10 Reasons Why Vintage Guitars Are Not Worth The Money.(Not my article,I found this somewheres else)
Note From Ed Roman
I did not write this, I agree with most of it, some of it is reaching a little too far but for the most part it makes sense. In my opinion the only reason any vintage guitar plays or sounds better is simply because the value is high enough where their owners only take them to first class luthiers.
By Frank Lucido
1. Modern guitars are made exactly the same way that vintage guitars were made in the old days.
I think the roots of the whole "vintage" guitar movement began when Martin couldn’t get large pieces of Brazilian rosewood in the mid-60’s and switched to Indian Rosewood, which isn’t as pretty. Any luthier will tell you that if you make your instrument out of good hardwood and you know what you are doing, it’s going to sound decent. However, what a lot of people DON’T KNOW is that there is a balance between sturdiness or functionality and sound. The thinner the top, the more it will vibrate and the louder and fuller the sound will be. However, you don’t want half of your guitars returned to you because the tops split or the sides or backs cracked. Making the tops thicker makes them sturdier but also causes them not to sound as good. Every manufacturer of acoustic instruments has to confront this reality. The manufacturer is in the business to make money. When Martin decided to drop Brazilian rosewood, it was a business decision. The wood just wasn’t available so they had to go with "plan B". I’m sure Martin didn’t think that their guitars were then crap because they had to change suppliers. I’m sure they did the best they could and sought out the best wood they could find. I’m also sure that Martin was at that time and still is the best acoustic guitar company in the world. However, as a result of this decision to got to another type of rosewood and another decision in which guitar backs became 3 piece instead of the traditional 2 piece, the ignorati of the time began to badmouth Martin and suggest that the new guitars were inferior. This is the very earliest reference I can recall to the idea that guitars somehow could be "vintage" or have good years and bad years.
Ts the man at Gibson assembling the top decided he didn’t want to spend much time trying to match the wood up. It was fairly common to see that one half of some of the tops would look much flamier than the other half and some had no flame at all. Collectors zeroed in on flame maple like it was Viagra and they were all 80 years old. Guys would pay 3 times as much for a guitar with a particularly nice, balanced flamed top. It was common to hear the opinion that Gibson stopped doing this because "the wood was no longer available"; "it was all used up", etc. Of course, now days you see it everywhere. Paul Reed Smith doesn’t seem to have much trouble getting it for his guitars and even Gibson must have discovered a mother load of it judging by the amount of super flamed Les Pauls it’s been pumping out for the past 20 years. Apparently, when the guitar was being manufactured, it couldn’t have been all that popular because Gibson dropped it from the line.
he mid-60’s was the beginning of the explosion of popular music throughout America. The demand for musical instruments was beginning to grow exponentially. If you needed to go from making 500 guitars a month to 2000, you have to make changes! The CBS corporation bought Fender and needed to up the production numbers dramatically. A lot of changes in manufacture were necessary to expedite the manufacturing process. By the end of the 60’s Fender wanted to eliminate a step in the set up of their guitars by designing the infamous "3 bolt neck". The 3 bolt design allowed the neck angle to be adjusted without the complete disassembly of the neck and the body. More guitars needed to roll down the assembly line so that more could be sold and keep the stockholders happy. Polyurethane paint replaced nitrocellulose lacquer because it was much easier and quicker to complete a guitar. Sure, some of these changes turned out to be bad ideas! However, nearly across the board, manufacturers responded to consumers complaints and worries by returning to older, more quality conscious designs. Martin was making a reissue of their "herringbone" D-28 with scalloped bracing very early on. Fender and Gibson started reissuing classic models in the 1980’s! There may have been a time (the 1970’) especially for Fender, when the older guitars were probably better made. But this was a relatively short period of time. Manufacturers rapidly responded to public demand and began making their instruments the old fashioned way. I’m surprised that they don’t get more credit for that! Sure, large pieces of Brazilian rosewood are in short supply, but 98% of the other woods and materials used in the 40's and 50's is still available.
People like to believe the myth that the guitar they own is somehow special and rare. I remember that collectors were always going on about the "flame maple" on the tops of the Les Paul Standard sunbursts from the late 50’s. It’s kind of funny when you think about the fact that Gibson obviously got the idea from the BACK of violins which had been made with book-matched maple for hundreds of years. The flame maple is completely decorative. There is nothing about flame maple that makes it superior to regular maple. It was a cool idea and it looks great unles
om their line for SEVEN YEARS and made what we now call the SG bodied guitars as their primary solid body. My guess was that players had the same complaint back in 1959 and 1960 that they have today- the guitar tends to be too heavy. I don’t think it was dropped because they ran out of flamed maple!!
