Bob Dylan's Famous Electric Guitar: Lost But Found?

In 1965, folk music was acoustic music. Period. And the crowd at the Newport Folk Festival that year was not happy that Bob Dylan had a wailing Stratocaster guitar. As guest host David Greene reports, a New Jersey woman says she has that very guitar.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The year was 1965. The place: Newport, Rhode Island. A young Bob Dylan took the stage at the Newport Folk Festival; a harmonica around his neck, and a guitar over his shoulder. But this time, something new - a wailing Stratocaster guitar. In 1965, folk music was acoustic music, period. And the crowd? Not happy that Bobby was plugged in.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)

GREENE: After just three songs, Dylan left the stage to boos and jeers. Pete Seeger himself was heard saying: Unplug him. It remains one of the most iconic performances in rock and roll history, but what happened to that offensive guitar? Well, a woman in New Jersey says she has it. Her name is Dawn Peterson and her father, Vick Quinto, was a private pilot who flew Dylan and his band to a handful of gigs in the '60s. And after one of those flights, a guitar was left behind on the plane.

ANDY BABIUK: What it is, is a Fender Stratocaster. The date is correct. I mean, everything lined up.

GREENE: That's Andy Babiuk. He assesses instruments for auction houses, and he swears on his career that this is the guitar from Newport '65. The PBS show "History Detectives" asked Babiuk to do a little rock and roll forensics, to figure out the identity of the guitar. Among other tests, he compared the instrument's wood grain to the grain patterns in color photos that were snapped from the front row of the concert.

BABIUK: Look, it is what it is. You know, it's wood. The actual guitar is there. The picture's there. It's clear. Like a fingerprint, no two are the same.

GREENE: Plus, says Babiuk, there are other clues. Sheet music found in the case has Dylan's handwriting; the guitar case sports the name of his touring company, Ashes to Sand. In short, this is definitely the guitar that changed rock and roll - except maybe it's not. Bob Dylan says he has the guitar from Newport '65. Orin Snyder, Bob Dylan's lawyer, wrote an email to us, and here's a colleague reading what he had to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) Bob did own several other Stratocaster guitars, that were stolen from him around that time. In addition, Bob recalls driving to the Newport Folk Festival, not flying.

GREENE: Hmm. Some reasonable doubt appears. Well, sides have been taken - Andy Babiuk and Dawn Peterson versus the voice of the next generation. And this is more than a matter of historical accuracy. The Newport guitar is likely worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Jennifer Quinto says she's not selling it. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The name of the guitar's owner is Dawn Peterson.] As for Dylan, well, who can speculate about his motivation in all this? Andy Babiuk sure won't.

BABIUK: I love Bob Dylan, and I'm a big fan, and I'm not going there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIKE A ROLLING STONE")

BOB DYLAN: (Singing) He's not selling any alibis, as he stares in the vacuum of his eyes, and say do you want to...

GREENE: This morning, we're your alibi 'cause you're listening to NPR News.

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Correction July 17, 2012

This story at one point incorrectly names Jennifer Quinto as the owner of the Newport guitar. The owner is Dawn Peterson.

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