I will start by saying that while not the biggest ever fan of Steely Dan, I am more than aware of their important cultural impact and influence in popular music. As a kid of the 80’s I sort of picked up on the second wave of Steely Dan - first with Club House’s major club smash mashup of Do It Again with Billie Jean (1983), then the use of ’Peg’ in De La Soul’s ’Eye Know’ (1989) - I also heard a lot of ’Rikki Don’t Lose That Number’ but can’t necessarily explain why - I guess it just had a lot of radio play in the early 80’s. More latterly Kanye West and Mark Ronson have obviously used Steely Dan material within their own tracks - so the legacy continues as such. Walter Becker was quite evidently a talented multi-instrumentalist and the band delivered a very wide tonal palette across 9 great studio albums.
Released Steely Dan music spans 1972 - 2003, while Walter’s last solo album was 2008’s ’Circus Money’. Walter sadly passed away 2 years ago, and I’m guessing few had any idea of just how much gear he had amassed over his career. I wonder just where all this gear would/could be stored - it would make for on amazing museum / exhibiton!
I’m guessing the Executors / Administrators of the Walter Becker Estate took heart from the recent David Gilmour Christie’s NYC Auction - which sold 127 Guitars for a record $21.5 million, with the high point being the Black 1969 Dark Side of the Moon Strat which fetched a very solid $3,975,000.
Julien’s of Beverly Hills will be presiding over the Walter Becker Estate Auction - on the 18th and 19th of October - the first day being a very special date for me! And there are an incredible 1089 Lots in the excellent catalogue which you can download online.
To my mind the catalogue is slightly oddly arranged - and I streamlined my own list when working up this article. What is immediately evident apart from all the Fender and Gibson gear is just how much a Gear Fan Walter was - supporting countless independent Luthiers and Electronics Engineers - the Brand lists for every category are pretty much a full A-Z of different builders / makers / manufacturers.
I don’t feel any of the items for sale here is quite as iconic as some of David Gilmour’s guitars, and that is reflected in the catalogue with the top estimations being at the $10K-$15K mark. I picked out some of my favourites from the catalogue - and if I lived in the US and had cash to spare, I would on doubt be pitching up at the Auction. I would quite have liked to attend just as an observer - make sure all the pieces go to good home etc!
With import duties / shipping and the rest though and the worsening exchange rate for the GB Pound it doesn’t make much sense for Brits to get involved beyond general fascination. In my usual manner I’ve tried to extract some personal highlights and favourites and bring light to areas that might otherwise have been overlooked and ignored!
I've only just recently completed my own pedal inventory to see that I am currently at 378 units as such, which means I've quite a way to go to catch up with Walter's collection of 645 as far as I calculate. Several of the pedal Lots here are a touch odd as they combine a number of disparate brands - which is fine if those are all singular brand pedals (which they are not) - and I would have made more of an effort to split all the pedals into separate brand groups. There are several disparate pedalboards too - which I would have been encouraged to split out into relevant groups also - so that buyers could buy all of a certain pedal make in one Lot. As it is there are some quite idiosyncratic selections which I question the overall appeal on.
As I already have a sizeable collection - there are relatively few lots here that appeal to me in their entirety, as there would be unnecessary duplication, or the acquisition of pedals I did not necessarily want - which just makes for lots of needless admin. Two Lots which stood out immediately for me in terms of their relatively completeness, and also because to date I have acquired not a single pedal from those brands - are Lots 984 and 969 above - or Fairfield Circuitry + Recovery Effects and Death by Audio respectively - the first a batch of 19 (9 FC + 10 RE), and the second a batch of 15 - both estimated at $2K-$3K which I feel is pretty fair. So were I in Beverly Hills on October 18th with cash to burn - those are the Lots I would be bidding on.
I've split out the 10 most populous brands first, and then listed all makes alphabetically. I'm slightly disappointed there isn't more Boss in this collection - Boss contributes the largest number to my own collection. My Own Top 10 brands by volume overlaps with Walter for JHS, TC Electronic and Wampler - otherwise we are slightly at odds!
