NEW YORK — Bob Dylan and historians at PBS are in a dispute over the whereabouts of an electric guitar that the singer plugged in at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, quite possibly the most historic single instrument in rock ‘n’ roll.
The New Jersey daughter of a pilot who flew Dylan to appearances in the 1960s says she has the guitar, which has spent much of the past 47 years in a family attic. But a lawyer for Dylan claims the singer still has the Fender Stratocaster with the sunburst design that he used during one of the most memorable performances of his career.
If the authentic “Dylan goes electric” guitar ever went on the open marketplace, experts say it could fetch as much as a half million dollars.
The guitar is the centerpiece of Tuesday’s season premiere of PBS’ “History Detectives,” and the show it stood by its conclusion that Dawn Peterson, the pilot’s daughter who works as a customer relations manager for an energy company, has the instrument.
On July 25, 1965, that guitar was more an object of derision than desire.
With his acoustic songs of social protest, a young Bob Dylan was a hero to folk music fans in the early 1960s and the Newport festival was their Mecca. Bringing an electric guitar and band with him onstage to launch into “Maggie’s Farm” was more than an artistic change, it was a provocative act. Most folk purists disdained rock ‘n’ roll.
Music has its share of memorable instruments, like Paul McCartney’s Hofner bass or the Gibson guitars that B.B. King calls Lucille. Yet it’s tough to think of any instrument that was the focus of an event more meaningful than the electric guitar Dylan played that day, said Howard Kramer, curatorial director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum.
“This is not just kinda cool. This is way cool,” said guitar expert Andy Babiuk. “We all love Bob Dylan, but this is really a pinnacle point not just in his career but for music in general. I don’t think music in the 1960s would have been the same if Dylan had not gone electric.”
Victor Quinto briefly flew music stars around during the 1960s. Peterson, his daughter, said Dylan left the Fender on an airplane and Quinto took it home. She was told that her father contacted Dylan’s representatives to get them to pick it up, but no one ever did.