British folk legend John Renbourn had his fair share of guitars over the years. Though he started his career on a Scarth guitar – a distinctly British archtop creation with a round soundhole – he would later be seen toting a Gibson J-50 in the ‘60s, an ES-335, a Guild D-55 and, in the ‘70s, a Franklin OM guitar built by Nick Kukich. In 2011, he even had his own signature model Martin, the OMM John Renbourn Custom Artist Edition guitar.
Renbourn passed away in 2015 and, as so often happens a couple years after a music legend dies, some of his vast collection is starting to surface for sale. On October 4, 2017, England’s Chiswick Auctions is auctioning today’s catch, Renbourn’s own Gurian guitar, along with several other instruments from the famed Pentangle member.
We’ve written about the guitars that Michael Gurian built from the ‘60s-‘70s before in our magazine and we even produced a documentary on the luthier himself (watch it here). He was truly one of the pioneers of the modern lutherie movement and his handmade and production classical and steel-string guitars, lutes and ouds are nearly all exemplary instruments. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Gurian’s instruments found homes with some stellar players over the years. Bob Dylan, David Lindley, Jackson Browne, Paul Simon and Pierre Bunsusan are just a few musicians who have owned and performed with Gurians. And, apparently, Renbourn, had one, too.
Chiswick’s guitar specialist, Dr. David MacGregor, says of this particular instrument, “I understand that the Gurian was mainly used when John was in the USA although he tended to favor Martins and a [guitar built by luthier] Ralph Bown for live and studio work. The case has some Pentangle-era stickers on it.”
The custom guitar looks like a Gurian Jumbo and is typical of Gurian’s mid-‘70s production instrument: Indian rosewood back and sides, spruce top, neck probably on the slightly skinny side (most were 1 5/8″ at the nut). Gurian’s legendary “Gurian Workshops, Earth, Third planet to the sun” label is still in the soundhole.
MacGregor adds, “The neck feels a little narrower than a ‘70s Martin D-35 that I own but very, very playable and the action and feel closer to an electric guitar than an acoustic. I tuned it up into DADGAD when I went to value and it really responded beautifully.”
Chiswick is estimating this guitar will sell for 5000 – 6500 pounds (in American dollars that’s $6720 – $8742, at time of this writing). We’re curious to see how close it gets to that estimate. Generally speaking, Gurians can be great deals in the world of boutique acoustics. Many nice Gurians can still be had for under $2000 at the time of this writing. Not bad when you consider their fine construction, tone and their place in the history of the boutique guitar movement.
If the Gurian doesn’t speak to you, perhaps equally intriguing for British folk aficionados is another item that Chiswick is auctioning that same day: Renbourn’s 1970s 10-string Sobell Cittern with an estimate of just 1200-1300 pounds. Condition is listed as good and, though and I’m not well-versed on the cittern market, the auction house’s estimate seems low, especially considering what Sobell is typically charging for his new instruments today.