In many ways, the materials available today are superior. The plastic in pickguards and pick-up covers is better made today for example. The old Bakelite would crack and discolor. The original Strat pick up covers from 1954 to 1956 broke so often that Fender stopped using the material. Anybody trying to twist a "vintage" plastic tuning peg has to say a Hail Mary so the damn thing doesn’t break off in their fingers. There's a good reason that Grover tuners were the rage in the 1960's and were almost de facto on your Les Paul Standard at that time. It's because the original pegs were pretty cheap. If you bought a Les Paul Custom, which was a lot more money, Gibson threw in the gold Grovers, but the stock pegs were really lame in many cases. Tuning pegs on today's quality guitars are far superior.
Electronics of today are light years ahead of the stuff from the 1950's. Sure, for the most part, a pick-up is a pick-up. It's hard to be innovative with what is essentially a magnet with copper wire around it! The law of diminishing returns starts to apply. A humbucker is a very simple device. It was wonderfully designed and improvements on it are possible but the results will be negligible. HOWEVER! I am sick to death of morons telling me that PAF's from the 50's sound better than modern humbucking pick-ups. That's just a lie. Anybody who knows anything about guitar electronics will tell you that the sound of a guitar is not produced by the pick-up. The pick-up is merely an amplifier. What you hear coming out of your amp is the sound of the guitar AMPLIFIED by the pick-up. So if the guitar sounds dead, doesn't sustain and has flat wound strings on it, guess what? The guitar may sound like crap. The PAF's aren’t going to override the guitar and magically make it sound like Eric Clapton on the Bluesbreakers records!
In the early days of vintage guitars, before all this stupidity took over, we would swap the PAF's in our Flying V's, sunbursts and gold tops trying to see if we could find some holy grail pick-up. The thing I immediately noticed was that a set of PAF's would sound a little different in every guitar. In some it would sound amazing and in others it would just sound average. Obviously, the pick-ups are only one factor in the sound of a guitar. If the guitar sounded average or bad with one set of PAF's, it tended to sound average or bad with a set of PAF's from another guitar. When I say "bad" I mean subtle differences like high end frequencies and sustain. We wanted a lot of treble and endless sustain. Some guitars just wouldn’t do it no matter how many pick-ups we'd stick in it. So people need to get over this attitude that PAF's are somehow superior. PAF's are no better than the pick-ups in the Les Paul hanging right now at your local music store.
Anybody that doesn't believe me should accept my $10,000.00 challenge. Just bring your stock 1950's Les Paul to your favorite music store. I'll pick the amp and I'll take down 3 new Les Pauls off the store wall. Then I'll plug in while you stand 20 feet away with a blindfold on. You have to pick your guitar out of the 4 when I play it. If you cant identify it repeatedly with any true certainty, I keep your guitar. If you can always tell which one is yours, you get $10,000.00! It should be easy to do because you think the PAF’s in your old guitar sound "better", right?
Let's talk about your 3 most valuable collector's items. The Les Paul, the Strat and the Martin D-45. The Les Paul Standard from the 50's as we all know, has a maple top (except for the Custom), mahogany back, sides and neck, two pick-ups, 4 control knobs, some volume and tone potentiometers, stop tailpiece, tun-a-matic bridge, a toggle switch, an input jack, some switch and control covers on the back and a rosewood fretboard. Around 1955 the bar tailpiece was replaced by the "tun-a-matic" bridge and by 1957, Gibson had refined that guitar by introducing humbucking pick-ups but it has essentially remained unchanged in design since 1952. In 1959 Gibson wisely went to a larger fret wire and Voila, the guitar graduated and has been made EXACTLY the same except for decorative cosmetic changes ever since. Sure, Gibson went to multi-piece bodies on their Les Pauls for a while which pissed off the purists, but once again, by 1968 they responded to market pressure and made a really nice copy of a 1950's gold top with a one piece body and the old "soap bar" pick-ups.
