You don’t need to be a professional musician to have a guitar on your shopping Wishlist. You might not even be a collector or art lover to want one of those vintage guitars. Maybe your wish is to have your own rare and valuable instrument, which can allow you to play that song you learned in childhood. In all the above cases, your next step would be to purchase a vintage guitar. But first, you need to research the field, so that you don’t end up with a high-priced collectible, which cannot play, but needs repairs worth another ton of money.
In this article, we’ll take you to the most important stops on the trip to your future guitar. The vintage guitars industry is complex. Therefore, we aim to reveal all the details that you need to purchase an original vintage guitar, how to prepare your budget, and what to expect from the market. Read on to see how to find a vintage guitar, which are the most valuable and famous models, and how to use their serial numbers.
Vintage Guitars: History and Price Guide
You might think that any guitar which is acoustic, old and rare is vintage. Don’t worry, there are many who share this opinion. However, even if the above may say some truth, here’s a detailed explanation of what vintage guitars really are.
- The term vintage was first used in the wine industry, to indicate the product’s harvest date. Collectors have turned it around to signify products with an old and charming look. Yet, in the music instruments branch, it refers to a guitar being old and original.
- When talking about vintage guitars, most collectors and experts refer to guitars made between 1920 – More specifically, the older ones are too primitive to be used, while the ones made after 1970, are instruments from the modern era.
- As there’s no win without risk, if you’re looking for such used guitars for sale, you should consult with an expert. There are rare electric guitars which are valuable because they’re in limited editions. Yet, there are models which may have been produced in only a few hundreds or thousands of pieces, but they’re just unpopular or unpractical.
Last, but not least, when it comes to vintage guitars, you must do your homework thoroughly. There are models which are pricey just because an artist owned them, or guitars that have counterfeit pieces. Make sure that you check all the details of your desired instrument. As George Gruhn said, even specialized events are tricky.
I can go to a guitar show where there are 10,000 guitars and I’m lucky if I can find six that are worth collecting.
Vintage Guitars Price Guide
Today, there are two types of pricing vintage guitars – each with its advantages and inconvenient.
- Appraisals: A few decades ago, expert stores used to evaluate vintage guitars, for prices around $30. However, nowadays, many of these initiatives are unpopular, as collectors claim they are mostly over-pricing a model. Yet, if you know of a reliable appraisal source, it should cost you around $50.
- The Official Vintage Guitar Price Guide: This annual guide is made of experts from the Vintage Guitar Magazine. It includes modern and vintage guitars and accessories from over 2,000 brands. The guide is available in both digital and print format. The price guide costs $34.95.
The price of a vintage guitar usually depends on its age, condition, and the model itself. Therefore, we will not discuss estimates vs. budget. However, supposing that the condition of the guitar is excellent, here are the prices of some models, as per The Official Vintage Guitar Price Guide.
- Fender Esquire Custom Sunburst, 1960: $20,000 – $27,000;
- Gibson SG Junior Cherry, 1963 – 1964: $2,300 – $3,000;
- Martin OO-21 Scalloped braces, 1940 – 1943: $6,100 – $8,000;
- Also, Martin OO-21 H, 1934: $6,300 – $8,300;
- Martin OO-21 G, 1936 – 1939: $4,900 – $6,300.
How to Buy Your Next Vintage Guitar
The below list needs to be read after you ask yourself the right questions. Do you really want to buy a vintage guitar? Do you plan to create/enrich a collection, or to use it? Did you also consider reissued models or even new guitars?
If you answered these questions and still want to buy one of those valuable vintage guitars, it’s time to see how you can purchase such a model.
1. Do Your Research
You may want a specific model, any instrument for a certain time, or any of those beautiful vintage guitars. Either way, your first and foremost step is to do your research: on the culture, brand, model, technical specs, how to read serial numbers and much more.
When owning a vintage instrument, you should know all its specs, potential and performance. It’s important to know how to properly maintain the guitar, what can affect it, what to do in case something happens. Also check out the characteristics of the wood which makes the case of the guitar. Some of them may need to be cleaned with special substances that protect them.
The more you know about a certain model, the higher are the chances for you to find out whether it’s a worthwhile investment or not. Include even the materials that comprise the guitar in your research. You might be surprised as some sellers change the case and, consequently, decrease the value of the instrument.
2. Buy from Reputable Stores
Flawless vintage guitars are rarely available on Ebay or other such stores. In this case, you need to track down an official large store, with high ratings, good customer service, and no list of complains. If possible, even go to the store and demand to take a closer look at your guitar of choice. Pay attention to all the details, and ask any questions which may come to your mind. Later, you can further check if a specific issue is for all the models, or yours needs a reevaluation.