What heartens me the most here is just how agnostic Walter was in his brand patronage - supporting 117+ different pedal brands overall:
TOP 10 - Numbers :
BRANDS A-Z - Numbers :
I've chosen not to split out all the different guitar types (Acoustic / Guitar / Bass / Lap Steel / Ukulele etc.) - you yourselves can be as granular as you wish on that score. Obviously Fender and Gibson dominate here - but it's interesting to see so many lesser-known brands in this list - like Hahn, Nitebob Custom / Studio 10 Project and Ian Anderson. There are big estimates on vintage Fender, Gibson and Bacon & Day guitars - all around $10K-$15K, also on Walter's Sadowsky Signature Model 1.
While I really enjoy seeing the more ergonomic Gibson headstock shape on Lot 275's Gibson Pat Martin Signature Guitar. My favourite guitar in the collection overall is Lot 32's Ian Anderson Standard - pictured above and estimated at $2K-$3K. I really like the ergonomics and aesthetics on this one - beautiful figured Flame Maple top - I really like Ian's unconventional take on the LP style shape - and I find this much more pleasingly proportioned, with an infinitely preferable headstock shape. This is just a beautiful guitar all-round. In fact you will most likely get lost in the scope and variety of unusual guitars here - there are so many here I find really cool - including Lot 98 too - a really beautiful evolution from a sort of SG Shape on the Roning Songbird.
I'm not the biggest Fender and Gibson fan necessarily, and although those guitars will probably hold their value the best - I'm not a horse trader / flipper looking to make a fast buck, I'm just in it for which instrument is best suited for me - and for keeps, not for trades. Depending on your purpose or mindset here - hopefully some really smart buys can be made on those guitars perceived to have lesser inherent value - there are definitely some real beauties here in every category - and you have more than 172 brands to choose from!
TOP 10 - Numbers :
BRANDS A-Z - Numbers :
The Amp/Cabs section is just as colourful and varied as the other categories here - while a number of the amps for sale look noticeably road-worn / touring-weary - or more than a little scuffed and messed up. There are some rarer Fender and Gibson amps here - most of the usual suspects really.
I myself am more of a sort of combo type of guy - and the one amp that I would consider snagging here is the Kendricks / Ken Fischer collaboration Trainwreck Climax which supposedly is/was made in relatively low numbers. I've always liked the TrainWreck sound - so I would take a gamble on this one - it looks in pretty decent condition.
Obviously a heavy emphasis / lean towards US Amps here - but nice to see Marshall, Orange, HiWatt and Vox in the mix too. I'm also fascinated to see how many of these 93 brands also made guitars - which you don't always automatically make the association with. I guess if you're having a successful spell you try and pin your brand on as many different products as possible - and of course not all forays into diversification work out long-term.
TOP 10 - Numbers :
BRANDS A-Z - Numbers :
Walter also had a lot of studio gear - in terms of rack-gear and mastering systems, and monitoring speakers and desktop amps. Also a collection of Keyboards, Drums and a Flute!
This particular event is more of a spectator sport for me. I think it makes sense for US nationals and people of means who don't mind paying over the odds for shipping and customs fees.
I don't think there's any one thing here that particularly stands out - just personal preferences really - and it's more the collection as a whole - the sum of the parts which makes this such an exceptional selection. I would ideally like some philanthropist just to buy up the whole lot for a museum or permanent exhibition. Yet this will undoubtedly be split up and spread to the four corners eventually.
I mentioned that Walter Becker's individual pieces aren't at the level of iconography of David Gilmour's recent record breakers - yet the nature of auctions means that there will be one or two guitars most likely which will be competed for and will exceed the estimates.
I've always been a modernist at heart and go fore ergonomic and aesthetically honed instruments than those blessed with provenance and pedigree. So I would not be shopping from the Fender and Gibson Lots here - but more some of the distinct independent ones - I think those that play there cards right here and get some really fantastic instruments for pretty fair prices. It's another matter if you're a horse-trade / flipper - then Fender / Gibson / Gretsch / Rickenbacker is where you live - and there is plenty to feed that here too.
I'm fascinated to see which pieces get elevated by the auction process and which will perform less well than expected. Did you guys see anything you like the look of / and would be prepared to bid on. If I take away one things from this exercise is how much I like the look of those Ian Anderson Guitars, and how comparatively speaking my own pedal collecting / acquisition is really not so extreme!