New York

Tom Petty-Signed Strat May Help Save Starlight Bowl

A Tom Petty-signed guitar heads to auction to raise funds to save Balboa Park's Starlight Bowl

Even the losers get lucky sometimes: If you've always wanted to own a Tom Petty-signed guitar and help resurrect Balboa Park's historic Starlight Bowl while you're at it -- Dec. 2 might very well be your day.

Petty, who sadly passed away at the age of 66 on Oct. 2 from cardiac arrest, and his band the Heartbreakers were in town to headline the 2017 Kaaboo Del Mar music festival on Sept. 17 -- and took time out of their schedule to sign a Fender Stratocaster on behalf of the Save Starlight nonprofit group. It is believed that the guitar is the last instrument the pop/rock icon signed before his untimely death.

In the '80s and '90s, Balboa Park's Starlight Bowl played host to a myriad of big-name musical acts (including Santana, Bob Dylan, the Ramones, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Doobie Brothers and more) before it ceased concert operations and eventually closed in 2012 and fell into disrepair. The grass-roots Save Starlight organization hopes to bring the venue back to life, and two of its volunteers, Alan Ames and Jamie McGuffee, started a celebrity auction fundraising campaign to aid in those efforts.

According to a recent Save Starlight press release, McGuffee reached out to Petty's camp and asked if the singer/songwriter and his band would be interested in participating.

"The response was 'yes,' but it had to be a Fender guitar," the press release reads. "[McGuffee] got the word of Tom's involvement to Fender Corporation and [Save Starlight's] Steve Stopper literally overnighted a new Fender Stratocaster donated for this cause!"

On the night of Petty's Sept. 17 performance, Kaaboo Del Mar's Jenn Perell took the guitar backstage, where the frontman played it, liked it, and signed it with the rest of the band.

With guitar in hand, Stopper approached Guernsey's Auction House "simply to get advice on methods and ways Starlight can best auction the guitars" they were collecting for their fundraiser, according to the press release. It was then that Guernsey's founder, Arlan Ettinger, took an extra interest.

While having the last known signed guitar by Tom Petty would make a compelling enough reason to list it for auction, Ettinger found the community effort to save the Starlight Bowl to be just as important.

"Here is a guitar donated by Fender, signed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, with all these people involved in an effort to rebuild an abandoned historic theatre," he said to Stopper. "You are looking to make the world aware of this huge volunteer undertaking that has great benefit to your community. You are also looking for others to donate guitars to be signed for Starlight, and then you are asking artists to sign them. You are looking for people everywhere to get involved. You are looking to tell your story.

"Steve, Tom Petty's guitar has the power to do that," Ettinger added. "Let me do that, too."

The guitar is now listed on Guernsey's Auction House e-catalog for their upcoming Dec. 2 auction in New York -- which also features guitars used by Jimi Hendrix, Madonna, Jerry Garcia, and Paul McCartney (among others). If you feel like 'runnin' down a dream,' visit Guernsey's website for more information

For more information on getting involved with Save Starlight, contact info[at] or their office at 619-252-1744.

Dustin Lothspeich books The Merrow and runs the music equipment-worshipping blog Gear and Loathing in San Diego. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.

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