There are many counterfeits or the markets, and you may not be able to determine them based on a couple of picks. The fake guitars market is now developed and international. Therefore, you may see experts which look at a guitar and admit that they don’t know whether it’s a fake or not. This is one of the reasons why you should choose a supplier with a reputation they just wouldn’t risk jeopardizing. Two such providers are Carter Vintage Guitars and Austin Vintage Guitars.
3. See Why the Seller Values the Guitar
There are sellers who post a product at a high price just because it belonged to a celebrity. This may be a vintage guitar. Yet, this does not necessarily mean that you will receive a flawless instrument, with beautifully crafted pieces, which plays without mistake.
Vintage guitars that come from musicians are usually used aggressively, or not well maintained. So, you have high chances to end up with memorabilia that you must resell to a small niche of fans.
4. Acknowledge the Risks
A guitar is an object – therefore, it can break anytime. Also, the prices of vintage guitars can change yearly. So, if you plan to buy such an instrument for its financial value, make sure that you are aware of the risks it involves.
This also means you will have additional storage costs, if you don’t already have a case. Also, the item can any time fall into the primitive category, as technology advances.
5. Check the description and the specs
Firstly, an original guitar is worth much more than a refurbished one. Also, there are sellers that use the term mint when it comes to guitars in unusual ways.
- Mint means as new. This should be a guitar kept in excellent condition, which costs a lot, but gives a lot.
- Mint for its age is not fresh. The mint for its age expression is used as a misinterpretation, and it means that the seller may not really try to offer you a well-kept item. Or, at least, he/she doesn’t have deep knowledge of the field.
6. Look at the Market
You can add this step anywhere you want in the process. However, don’t forget to check the market. Demand is very important when it comes to vintage guitars. There are models which are made in one piece, one time. This only means that there was a customer who wanted them personalized in a specific way and the brand didn’t consider the changes to be relevant. So, they did not make another one the same. Also, the guitar may have a rare piece of material and this makes it valuable.
Either way, it’s important to check the demand for the model you have chosen, to have a clear view on its pricing.
7. What about Accessories?
If you are looking for electric guitars for sale, then the discussion is a bit broader. You will also need to check the amp and other pieces and, if they don’t look as good as you thought – save some extra money. Then, if you wish to buy a piece that perfectly suits the guitar, go through the above process. The only difference is that this time you only look for accessories.
Acoustic guitars may not have so many issues. As we mentioned in step no. 5, you need to pay attention to all the specs – pieces included.
Some Valuable Vintage Guitars Models
- Fender Telecaster, 1950 – 1965;
- Fender Stratocaster, 1955 – 1965;
- Gibson Explorer, 1958 – 1960.
You can even find the above models with six-digit prices. However, their value is internationally known, and any expert would congratulate you for your choice.
Some brands which are famous for their vintage instruments are also Martin, Guild, Epiphone and Rickenbacker.
How to Avoid Fakes
Avoiding fake vintage guitars may seem easy at the first sight. They need to have the marks of the producer, serial numbers and not be made in a country which produces counterfeit items at a large scale. Yet, there’s more to each product, as the market is filled with counterfeit guitars.
One large-scale typical scam in this area is adjusting reissued models. In other words, you buy a Fender model reissued from the 80s, while paying for the same model first released in the 30s, as you see it in the description. Once the package arrives, you end up with a fake, as none of the parts now match a model. So, buying vintage guitars is not the time to think cheap.
Fender and Gibson are two of the brands with the most equivalent counterfeit products on the market. There are jokes among collectors that there are more guitars to be sold that were ever manufactured. The joke also includes sellers who had dozens of guitars stashed under the bed for years. So, a fake may be as good looking as the original, while working with pieces from reissued or stolen models.
A practical way to determine if a guitar is fake or not is to check out its serial number. Nowadays, the most reputable brands have the serial numbers publicly listed, and they show both the production year and location. The serial number system is unique to each brand and built in such a way that the manufacturer can tell you if the guitar is an authentic one or not. In the industry, there have been cases when customers called the producer of a guitar, named a serial number and that specific model…just did not exist.
The Guitar Is Yours
So, you now own one of those beautiful vintage guitars. Spend a moment admiring it. Then, spend some time to find an expert, in case it would ever need a repair. Decide what you will do with your guitar and what is the best option to store it. Then, you can feel free to play your favorite songs, accompanied by some spectacular and clear sounds.
What are your thoughts on vintage guitars? Have you ever tried purchasing one? Share your thoughts with us for other guitar-lovers!
Thanks for mentioning how you can check a guitar’s serial number to identify its authenticity. My uncle is interested in starting a vintage guitar collection. I’ll let him know how he can find authentic guitars.