In 1954, Fender brought out the Strat with an ash body, maple neck, plastic pick-guard, 3 pick-ups, selector switch, and tremolo bridge. The changes on the Strat over time were even less dramatic than the Les Paul. All Fender changed for the first 4 years was the shape of the holes on the tremolo cover, the pick-up cover material and the paint from two color two 3 color sunburst. Later years saw the advent of the rosewood fingerboard, multi-laminate pickguards and by 1965, plastic fingerboard markers and by 1966, a bigger headstock. Fender makes an EXACT copy of their 1954 Strat as we all know along with many other "vintage" designs culminating with the ridiculous "relic" series in which you are paying the manufacture of your new guitar to beat it up enough to make it look old. And you pay EXTRA for that! Please don’t spend the extra money to buy a "Relic". Just get a new one, gig hard with it and in no time it will become a "Relic" free of charge.
At the end of the 30's, CF Martin introduced a remarkable large new style guitar they christened (no pun intended) the D-45. They gave the first one to Gene Autry and put his name on it. The first few had twelve frets to the body and a slotted headstock. Later ones had a western style, unslotted headstock and 14 frets to the body. This guitar evolved far less than either the Strat or the Les Paul. I believe less than a hundred were made in the 30's and 40's. But by the 1980's, you could buy an exact copy of the first one made complete with Gene Autry's name on it.
These are not 16th century hand made Cremona violins. They are mass produced, machine made commodities. A Les Paul or a Strat probably takes 10 hours to make. If they didn't have to wait for the paint to dry, they could probably make them in 5 hours.
So you have to ask yourself a question. Why the hell would I want to own an original 1954 Strat when I can go buy the exact same guitar in better condition with a warranty at my local music store for about one percent of the price of a 1954? Why would I want to buy a 1959 Les Paul sunburst that I'm afraid to take out of it's case when I can go down to Guitar Center and buy one with 5 times more flame for literally one percent of the price of an old one? Why would I sell the house I live in and sleep in my car to buy a Martin D-45 from the 1940's when I can buy a new one relatively cheaply and sit in my living room and still play "Stairway to Heaven" (badly) and have a place to sleep at night? Frankly, I don't know the answer to those questions. However I do know one indisputable fact- there is nothing unique or different about a vintage guitar. They were made the same as guitars made today; they sound the same; they look the same and they play the same.
2. Anytime you are buying something used (vintage) you have to worry about the provenance.
Okay, so you submitted to the peer pressure and you bought a three hundred thousand dollar guitar with the money grandma left you. The guy at the vintage store said it was a good deal and even threw in a set of strings. Question: Seeing how you spent three hundred large, which was your life savings, did you wisely insist on a certified history of the guitars ownership making certain that the guitar has a clear title and wasn't stolen back in 1963 out of the back seat of Larry Nerdenmeyer's Impala? YOU DIDN'T? Do you plan on sanding off the serial number? Do you ever plan on taking the guitar out in public? Will you be exhibiting your Les Paul soon at your local vintage guitar show? Seeing how you don’t really have the protection of an escrow service with a title company, and you are effectively taking the word of the seller as to the title of the guitar, you have to ask yourself a question. What the hell are you gonna do if Larry Nerdmeyer (or his best friend) spots your guitar and wants it back? Good luck getting the guy at the vintage store to refund you the money, or even worse, the private party that you bought it from!
Let me inform you of the awful truth about this. Every vintage guitar dealer eventually buys something stolen. Many times, the guy selling the guitar to the dealer has no idea that the guitar was once a stolen item. This stuff is OLD. It changes hands a LOT. When the poor guy that had the guitar stolen founds out you have it and asks for it back, keep in mind, he's not going to reimburse you the 300 thousand. He will probably have the cops with him and the cops will tell you the same thing they told me and every other vintage dealer- you're screwed. You lose the guitar. You have to hire a lawyer to chase the vintage guitar store or private party that sold it to you. The store that sold it to you will tell you it was a consignment item, that they never owned it and they were just selling it for a guy named **** Gozinya and then they will give you a P.O. Box in Biloxi, Mississippi and a cell phone number that was disconnected two years ago. If grandma was alive, she'd be ***** slapping your stupid *** all over the back seat of the car you're living in.
