Sir Elton Johns much-loved Steinway Grand Piano, (circa 1972) sold for an astounding $915,000 Saturday, July 17, during Heritage Auctions
landmark Entertainment & Music memorabilia event.
Aggressive bidding skyrocketed the auction price as a bidding war broke out between phone bidders while others bid through the internet on Heritage LIVE!.
Bidding opened Saturday afternoon at $240,000. But befitting an instrument used by the Rocket Man, it quickly took off from there. The piano set an auction house record as the most expensive musical instrument Heritage has ever sold.
Sir Elton signed the piano on the gilded cast-iron frame. In permanent black ink, he wrote, Enjoy this as much as I have, Elton John. Talk about a personal touch for his personal favorite guitar.
It was offered at auction by Curtis Schwartz, a longtime music engineer whose name can be found on albums by Siouxsie and the Banshees, Lush, Cutting Crew, the Bee Gees and Yes. Schwartz initially had no idea it was the touring piano John took with him on the yellow brick road throughout the 1970s through 1994.
Except, no. This wasn't just another one of Sir Elton's pianos. Far from it.
A decade after he'd bought the piano, Schwartz says he received a phone call from an attorney who identified himself as John's archivist, who wanted to know if he owned the Steinway bearing the serial number 426549. Schwartz said yes, at which point he was informed that this piano had been the very one the singer-songwriter used during tours in the 1970s well into the 1990s.
I was only happy it was a great piano, Schwartz says now. I just assume Elton John would have a piano in every city, and this was just one of his, like, 122 pianos.
As Schwartz would learn, the Steinway was initially a loaner for one of the company's most famous clients. Three years after its completion and delivery, John bought it and finalized its customization, which meant "re-weighting the keys to provide a very light and responsive touch." That's according to an April 2021 report from Steinway & Sons London Technical Services Manager David Widdicombe.
Indeed, this is the very Steinway seen in iconic photos of Sir Elton at Dodger Stadium during two sold-out gigs in October 1975, when he played to more than 100,000 people including his parents. In time Schwartz would come to learn that this Steinway had been played during hundreds of gigs spanning two decades, culminating with 91 concerts during its final year of use in 1993.
It traveled the world and even shared stages with two Beatles. Sir Elton played it that November 1974 night at Madison Square Garden when John Lennon showed up to pay off a bet and play three songs, among them their hit single Whatever Gets You Thru the Night. It was Lennons final live show. And Paul McCartney used that very Steinway during Let it Be, the Live Aid finale witnessed by some billion viewers worldwide in 1985.
It was also been used by Freddie Mercury during Queens A Day at the Races tour in 1977. In fact, the piano is accompanied by an email from Peter Hince, Queens road manager at the time, in which he notes that the singer had been frustrated with the endless buffet of mediocre pianos that showed up on the road, and asked to borrow Johns for the 77 tour.
And now it has a new owner at the end of that yellow brick road.