Bass guitarist Bill Wyman quit the Rolling Stones 21 years ago, but a guitar that was made specially for him was a treasured possession of Kiwi musician Billy Kristian until last year.

The unique crimson bass guitar was one of two made for Wyman in 1966 by the English company Vox. Wyman gave it to Kristian, who was playing with Max Merritt and the Meteors on the Rolling Stones' tour of Australia that year.

It was stolen from his car in 1968, but recovered when police raided the thief's home because he was behind with his rent.

Kristian had to sell it when he was down on his luck in Singapore two years later, but bought it back in 1981 after running into the buyer by chance in Melbourne.

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He played it for years after that, until finally selling it last Christmas to British music manager Martin Kelly who has collected almost 100 Vox guitars and is writing a book about them.

"It didn't sound like any other instrument," he said. "There were no others like it."

Kristian, who at 71 now is seven years younger than Wyman, was born with the name Wiremu Karaitiana. He changed it when he moved from the South Island to Auckland with Max Merritt and the Meteors in 1962 and tried to rent a flat in the Orakei Basin.

"I told the landlord my name. He said, 'Are you Greek?' I said, 'No, I'm Maori,' and he said, 'We don't let to Maoris,'" he said.

"So I changed it to 'Kristian' spelt with a K, and the guy said, 'Are you Norwegian?' And I said, 'Yah, yah.' The name worked for me and it's managed to stay with me all these years."

He said Vox wanted Wyman to use the guitar because the band's original leader Brian Jones played a Vox and the band used other Vox equipment.

But Wyman played the instrument only once and decided he preferred his Framus guitar.

"He didn't like it," Kristian said. "When you're world famous -- even at that stage in 1966 they were world-famous -- you can do that."

"I asked him if he would sell it and he said no, he couldn't do that as he felt a responsibility to Vox to keep it," Kristian said.

But Kristian asked him again the next day when they were on a bus on the tarmac at Sydney Airport, and this time Wyman said he could have it as a gift. A roadie opened up the rear luggage compartment, revealing the two guitars, the crimson one and a green one.

"Just take which one you want," the roadie said. Kristian chose the crimson one.


Ray Columbus and the Invaders on tour with the Stones in 1965. Billy Kristian (back, far left) received the guitar from Rolling Stone Bill Wyman (second from left).