3. Extreme valuations are causing counterfeiting.
I know a vintage dealer in Hollywood that charges other vintage dealers a fee to examine guitars to make sure they are all original. All of these guys have been in the business for over 25 years and you would think that they would always be able to spot something that wasn't correct or original on a guitar. But the truth is, some dealers are good and some are great. Once in a while, even a really savvy dealer will buy something refinished or modified and he won’t spot it. Personally, I've always thought that the issue of "originality" was way overblown. In the late 60's and early 70's, vintage guitar freaks like myself had no qualms about taking a really nice blond 1959 Strat and converting it into a maple neck model by swapping a 1958 neck on to it. We didn't have a problem putting a set of PAF's we swiped out of a 1959 ES-175 into a 1956 Les Paul Gold Top to make it look like a 1959. I know this is sacrilegious now and in retrospect I can’t believe I took a *****in' 1959 candy apple red Telly and painted it white! But it was a different time and nobody cared about that stuff. It was more important to own a nice looking, nice playing, nice sounding guitar. The fact that you pirated a neck or stuck humbuckers on something was not a big deal at all. Nowadays of course, the anal retentive pinheads have charts that document exactly how much money your guitar decreased in value when you had it refretted or changed the tuners. Never mind the fact that the guitar had no frets or wouldn’t stay in tune. If these guys had their way, you wouldn’t be allowed to change your strings.
Now that guitars cost the same as condos, the issue of originality has become HUGE. The trouble is, no one out there is knowledgeable enough to know with 100% certainty that a guitar is all original. I've owned and sold literally thousands of vintage guitars. Over the years I've seen some amazing oddball stuff that was highly unusual. I owned a 1960 ES-175 Gibson with a Charlie Christian style pick-up and an L-5 style neck. I've owned a 1958 Strat with a gold anodized metal pickguard. I've owned a double cutaway Gretsch White Penguin. I've owned a candy apple red 1954 Strat. If you ask the average vintage dealer, they'll tell you "the manufacturer never made anything like that". Well, I'm here to tell you that THEY DID! You have to remember when someone is telling you that a guitar is all original, he is only really stating that the guitar has all the typical features of a guitar from that particular era. He is basing his opinion on what he has seen. Does that mean if you happen to own a Broadcaster with one pick up instead of two, that your guitar is not "original"? Are you sure?
Can you really be sure that the neck on your 63 Strat is the one Fender put on it and not another 63 neck from another guitar? Let me ask you a question- do you think that every vintage store that got two 63 Strats avoided the temptation to take that refretted neck/original body guitar and swap parts with that original neck/refinished body guitar? You're naive if you don't think that went on. Hell, in the early days, stuff like that was rampant. Once again, I'm not saying it was right; it was a different time and the sensibility was different. You had businessmen trying to make money and players that wanted the guitar the way they wanted it. Personally, I wasn’t trying to fool anyone. I thought of these changes as exactly what they were- restoration; not counterfeiting. If two bolt on neck guitars like Fender Strats both made in June, 1964 swap necks for whatever reason is that "counterfeiting"? If every time parts from one guitar are put on another is that counterfeiting? Is it un-cool to rob the knobs off a 1959 Gibson lap steel and put them on a Les Paul that some dweeb stuck dice knobs on? There was a huge amount of this that went on in the past 30 years. Everyone knows that the defining sign of a "pre-CBS" Strat was the L-plate or number plate that the screws passed through to hold the neck on. (Never mind the fact that you had a manufacturer who unwisely designed a guitar with a replaceable serial number!) CBS bought Fender in 1965 and decided to put an "F" on the neck plate. Everyone that had a 1965 Strat or Telly or P-Bass or Jazz Bass or Jazzmaster or Jaguar wanted the "cooler" L-plate that appears in early 1965 versus the later 1965 "CBS style" F plate models. So guess what happened? A whole industry cropped up of guitar freaks robbing the L-plate off of their Mustangs and other cheap Fender models and throwing them on their Strats and Tele's. Just to make doubly sure they could tell everyone their Strat was "pre-CBS" they also took the neck off and with some 600 grit sandpaper, gently sanded the date off the bottom of the neck.
But if you’re pissed off about a few people swapping parts, how about the people taking old necks and electronics and putting them in re-issue bodies? Are you sure you can spot that 100% of the time? How about the counterfeit Gibson Korina Flying "V's and Explorers? I got stuck with one of those and I've owned probably two dozen original Korina pieces.
Did that brown Les Paul case come with the vintage guitar you bought or did you buy it later and put the two together? Is it un-cool to find a brown case from 1958 and stick your 1959 Les Paul in it? Is your guitar just in extraordinary condition or was it refinished 25 years ago?
