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Vintage buying tips


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I just thought I'd start a new thread to hopefully get some input from those in the know.


Often I hear about players finding a special tone in the old Gibson guitars, and never wanting to come back to present time.


But buying a 50-60 year old instrument is not for the faint hearted, impulsive or ignorant.


A quick look on eBay will show a handful of LG 1 and 2's. But how does one determine the quality, structural integrity...???


Wich cracks are repairable, and wont be a problem?? How do you know when to stay away???


What's a fair price for a vintage LG?? Do they retain value?


Do neck re-sets and bridge replacements make a difference to anything but price??


I have a decent collection of modern instruments, but I am always tempted by the allure of holding an age old guitar in my hands, and really don't want to get stung...


If you own a vintage guitar, or have bought one in the past, or know something - I would love to hear from you... Any info would help, as it would mean I'm not stabbing in the dark...

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They may help.

Cracks and repairs questions....All repairs should be done by a qualified luthier and done appropriately and with as little invasive technique(s) as possible.


Cracks as long as they are properly glued and cleated if need usually do not detract from tonal qualities but do effect price a little (5 to 10%), bridge plate replacement can drastically reduce the pricing, bridge replacement ,if the bridge is period incorrect or is very noticeable detract from pricing as much as 30 to 50 %. Utilitarian repairs such as proper necksets ,fret dressing or proper fret replacement, "E" string repaired top cracks,re-gluing of original bridge and bracing usually does not effect the price as much(10%. Headstock breaks and repairs I usually run from .Always be careful as incorrect or unprofessional repairs can drastically effect the integrity and pricing of any vintage guitar.LG pricing varies but the 1200.00 range seems to be a fair starting point.Hope this helps ya bro.


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You could write a book on this stuff. I am a big proponent of trying out a guitar before buying...hence I use EBAY only for price referencing...here is a previous post I made:


Tips on buying a any guitar:

1. Bring along your favorite guitar to compare to all potential purchases. If the potential guitar is not as good as the one you own, why get it.

2. Bring along a friend to play the guitar TOWARDS you....so you can hear it's projection. Then you play it towards your friend, and get an unbiased (non-saleman) opinion on the sound of the guitar.

3. If the guitar is not a 10 out of 10, don't buy it. (my personal GAS rev limiter)

4. Try several models of the guitar you want (at other stores, or from the same store, they often have some in back, although they don't want to bring them out until the previous model sells.) All D-28's are NOT created equal.

5. If you find a guitar that you like, play it for at least 1/2 hour. This lets it 'warm up' and you can hear the full potential of the guitar before buying.

6. Do not let your mind play these tricks on you with 'futuring' about what the guitar WILL sound like..... a. This guitar will sound MUCH better with new strings, or Phosphor Bronze strings, or anything like, new nut, new bone saddle. The guitar should sound GOOD period. If not, hoping for improvement is NOT a good reason to get a guitar. b. When this guitar ages 15 years, it will really sound GOOD!!! While guitars do tend to improve over time (marginally) hoping a guitar will be good in the future is just the mind playing tricks on you. IF a guitar sounds like crap now, it will sound like aged crap in 15 years.

7. If you can, bring an electronic tuner so you can easily tune up the guitar (and see if it STAYS in tune) AND check intonation. A guitar with bad intonation is HARD to fix (you can only do so much with compensated nuts and saddles) I have personally seen a new $2.5K guitar at GC with an incorrect scale length!!! I pointed this out to the sales man, and it was still on the wall when I went back 3 weeks later!!!) .

8. Do a quick check on setup. Hold down the E string on the first fret and the 14th fret. About halfway between those two points the space between the bottom of the string and the top of the 7th fret should be enough for a playing card to slip in. If it is greater, you will probably need a setup (adding cost to the guitar) and if it is less or touching, you will probably get some buzzing on some of the frets. Maximum action should be 3/32" from bottom of E strings to top of 12th fret. You should have at LEAST 1/8" of saddle showing above the bridge. High action and low saddle almost always mean neck reset. I have seen name brand new guitars at Guitar Center, that need neck resets already, so it is not that uncommon.

