Earlier this month, Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles auctioned its largest collection of musical instruments to-date when the enormous collection of guitars, basses, effects pedals, and amps of Steely Dan’s Walter Becker were sold. More than 1,000 items were listed and the bidding surpassed the estimated $1-2 million mark, taking in $3.3 million when it concluded.
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Becker was always a gear aficionado who was not only interested in guitars, amps, and effects pedals but hi-fi stereo equipment as well. His collection was atypical in that it was comprised of more boutique amps and guitars than Fenders and Gibsons, although there were quite a few of those as well. Since many of the 600 guitars and 400 amplifiers were seldom played, there were a number of deals to be had for fans of Becker and of Steely Dan. Although practically all of the items were sold for prices far above their estimates, guitars could be had for as little as $2,000 and amps for less than $1,000. There were however many items that went for far more, especially if Becker had played them in the studio or on tour.
The 1957 Fender Duo-Sonic electric guitar seen in a photo of Becker in the gatefold sleeve of Steely Dan’s 1977 multi-platinum record Aja sold for $57,600; a 1954 Fender Stratocaster that was kept in the control room of Becker’s studio sold for $32,000; a 1993 guitar built by Roger Sadowsky specially for Becker that was used on countless tours and several recordings, including Circus Money, went for $22,400; a 1959 Gretsch Tennessean hollow body electric guitar signed by country music legend Chet Atkins sold for $12,800; a red Sadowsky Telecaster-style guitar nicknamed “Josie” played by Becker on The Late Show with David Letterman in 1995 and during the 1996 Art Crimes tour sold for $25,600; an Ian Anderson Standard electric guitar that Becker played on multiple tours, and in recent years claimed was his favorite, went for $22,400; and although it was only valued at $1,200, a pedal board that he had used fetched $32,000.
Interestingly, the instrument that sold for the highest price was almost not included in the auction. Becker’s widow had offered upstate New York guitar maker Chihoe Hahn any guitar from the collection, and Hahn nearly chose a green Strat-style guitar that he had sold to Becker in 2011. Becker fell in love with the instrument and after he purchased it, he played it at every live show, but Hahn decided to let it go to auction. That guitar, which Becker originally bought for $3,400 commanded the extraordinary sum of $68,750.
Becker’s amplifier collection was almost as large as his guitar collection (400 amps to 600 guitars) with some highlights being the MESA/Boogie speaker cabinet adorned with a picture of King Tubby that was used by Becker on numerous tours and during the recording of Two Against Nature and Everything Must Go which went for $25,600; a Matchless DC-30L combo amp used during the recording of Two Against Nature that sold for $12,800; A Dr. Z surf green Mazerati GT amplifier built for Becker and brought on tour in 2016-2017 for $16,000; and a custom built Dr. Z Carmen Ghia amplifer with a black road case stenciled with “STEELY DAN” for $19,200.
One of the most surprising purchases was that of a 1930s Bruno acoustic guitar, decorated with a Hawaiian theme valued at between $200 and $400. It sold for $28,125 to a Los Angeles businessman for his wife, who planned to use it as a decoration for their Hawaiian vacation home.
Becker was originally the bass player in Steely Dan, so it is no surprise that he had quite a few of those in his possession as well. The vintage Fenders commanded the highest amounts with eleven Precision and Jazz basses from the ’50s and ’60s selling for up to $16,000 each. There were also snare drums, a Slingerland drum kit, a Fender Rhodes electric piano, a Hohner Clavinet, and various high-end stereo components and speakers. One of the most interesting keyboards, however, was a Korg T3. Although it was only worth a few hundred dollars, it sold for $11,520 due to the fact that it was Becker’s primary songwriting keyboard from the early ’90s through 2006.
While Becker has been sorely missed at Steely Dan shows since his passing on September 3rd, 2017 at age 67, it is good to know that his massive collection is now in the hands of musicians, collectors, and fans who hope to capture some of the magic held in those instruments. He was passionate about music and about the tools he used over the course of nearly five decades in creating his singular sound. Hopefully, some of those instruments will be used to bring us music that would make Walter proud.