I've walked around a guitar show and shown the same guitar to 30 different dealers. Without a doubt, I'd usually get 10 different opinions. It was always the guy that was telling me the guitar was re-finished who would change his story completely after he bought the guitar from me. Then, the guitar became 100% original. So, seeing how you can’t even trust the opinion of the so-called experts some of the time, you have to ask yourself a question: Is that 300 thousand dollar Les Paul you bought completely original? Isn't that a little overspray I see behind the 3rd fret? What if it boils down to dealer A's word against dealer B's word? The people in this business are not trained at Harvard. They are people and people make mistakes. Who are you going to turn to with confidence when you need an expert opinion? Before you answer that question I think you should know that in the early 70's I spent a lot of time with the factory repairman for Fender. He took a lot of damaged Fender Strats sent in by customers and refinished them. I've seen these same refinished guitars for sale at vintage shows as all original. And you know what? They DO look all original. I just hope you don't pay $50,000 for one!
4. There is NO guarantee that vintage guitars will hold their value.
Let's face it. Vintage guitars are only desirable because they have gone up ridiculously in value in the past few years. If you manage to buy one, hold on to it and sell it for a profit, you are apparently a wise man. When I started dealing vintage guitars in the early 70's, I'd sell a rosewood board from the 60's for $400 and a maple neck from the 50"s for $600. Not too long ago I went to a show in Santa Monica and a vintage dealer had 15 vintage guitars on display at a "Modernism" show. Just what the guitars were doing there was a mystery to me. Anyway, he had a really average '54 Strat on display and it was tagged $100,000. He also had a nice white '65 Strat tagged $50,000. I walked up and said, like a smartass: "Selling lots of stuff?" He sort of hemmed and hawed and said: "Well, this is just sort of an exhibition". I had to suppress my laughter. I guess I'm supposed to believe that the guitars I sold as recently as the mid 80's have appreciated 15000 percent? What's wrong with this picture?
If you study collectables, (as you should, because vintage guitars are nothing more than collectables), you will know something about the other collectable markets. Baseball cards, comic books, vintage cars, and other kinds of collectables will give you valuable insight into what happens and CAN happen in this volatile collector’s market place. Baseball cards and comic books were really hot in the 1990's. There was a time when a baseball card collector would send his best cards off to a company that specialized in the careful determination of the exact condition of a particular card, seal it in plastic, certify it and charge plenty for this process. Well, the baseball card market has taken a huge bath. Prices have dropped dramatically. The cards now in some cases are worth less than the cost of the appraisal process the dealer paid for. Comic books have suffered a similar fate. No one is completely sure why this happened. Some people think Ebay made the availability too easy. Others think it was just a fad that got played out. Ferraris that sold for a million dollars at one point in the 70's dropped to less than half that a few years later.
The vintage guitar market has done amazingly well. If you charted it, it would be impressive. There have been huge gains in value in the past ten years. I think that rock and roll and the electric guitar have become cultural icons. What started as a small club of geeks (myself included) grew exponentially and caught fire all across America. Publicity about the auctioning of guitars owned by rock stars became commonplace on television. No other collectable can boast the success story of that of the vintage American guitar. I wish I had held on to a few sunbursts obviously, but only for one reason- so I could cash out on them. I hate to be the Alan Greenspan of the vintage guitar world but sorry ladies and gentleman, there is irrational exuberance afoot in the vintage guitar world. You have to ask yourself a question. Does the fact that the guitars have steadily risen in price mean that they will always be going up in value? Is it a good investment to buy a Les Paul for $300,000? Do you like to buy stocks when they are cheap or when they are at their highest ever recorded levels? Will a Les Paul be $500,000 in 10 years or will it be $200,000? or $20,000? or less! The truth is that vintage guitars will be a really good investment until they arent. That's about all you can say. It’s clear that the old axiom of Supply and Demand is dictating that the prices must go higher. The Supply is a finite and limited number. You never have to worry that someone is going to find a secret stash of one thousand pre-war D-45’s. However, Demand is the tricky part. Right now, people are excited and the demand is relatively high. People are willing to pay 3 months salary to buy a single pick up, mahogany Les Paul Jr. You have to ask yourself a question- Can I be sure that the Demand for these instruments will stay high?
Do yourself a favor and Google the word Tulipomania.
