• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 1392


    24 June 2004, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 33



    Price Realised  


    Labelled ENGRAVING D. O'BRIEN/ZEMAITIS/HAND-MADE GUITARS/COMMISSIONED & CO.DESIGNED/BY/ERIC CLAPTON ESQ/LONDON/1969, also signed and dated by the maker Antonius Casimere Zemaitis 1969, rosewood back and sides with mahogany top decoarted with wood inlay in a heart motif, ebony bridge and fingerboard bound and inlayed with silver, length of back 22 5/8 in. (57.5cm.); and Anvil hardshell case with adhesive tape inscribed by Lee Dickson Auction #54/Zemaitis "Ivan" 12 St

    Co-designed by Eric Clapton with guitar maker Tony Zemaitis in late 1968/early 1969, this guitar was used by Clapton on the album Blind Faith, 1969, and remained in his collection until 2004. According to the guitar's maker, it was loaned to George Harrison in circa 1969/early 1970s, who apparently used it on the recording of My Sweet Lord, released in 1970. Dave Mason also borrowed Ivan on at least one occasion and is pictured playing it on stage with Eric Clapton at the Dr. Spock Concert, at the Lyceum in London, June 14th, 1970. (2)

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    EC: I was introduced to the Zemaitis...when I was about 13 years old...I saw this guy called Buck, who used to play on the streets in London, and I followed him around...there was a gang of bohemian characters and he was the pied piper. He could play all those lead belly songs, Jessy Fuller [and so on] and he had a Zemaitis. It was huge and it was very, very primitive, there was nothing on it...and I kind of filed the information away [that] there was a guy near London who made 12-string guitars on a massive scale, the likes of which no-one had ever seen before, and I finally got to meet him [Tony Zemaitis] in the mid-1960s.....I asked him to make a 12-string for me, bigger than he'd ever done before and I also wanted it to be inlaid with silver. I wanted it to be incredibly ornate, I wanted to explore everything we could. ..So the heart shape was my idea...that was the first [Zemaitis to be built with a heart-shaped sound hole]... and then to turn the heart into a four leaf clover for the headstock. So he made this guitar, it probably took about a year...and it was massive. It was all made of purple heart too. I used it with Blind Faith and I did some other [material] with it. I was involved in a very, very, stormy relationship at the time [Alice Ormsby-Gore]. During one of our big rows, I took the guitar and I demolished it. I took it by the neck and I banged it against the wall until there was nothing left. Then about five years later I still had the neck, I took it back to Tony and [said to him] "I've got to tell you a terrible story, forgive me I can't bear to be without it", and I apologized and made all the excuses I could think of...he was shocked...but he understood...so he built another body onto the neck. So this is Mark 2 - the first one was destroyed, but the neck is original..but how he did that anyway [rebuilt that guitar]...

    LD: So the first one was 'Ivan the Terrible', and this one is 'Ivan the Tourable' [all laugh]...It's still a very, very unique sounding guitar.

    CW: Have you played it recently?

    EC: Only when we brought it to the studio and I gave it a quick strum. It's almost unmanagable...it's a kind of folly...exaggerated really in every way, so you're kind of in awe of it... It's a fantastic guitar, beautiful sound...very big..

    Notes written by Tony Zemaitis [1935-2002] in 1996 entitled Eric the A/C Player give an account of how his commission to make 'Ivan the Terrible' occurred. Apparently a previous client who had just sold his giant 12-string Zemaitis to Clapton, rang one morning: ...He was a bit out of breath and said he and Eric plus minder were on the way over and to be honest I didn't realise just how big he was in the business...When he arrived he was charm itself and we almost immediately had a sheet of paper on the table to draw out his ideas....The resulting A/C 12 had 30 sec sustain [later] cut to 26 secs with added silver inlays to bridge plus solid silver bridge pins..

    Zemaitis' notes also reveal a fascinating and significant association between this guitar and George Harrison: ...It was my most adventurous and decorated guitar to that date [1969] and probably still is. It was so gigantic I had to re-think the internal strutts into a double kite shape to artificially reduce the front area. It sounded like an organ and was even taken for such when used on [the] Blind Faith album - then on "My Sweet Lord" -- borrowed by Geo. Harrison after a rebuild...
    -- Zemaitis also gave a detailed description of the various materials he used: ..The guitar was made in old S.American Rosewood with Cedar front and inlaid with ebony edged amaranthe [sic] (Red) hearts. Plus silver mounted F/Bound, inlays etc.etc. It was loud and strong with a good tone and the phenomenal duration... Apparently Clapton asked Tony Zemaitis to make a few adaptations: Clapton ...asked me to RAISE the action as he double bent pairs of strings at a time...I cut the jig down by several inches to serve as a super giant A/C Bass - that's how big "Ivan the Terrible" was ..It was also a showy "stage" guitar...a totally different instrument to a normal 12 sound...

    An article in Guitar Player, October, 1970 gives a full breakdown of how this unique Zemaitis guitar was made, confirming that it was: co-designed by Eric and A.C. Zemaitis...with Eric concentrating on the inlays and general appearance and Zemaitis handling the technical and construction side... According to this article, Mark One took three months to make -- the rosewood and cedar body of the Jumbo 12-string had the following dimensions:... 23 inches long, 20 inches wide and 6 inches deep. Heart inlays of purple-hued amaranth, edged in ebony, circle the heart-shaped soundhole and run down the back of the body. Special lacquering, which took approximately four weeks, has produced a loud and mellow voice that hints of organ and harpsichord tones. There are a few minor differences in the design detail of the rebuilt body, the neck however is the original and as such was:...made of amaranth, ebony and mahogany with an ebony figerboard. All of the edging and heart-shaped inlays on the neck are of solid, hand-engraved silver. Nut, bridge saddle and engraved bridge pins are also in silver. Eric apparently requested a shorter neck than Zemaitis customarily built ... with only 12 frets clear of the body, instead of 14 or 15. The head is similar to a 17th century five course guitar. 'Ivan The Terrible', which Bob Dylan apparently called the "the love box", is significant for a number of reasons: ...not only because it was designed by and for [Clapton], but also because few guitars are made, even on an individual basis, that include as much detailed work. Even the label on Eric's guitar is heart-shaped and made from hand-illuminated parchment...

    In an interview with Eamonn Percival for International Musician, December, 1975, Tony Zemaitis discussed the development of his career as a guitar maker. Initially a cabinet maker, it was his interest in the guitar, and his knowledge of wood, which led him to experiment with building a guitar for himself. Zemaitis then built a few instruments, mostly 12-strings, for friends, working in his free time and just covering the cost of the materials he used. Gradually demand grew, and he branched out into guitar making full time. Initially concentrating on acoustics, which he preferred, and then moving into electric guitars in the mid '70s. In this interview Zemaitis stated that the guitar which to date he had enjoyed building the most, was this giant 12-string 'Ivan The Terrible'. And he discussed it's phenomenal sustain: ...An American company tested the length of sustain and when they told me 26 seconds I couldn't believe it. I didn't set out with that purpose in mind when I built it. I thought it would sustain for maybe 17 seconds, which is still very good, but 26 seconds!... According to Zemaitis the sustain is all down to the string length, the standard he used was ...25 5/8 inches from nut to bridge - "...a longer string length gives a better sustain...


    "Ivan The Terrible" in Guitar Player Magazine, October, 1970, p.32 PERCIVAL, Eamonn Interview with Tony Zemaitis in International Musician, December, 1975
    KAY, Max The Zemaitis Touch - Conversations with a very colorful guitar maker in Guitar World, July, 1982, pp. 50-54