9. Play each string, from fret 1 to the sounhole and see if there is any buzzing on any of the frets. Buzzing can mean as little as a tweak of the truss rod, to major planing of frets to make the guitar sound good. So this adds to your purchase price.

10.Site down the neck. If the neck is bowed up or down, usually this can be adjusted with the neck rod. HOWEVER, if it is over 1 /16" beware. Make sure the store tech adjusts the neck AND that there is more room for adjustment. Beware of this situation. IF the saddle is high on one side and narrow on the other, this is often done to fudge for a twisted neck. Siting down the neck you can see this but if the action is correct and the saddle is lopsided, this could be a problem. I have seen this on one and two year old guitars. A twisted neck is VERY hard to fix. You might get someone to try to STEAM the neck straight (minimal success) or plane the fretboard to compensate (not ideal) or remove the fretboard and try to straighten the neck by regluing, or finally, a new neck. All very expensive alternatives. Best to pass on this type of guitar. I hope this helps.

11. Tap on the top and back to see if you hear any "rattles" This often means loose braces that need re-gluing.

12. Cracks in guitars can usually be repaired by gluing small wooden diamond shaped cleats, reinforcing the cracks, after re-humidifying the guitar to lessen the width of the crack and proper alignment of the sides of a crack. Upper bout top cracks, side and back cracks, don't affect the sound as much as lower bout cracks of the top. I personally tend to avoid guitars that have any, save minor cracks in the lower bout of the top.


Hope this helps

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Oh....this is one that some people might be affected by. Many old guitars, having spent years in closets, attics, or basements.....can SMELL funny. Moldy, mildewy. Damp smells like these, in guitars are HARD to get rid of. Another pet peeve of mine is guitars that have spent a lifetime in cigarette smoke. That is a very difficult smell to get rid of and one of my least favorite.

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My personal opinion (...gained the hard way from my '63 Country Western project) is that cracks & frets are not too important as a good Luthier can fix most cracks for not too much $$$.


What you really should be concerned with is:-


Damage to top (Structual)


- Belling in Lower Bout

- very little saddle left

- signs of Bridge shaving

- back of the Bridge lifting

- Drops in the top

- intonation issues(due to movement of top )...and sometimes neck join)


Neck straightness


- Twisting

- Significant difference in the straightness at neck join area


Both of the above issues will start running you into big $$$ so tread carfully!!


Saying all that, if you get a good price on an old guitar in need of work, and if you have a GOOD Luthier, you will eventually get a VERY good instrument.


Remember: Generally speaking, 20-60 year old wood is very GOOD WOOD, and will kick the **** out of any new guitar from any company (Gibson, Martin, etc)!!!!



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4. Try several models of the guitar you want (at other stores, or from the same store, they often have some in back, although they don't want to bring them out until the previous model sells.) All D-28's are NOT created equal.


Lot's of good advice Wily, however, your point 4. surely relates to NEW instruments and is simply impossible in todays Vintage market for most buyers!! How many times have you walked into a shop to see 5 Vintage j-45's for sale????



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Lot's of good advice Wily, however, your point 4. surely relates to NEW instruments and is simply impossible in todays Vintage market for most buyers!! How many times have you walked into a shop to see 5 Vintage j-45's for sale????



I agree, that mostly applies to new guitars, but if you go into a shop like george Grunh, or Chicago Music Exchange, you might find a couple to compare. Just went to the Healdsburg Vintage show, and you could have easily compared 5 vintage J-45's. I tried 20 Eric Clapton Martin guitars before finding the right one (not bass challenged), so, finding the right one, takes time. If you are the impulsive type, you may get stung. Another thing to watch out for....there are apparently 2 types of vintage buyers....collectors who want EVERYTHING to be museum quality and new looking, and players who are looking for sound, appearance be damned. Sometimes a guitar will both look good AND sound good....but I find that often the better sounding guitars have been PLAYED, and show the wear of that playing. Something about the playing just seems to open them up. Just a thought.....

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I just got my old hound dog of a J50 back from the shop. The placement of the bridge was off, which he corrected and took some belly out of the top. That thing had always sound a little compressed before. Sings now. Point being, hard to tell unless you are there in person. Photos can tell part of the story but not all.

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