5. How do you protect and insure a valuable vintage guitar collection?
Okay, you have two sunbursts, a Broadcaster and a 1954 Strat. You called your insurance man and told him that you own guitars with a total value of $800,000.00. Yeah, he hung up on you a couple of times until you finally convinced him you weren’t prank calling him. After his secretary revived him with smelling salts, he told you that he have to call the homeowners insurance company and "check into it". After a couple of weeks of waiting, you call the guy and he says "I cant get an answer". After two more weeks, he calls you again and says: "We can’t do it". Next you try a company that specializes in vintage gear. You get a quote for $8000. However, the guitars are "only covered for fire, theft or water damage". You are chagrined to discover that if you manage to drop you Les Paul on the floor and break off the headstock, you aren’t covered for that! You also aren’t covered if the neck warps because you are afraid to take it out of the case or if the top on your D-45 cracks because you forgot to leave the air conditioning on in July when you went on vacation. And don’t even think about picking them up and strumming them! They are far too valuable and you have to protect this $800,000! Unfortunately, unlike money in the bank, your guitars take up space, are susceptible to damage, are vulnerable to temperature and moisture and draw no interest while they are sitting in your closet. And for God's sake, don’t show them to anyone and don’t tell anyone you own them!
The safest thing to do is put them in a bank vault ($400 a month) and just keep pictures of them at home that you can look at!
6. Nobody Cares But YOU and a few other guys that haven’t discovered girls yet!
Besides collecting vintage guitars, I've collected a variety of interesting things over the years. I loved coins when I was a kid. Stamps soon followed. Comic books and baseball cards were a blast. Eventually, of course, you outgrow these things. One of the last things I collected was vintage clothing- especially rayon Hawaiian shirts from the 40's. I had a couple of mint condition old shirts that I loved to wear on the rare occasions when I felt like putting them on. It was always a kick in the *** when I'd show up in my beautiful 1940's Duke Kahanamoku shirt and people would have no reaction. I expected them to think my hobby was as cool as I thought it was. Guess what? Nobody cares!
Take your finest vintage guitar and walk up to a guy on the street and show it to him. Dont expect him to start salivating and scream at the top of his lungs "Oh my God, a vintage guitar!". He's far more likely to think you are just weird and say "Yes, your guitar is very nice; you'll have to excuse me now as I have a girlfriend and we are going to be engaging in adult activities".
Only the middle aged, amateur, unwashed musicians of the world who happened to be familiar with the fact that you have an old guitar will want to be your friend. Once again, you will have to ask yourself a question- Do I really want to hang out with these people? However, if you sell your guitars and put that $800,000.00 in the bank, you will have tons of new friends!
7. There is too much of a disparity between wholesale and retail value in the vintage guitar market.
The rules need to change now that vintage guitars have the valuations that they do. What I mean by that, is if you are paying a quarter of a million dollars for a guitar, you should be confident that you can get your money back when you are ready to sell it. Otherwise, it’s not really an "investment" at all is it? No one who buys expensive fine art, jewelry or real estate fears that they will lose half their money if they need to sell quickly. The most dangerous thing about vintage guitars is that they have very poor liquidity. When I owned my vintage store I was very aggressive about buying. If I sold a guitar for a thousand dollars, I would sometimes pay as much as $900 just to get it. I was located in California at the time and prices here were always high. But I’d travel to Dallas and Denver and other parts of the country to buy at vintage shows and I noticed something extraordinary. A lot of dealers would only pay 30 to 50 percent of the retail value of a guitar when they were buying. They thought I was nuts. They would never buy anything from me. For several years, in the early days, I was always the biggest buyer at the Dallas guitar shows. I’d go there and drop thirty thousand dollars and buy forty guitars and bring them back to Los Angeles to retail them. The dealers in other states were uncomfortable paying more than a small fraction of the retail value of the guitars. The biggest dealer in the country was buying very little, preferring to take most of his stock in consignments. The shocker is that, for the most part, this still remains true except that it has actually gotten worse. If you buy a $10,000 Les Paul Junior (no comment) from a vintage store, you have to ask yourself a question. How much did your smiling vintage guitar store owner pay for it? I’ll tell you. He paid about $6000 or less. That’s assuming he has the balls to actually buy the guitar in the first place. Many dealers will only buy something they have pre-sold or will only take expensive guitars on consignment. Many of these stores can’t afford to sit on inventory of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Guess what he’s going to offer you for that same guitar when you need the money. He may offer you $6000 if he has a buyer but chances are he will tell you to put it on consignment for a year and he will still charge you 20% to sell it on that basis. It’s my personal belief that when I see an extremely expensive guitar for sale online or at a vintage store, it’s a safe bet that the owner paid no where near what he is trying to sell it for. The smart sellers will cash out before the masses do. I pity the chump that paid a huge amount of money and is calling the vintage store every day to find out if they found a buyer yet. Sure, if you paid $6500 in 1985 for a sunburst, you aren’t particularly worried about selling your guitar. But how about the guy that paid $250,000.00 and is frantic to get his money back? The truth is that at these prices, the difference between wholesale and retail should be at most 10 to 20 percent. I sell real estate and I make anywhere from one to two and a half percent when I sell something. Why such a small percentage? Because 1 to 2.5 percent of a million dollars is still a lot of money. Don’t expect your local vintage store to agree with me on this point. I’m sure that their attitude is: 1. Let the Buyer Beware. 2. It’s the American way to make as much money as you possibly can. 3. Don’t wade into the deep end if you cant swim.
