Elliott Smith’s Le Domino Guitar Sells for $35,000

Elliott Smith’s Regal Le Domino guitar has sold for $35,000. The sale included Smith’s Lawrence pickup, case and original type- and hand-written working lyrics for several songs, including early solo efforts “Some Song,” and "Alphabet City."

“Elliott loved this funny little guitar as do I," reads the certificate of authenticity, written by the seller, Smith’s friend and former housemate.

The flattop parlor guitar, with a domino motif around the sound hole and on its belly, was built in Chicago in the early 1930s and is unique beyond its provenance, says Nate Fasold, owner of Black Book Guitars in Portland, Oregon. Unlike other Le Dominos he has seen, the Elliott Smith guitar is cross-braced rather than ladder-braced. “Even with the old strings on it, the guitar is very loud,” he says. “When you hold this guitar and play it you just wonder what he was feeling, what he was thinking in his songwriting process.”

The guitar marked a transition in Elliott Smith's music, Fasold explains. Smith had been playing with Heatmiser, which Fasold describes as a noisy alternative rock band from the ‘90s. “His housemate at the time bought this guitar at a local shop here in Portland and Elliott Smith was attracted to it,” Fasold says. “He had an acoustic guitar already, but this sound? This one is something special.”

Smith borrowed the guitar and started playing it around the house; soon after he began recording the songs that would comprise the classic Lo-Fi album Roman Candle with a four-track tape machine and a single microphone. “This guitar marks that pivotal moment of him going from the electric band to the Elliott Smith that we all know and love,” Fasold says. “He starts with that soft-spoken finger style that has become Elliott's signature sound.”

This guitar marks that pivotal moment of him going from the electric band to the Elliott Smith that we all know and love"

Black Book Guitars, which facilitated the sale, specializes in guitars with history, Fasold says. “We try to document the previous owners and get any photos, video or recordings that we can. If you can’t authenticate it, it’s folklore.” Fasold says he keeps all incoming gear in original condition, at least until the new owner requests repairs. “I don't touch it unless the buyer requests it,” Fasold says. “I keep everything stock; you know, old strings, original tubes. This guitar still has the strings that Elliott Smith used. It still has a little piece of paper that he stuck in the bridge to meet the strings for the string squeak.”

In this case, however, the buyer intends to play the guitar and has requested repairs to the damaged bridge, which has glue pooled around it. Built originally for gut strings, Smith played it with steel strings. “[Smith] might have even tried gluing it himself,” Fasold says. “It looks almost like glass to me. Other than that, it's pretty much stock with no other damage.”

The buyer, who has requested anonymity, Fasold says, was a fan and had seen Smith perform many times in Portland.

Smith's song "Miss Misery“ was featured in the movie “Good Will Hunting” and nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Song category in 1998.

Steven Paul "Elliott" Smith, born August 6, 1969 in Omaha, Nebraska, died on October 21, 2003 in Echo Park, California, of two stab wounds to the chest.

Photos used by permission of J.J. Gonson

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