Dylan's historic Stratocaster could go stratospheric

By Ula Ilnytzky in New York

The guitar that a young Bob Dylan played at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival when he famously went electric, perhaps the most historic instrument in rock 'n' roll, is coming up for auction, where it could bring as much as half a million dollars.

Though now viewed as changing American music forever, Dylan's three-song electric set at the festival that marked his move from acoustic folk was met by boos from folk purists in the crowd who viewed him as a traitor. He returned for an acoustic encore with It's All Over Now, Baby Blue.

Now the sunburst Fender Stratocaster is being offered for sale on December 6, Christie's said. Five lots of hand and typewritten lyric fragments found inside the guitar case - early versions of some of Dylan's legendary songs - also are being sold. The lyrics have a pre-sale estimate ranging from US$3000 ($3625) to US$30,000.

With a classic sunburst finish and original flat-wound strings, the guitar has been in the possession of a New Jersey family for nearly 50 years.

Dylan left it on a private plane piloted by the owner's late father, Vic Quinto, who worked for Dylan's manager.

His daughter, Dawn Peterson, has said her father asked the management company what to do with the guitar, but nobody ever responded.

Last year, she took it to the PBS show History Detectives to try to have it authenticated. The programme enlisted the expertise of Andy Babiuk, a consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and owner of a vintage instrument shop, and Jeff Gold, a Dylan memorabilia expert. Both men, who appeared on the episode, unequivocally declared the artefacts belonged to Dylan.

Babiuk took the instrument apart and compared it to close-up colour photos of the guitar taken at the 1965 festival.

"I was able to match the wood grain on the body of the guitar ... and the unique grain of the rosewood fingerboard. Wood grains are like fingerprints, no two are exactly alike," Babiuk said in an interview. "Based on the sum of the evidence, I was able to identify that this guitar was the one that Bob Dylan had played in Newport." Dylan's attorney and his publicist did not respond to email and phone requests for comment.

Dylan and Peterson, who declined to be interviewed, recently settled a legal dispute over the items. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed but allowed Peterson to sell the guitar and lyrics, according to Rolling Stone, which wrote in July about Peterson's quest to authenticate the guitar.

"Representatives for Bob Dylan do not contest the sale of the guitar, and are aware of Christie's plan to bring it to auction," a statement issued through Christie's said.

Festival founder George Wein said that when Dylan finished playing, Wein told him to go back out and play an acoustic number because that's what people expected. Dylan said he didn't want to do it and said he couldn't because he only had the electric guitar. Wein called out for a loaner backstage, and about 20 musicians raised their acoustic guitars to offer them.

Dylan's "going electric changed the structure of folk music," the 88-year-old Wein said. "The minute Dylan went electric, all these young people said, 'Bobby's going electric, we're going electric, too'."

- AP

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