The truth is that vintage guitars are only worth what a five day auction on Ebay will net the seller. How come you never see any 1959 Les Paul Standards being auctioned on Ebay? It’s because they will sell for about 30% of what your vintage guitar seller is asking for them. Just keep in mind genius, that the ACTUAL value is the Ebay value. Not some super inflated BS value that Joe guitar dealer came up with.
If you buy real estate and after a year sell it, are you going to lose 40%? If you buy Microsoft stock or a CD or a bond are you going to lose 40%? The sad reality is that DEALERS are controlling this market, not end buyers. I'll bet that most sales are occurring between dealers. It works like this: Dealer "A" has lunch with some industrialist, wealthy celebrity, rock star or whatever. Dealer "A" explains what a great "investment" this $80 Les Paul Junior is at a mere $10,000.00. Trusting sap gives $10,000.00 to Dealer "A". Dealer "A" realizes he could have gotten another $1000 out of trusting sap, so he calls up Dealer "B" and asks for another $80 Les Paul Junior that he can sell on consignment to trusting sap. Multiply that scenario a couple thousand times and you get a $500,000.00 Les Paul Standard Sunburst!
There's something else you should know, especially if you are new to the vintage guitar hobby. The stuff they sell as "vintage" in the stores today is for the most part CRAP. If I had to make a living selling the ugly, modified, hideous guitars these guys are hawking today, I'd have gone out of business. I look up at the guitars on the walls of the vintage guitar stores now and I see AWFUL 1970's Fender guitars tagged $10,000! If they have a Strat from the 60's, the pickguard is changed, the neck is oversprayed, and it has an elbow mark on the face the size of a cantaloupe! This stuff is JUNK! You'll never convince me that it's a good investment! If some dealer wants $75000 for an original '52 Telly, that doesn't mean a refinished one with changed pick-ups is worth $35000!! A refinished one with changed pick-ups is RUINED! It's JUNK. Outside of a re-fret or a tuning peg change, modifications should mean YOU DON'T BUY THE GUITAR!!
And remember this, and you can tell your vintage guitar dealer I said so, NOTHING MADE AFTER 1969 IS A COLLECTABLE. Call me a purist but the guitars that Fender and Gibson and others made after 1969 are for the most part, not worth owning unless you are just paying "used guitar" money. Which is about 1/2 to 1/3 of today's retail!
So you have to ask yourself a question: How good of an investment is a vintage guitar? If you buy one now and have to sell it soon, are you still going to make money?
8. Is a guitar more valuable because a celebrity owned it?
This is a good question. Clearly celebrity is currently the most valuable commodity in America. If you are Paris Hilton or Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan, you could probably get away with murder and people would still ask for your autograph. But the whole issue of celebrity owned guitars is very interesting. There is no arguing that if you bought one of Eric Clapton’s three hundred dollar Japanese Strats at that art house auction for $50,000, you believe that celebrity is important. However, as we all know, fame is fleeting. The famous heroes of today have a terrible habit of doing something ghastly and then they change from famous to notorious in a heartbeat. Unquestionably, the O.J.’s, Robert Blake's, and Michael Jackson's of the world were far more admired at one time than they are now. It’s also true that to lose your fame, you really don’t have to do much other than fall out of the public eye for a few years. So, once again you have to ask yourself a question- Is that Strat I bought for 50 large only going to be valuable as long as the celebrity that played it is still famous and admired? The answer is obvious. If you buy a celebrity guitar and the celebrity fades away or worse yet, gets into trouble, what happens to your investment? I know what you are going to say. You are going to say that "it doesn’t matter as long as you enjoy it while you have it." Actually I totally agree with that sentiment. The only caveat is that you had better be ready to hold on to that attitude if your celebrity guitar turns out to be worthless 10 years later. I’m sure there was a time that Rudy Vallee’s megaphone could have been sold for a whole lot of money. Who is Rudy Vallee you ask? Well, that’s my whole point!
