave scores of signed guitars to some of the world's biggest stars. Now, for the first time, more than 50 are due to be auctioned in London this October.

Originally destined for Madonna, Sting, Prince and Jon Bon Jovi, among others, they are the instruments that never got to their intended recipients. Now members of the public will have chance to appreciate what the stars spurned.

What began in the 1990s as a small custom between Paul and some of his rock friends in Boston would later develop into a huge tradition, with more than 100 signed guitars being given out to the biggest names in showbusiness. Paul would present signed replicas of the guitar he first owned as a teenager to the artists, via his long-time friend, the musician and producer Ron Lovely.

However, the guitar – usually a Troubadour acoustic – had to be delivered by Mr Lovely in person; otherwise the recipient could not have the guitar.

Mr Lovely has handed out these guitars to some of the world's most famous musicians, including Keith Richards, Elton John, Smokey Robinson and B B King. It is not just musicians who have received the gifts, however. Actors such as Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis and Johnny Depp have one of the signed instruments.

"It was Les's way of sending postcards to his friends," Mr Lovely said from his home in Boston. "It then became a tradition. Whoever was coming to town, Les would sign one, laugh and say 'here Ron, go say howdy to so and so...' However, some asked for them to be shipped. We wouldn't do that – it was against Les's wishes." Many artists would also ask Mr Lovely to give the guitars to their agents, something which Paul saw as a bit of a snub.

Time is running out for Garth Brooks, Bob Dylan and Lindsay Lohan, among others, who all have instruments in their name waiting to be collected. The guitars, due to go to auction in October, via the Fame Bureau internet auction site, are expected to fetch between £2,000 and £100,000 each.

Les Paul died last year aged 94. Despite being widely recognised as the inventor of the solid-body electric guitar and a whole range of studio effects, he was also a prodigious player. Such was his physical dexterity playing the instrument, he became one of only a handful of artists with a permanent stand-alone exhibit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Ted Owen of Fame Bureau said: "Les Paul is a musical icon known by all. He loved music in all forms and gave out hundreds of dedicated signed guitars to an array of artists and luminaries. This collection is both historic and poignant. These are the guitars that never actually got to be presented. No other guitars from Les Paul have ever come up for sale, making the auction unique."

With love from Les

More than 100 signed guitars have been handed to stars by Ron Lovely on Les Paul's behalf. But, amazingly, many intended recipients have failed to take receipt. Mr Lovely revealed last week that it was often not for want of trying on his part. When he attempted to give one to Jon Bon Jovi at a gig in Boston, he was ejected by a security guard and escorted back to his seat, despite his protestations. Similarly, Bob Dylan, despite being a great admirer of Paul, doesn't much care to meet people.

Another problem Mr Lovely encountered was the dreaded PA or agent. Who knows if they passed on details of Paul's gifts. Madonna, Steven Tyler, and Lindsay Lohan may still not be aware that a signed gift from one of music's pioneers is out there awaiting them.

Others missed out because they asked for their gift to be shipped to them, against Paul's wishes. Perhaps, after reading this, a few more will be alerted to what they have missed.

Others likely to lose out when about 50 unclaimed guitars are sold at auction later this year include the multi-platinum-selling country star Garth Brooks; Prince – whose free guitar is inscribed to "the artist formerly known as"; Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash; and the actress Natalie Portman.

The guitars are mainly acoustic but vary in size and specification: some are 12-string and some electric. Mr Lovely said auction proceeds will fund a documentary about Paul as well as a museum. "My goal is to get Les's stuff seen in Europe," he said. "His family came from Germany. He would love to have his things shown in museums."

Gifts to the stars...

Brad Pitt

At a party in 1998 to celebrate the end of filming 'Meet Joe Black'

Pitt went to Paul's birthday party in 1997 and Paul wanted to do something special for him. Lovely said of Pitt: "He was the biggest Les Paul fan I've ever met. He was dumbfounded when he saw Les play."

Dennis Quaid

New York, 2000

Quaid was playing with his band the Sharks in New York. This picture was taken backstage at his gig, where Ron Lovely surprised him with the guitar after the show was finished.

B B King

New York, 2004

King and Les Paul had been friends for many years. Lovely was sent as Paul's emissary to catch up with him and say hello from Paul. King received a replica of Paul's first guitar, whereupon King, such was his admiration for Paul, said: "I'm not worthy ..."

Elton John

Providence, Rhode Island, 2006

John told Lovely the first record he ever heard was Les Paul's 1951 hit "The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise", saying: "It was the first song I ever really remember."

Jimmy Page

Backstage at the Boston Garden arena, 1995

Les Paul wanted to congratulate Jimmy Page for getting back together with former Led Zeppelin bandmate Robert Plant and asked Lovely to present this guitar.

Bruce Willis

On the set of a commercial in Los Angeles, 2000

Willis, a fellow New Jersey native, worked on an album with Lovely. The guitar was a gift for the work he did on that album.

Sir George Martin

At Berklee College of Music, Boston, 2003

Though Les Paul had many admirers, there was a great mutual respect between him and the Beatles' producer. According to Lovely, Paul thought George Martin was "a genius".

Smokey Robinson

Atlantic City, 2002

According to Lovely, Smokey Robinson said the Motown musicians idolised Les Paul. When Paul learned of the admiration, he wanted to give Robinson a guitar from his collection.

Keith Richards

In his suite on the Rolling Stones' Bigger Bang Tour in Boston, 2005

Keith Richards and Les Paul had been long-term friends. Paul loved the Rolling Stones and once went backstage during a tour of theirs in the late 1980s.

Phil Collins

At the Boston Garden arena, 2006

Les Paul had never met Phil Collins and wanted to send him a greeting. He offered him a guitar when Collins came to Paul's home town of Boston.

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat