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Buying a Vintage Electric Guitar

The Vintage Guitar market has grown significantly over the past decade driving prices for some of these instruments well over their true value. Along with the major brands, just about anything with strings over 25 years old is being advertised as a “vintage” guitar. Price guidelines are available for placing market value on Gibson, Fender, Gretch, Guild, Rickenbacker along with some Japanese made copies like Ibanez. These guidelines provide prices for buyers to use as a way to compare what someone is asking on Ebay to the actual market value of similar guitars. They’re not the bible on vintage guitars, just a resource for players and collectors to use. The amount of cash you lay down for that vintage guitar is your decision. Educating yourself before you buy is priceless.

1961 Gibson SG (Les Paul)

Vintage Fender and Gibson guitars can cost you some serious dollars and provide a good investment over time. As a player I was very fortunate to purchase a 1961 Gibson Les Paul (SG) all original for $300.00 back in 1978 and I still own it today. I’ve owned several Gibson’s since then only to sell or trade them not knowing the potential dollar value down the road. Researching those guitars today makes me wonder, “It would have been nice to have a crystal ball back then” but the vintage market only existed for what was considered to be antique guitars. No real price guidelines for vintage guitars that I was aware of so I let some quality vintage Gibson’s go for far less than what they go for now. Lesson learned but a bit too late for me.

Fender Stratocaster

Buying a vintage guitar for the investor is solely based on its future dollar value. Owning one of Jimi Hendrix’s Strats kept in a display case to show off to your friends is cool, but it’s a safe bet that Jimi would’ve wanted it to go to a player. As a player, owning that guitar would be the ultimate cool and I would play it every day. For me there’s a huge difference between investing in vintage guitars and owning them as a player.

Two things should be taken into consideration by players when looking to buy a vintage guitar. Cost and more importantly its playability. The ladder should be the rule especially when looking at copies or knockoffs of major brand names. Even Fender and Gibson produced some sub-par older guitars that people are asking huge dollars for. Japanese made copies flooded the market back in the 1970’s, some really good and some really bad so it can be difficult to know their true value. Since you can’t play the one you saw on Ebay, laying down the cash can be very risky for a guitar you intend on playing. Unless you live close enough to play before you buy I suggest you move on.

In the vintage car world you read about a “barn find” that someone is asking a huge amount of money for. Similar to the “kept in its case at the back of the closet or under the bed” vintage guitar someone is asking hundreds of dollars for. Maybe even thousands. You may or may not be familiar with the brand name but hey, this thing is like 40 years old so it must be worth the asking price. Don’t take your wallet out just yet. Chances are that it was given to one of the kids, played a few times, put away and forgotten. Most likely a cheap catalogue ordered guitar banged out on some factory production line and sold to the masses for $100.00 including the amp. (I’d be more interested in the amp.) Probably looks brand new which might make it worth a few bucks, not the hundreds of dollars they’re asking just because it’s old. Old or “vintage” doesn’t always mean it’s good! I started out playing one of these so called vintage guitars over 40 years ago and I would never spend that kind of cash on one today. Maybe $50 to hang on the wall but never as a player. I buy guitars that can be played, sound good to me and feel comfortable in my hands. Not pad someone’s pocket who only looked at it as a money maker. Far too many non-musicians look for the fast buck when selling these well below par instruments so do the research and before you buy.

Whether it’s that vintage Les Paul or Stratocaster or even a copy, check it out as much as possible. Educate yourself when it comes to the true value of the instrument. Once you make the decision to purchase I suggest you hang on to it and play it as much as possible. After all, guitars should be played not owned solely for their dollar value.


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