9. Guitars are just tools.
For the life of me, I don't understand how the focus somehow shifted from the man playing his guitar to the guitar itself. A guitar in the hands of a novice is not exactly a pleasant experience for the listener. It's best to learn guitar in your bedroom with the door shut behind you. Once someone has become an accomplished musician, the guitar can be a joy to listen too. It is truly a versatile, beautiful sounding instrument. This fact seems to be lost on the vintage guitar collector. Collectors frequently cant play worth a damn. The guitars are wasted on them. It's not about making music or learning to play; it's about hoarding a valuable commodity. You can only play one guitar at a time. You don't need 400 of them sitting in a warehouse. Investing is not my idea of fun. I've never seen a group of investors get together to compare portfolios and show off their accumulated wealth. I'd much rather play a guitar than look at one. I LOVE playing guitar with my friends. Yes, I've had guys come over to my house to show me their wonderful old guitar, but for the most part, those guys were always single and compulsive masturbators. Inevitably, I'd have to ask them to check on their car because "I thought I heard glass breaking" and when they'd run outside, I'd lock the door behind them.
Guitars are just tools for making music. It's too bad they got turned into something else. No one collects the computers that writers write books with or the paint brushes that great artists paint great paintings with. Why would anyone want to hoard an old guitar? I don’t get it. I'm really pissed off that somebody ruined my hobby! People should own an instrument that they can afford and aren’t afraid to play. You don’t need a 1954 Strat to play good music. It's not the guitar itself that is the important thing. The important thing is to learn to play and enjoy yourself doing it.
10. So what are vintage guitars really worth?
I think that if you examine the collectables market you will see certain trends in pricing. You can trace trends in baseball cards, pogs, coins, comic books, vintage autos and the like. Interestingly, the auto market, certain models have seen spikes in popularity for a few years but most level off at some point. However, if you allow for inflation, you will note that almost no vintage car of any make or manufacture will sell for more than 4 or 5 times it’s original value. In many cases, beautifully restored cars from the 30’s and 40’s will sell for as little as twenty or thirty thousand dollars. The demand just isn’t there. The intrinsic value of a collectable ultimately will keep it’s valuation reasonable given enough time. Some items are extremely faddish like pogs or Pokemon cards and enjoy brief popularity and value. As the fad catches on, and more people participate, the demand rises and the prices will too. But the nature of fads is that the great majority of the participants eventually lose interest causing the value to drop. Currently the vintage guitars are at their peak of popularity and seem to be leveling off. So you have to ask yourself a question- At what point can you set a value that will hold? My answer is that like so many other collectables, especially the pricey ones, vintage guitars will eventually sell for 4 or 5 times their original cost allowing for inflation. Which by my calculation is about 90 percent cheaper than they are now. Anyone who thinks I’m crazy should chart the NASDAQ about the time of the end of the bubble when many stocks priced at $250 dropped down to penny stock valuations. This is my humble opinion and of course, I could be wrong. However if history shows us anything at all, it shows us that a big market correction is as likely to happen eventually as a further appreciation in value. I know what you are thinking- awww this chump is just talking sour grapes because he was too stupid to keep a bunch of vintage guitars when he had the chance. I’d love to rationalize that statement BUT I CANT! I wish like hell that I’d kept a bunch of the things I’d sold- Elvis’s guitar, Jimi Hendrix’s guitar, about a hundred sunbursts! But hindsight is always 20/20. I moved on a long time ago and found an excellent job and made a lot of money. The truth is, I could afford just about any vintage guitar including a 1959 Les Paul sunburst. But when I see what has happened to vintage guitars, it just seems hilarious. I have no problem taking Nancy Reagan’s advice- I just say no. When the day comes that I can buy a 50’s Les Paul for five or ten thousand dollars, I might do it. But I’ll be buying it because it’s beautiful, it’s old, it’s fun to play and I’m enjoying it. I’m not buying it because "it’s a good investment"! Personally, in my humble opinion, I think collectables should never sell for more than four or five times what a new version of the same object is selling for. If you can by a perfect copy of a '54 Strat from Fender for $2000.00, I think $8000 to $10,000 for the real thing is realistic and appropriate and safe. Feel free to write to me and disagree. I'm going to print every response I get as a reply to a question here on Ebay.