Priced to Sell…Is the Party over for Vintage Guitars?

My First introduction to the world of Vintage guitars happened in the mid 1980′s. Guitarist magazine (back in the day when it wasn’t in the pockets of advertisers….actually gave some bad instrument reviews now and then and interviewed guitarists on merit rather than celebrity…..I mean come on…. fucking Lloyd Grossman!!!!!! Ahem) ran an article on Vintage and Rare in London. The article had some very sexy photos of some very desirable instruments, I could have happlily laminated my copy to put it bluntly.

Bernie Marsden.... lucky Barstard!!

The Vintage Electric guitar market as it was then concentrated on American Guitars build from 1950-68, basically before big corporations like CBS and Norlin got their teeth into Gibson and Fender. The market had originally spawned from a sizeable chunk of Rock musicians loathing 1970′s Fenders and Gibsons, and instead buying up old “secondhand” examples from the “Classic” era. Bernie Marsden of Whitesnake is one of these guys who plied his way across the 1970′s and early 80′s Wheeling and dealing, as is Steve Howe of Yes. Both men have considerable collections as does Dave Gilmour, Neal Schon, Steve Lukather, Warren De Martini….etc etc.

By the time the 1980′s had rolled by, the “Classic” era had truly become established. Gibson and Fender were reacting to the early Tokai copies of these instruments and we had seen the First Heritage Les Pauls and Fender American reissues along with their Japanese Squier counterparts. Vintage was in.

At this point in time a 1962 Strat would have cost you around £3000 from a Vintage dealer, but on the street probably a lot less. People were not quite wise to the value of these things pre Ebay and internet. My own driving instructor in 1987 offered me his 1963 Strat for £175 because it was looking a bit “beaten up”…in this era of relics and hand rolled fingerboards its almost comical to think he thought the guitar scruffy. I almost went to the cashpoint there and then but as Im a decent man.. relented and in a fit of honesty explained it was probably worth 20 times that. it was the right thing to do, but I do kinda wake up screaming every now and then.

Perhaps that sense of comical is now coming out for one delicious bite of the ironic cherry. Vintage guitar prices have outperfomed the Stock market almost consistantly for the last 20 years. Many pieces are now no longer played and live in bank vaults and investment portfolios.

However to a hardened cynic like me, I’ve always thought that prices had become silly once we started seeing badly put together firewood from the 1970′s going in West End dealerships for 4 figures. As the classic era stock became unaffordable, retailers were trying to sell us the shit we’d previously avoided as hidden gems.

When I was a lad a Fender Antigua Strat was a badly finished American Strat, with poor quality finish and fit seeping from its every pore. They were £250 worth of guitar on a good day, not £1800 and they were not as made as well as a Chinese Squier or Catalog guitar like a Westone Thunder 1. But in the UK in the 2000′s, they’d likely be bought by some skinny jeaned performing arts student who to be frank wouldn’t know any better. The careerist minded British indie musicians last priorities are pretty much tone, playability and quality….and Tarquin Rhodes-Deprice and his buddies in their BRIT school performing bands lapped them up. Making them fashionable.

The Truth That Dare Not Speak Its Name

The other strange irony of the Vintage guitar boom is this…there are actually more 1962 Strats in the world, than there were in 1962…..thats right…fakes….re-cut a headstock, wrap a body in bubble wrap and stick it in a freezer…let it crack…dip in cold tea for 2 weeks…gig burns….make some neck stamps. I did meet a guy at a party a few years ago who assures me that he built most of a certain Northern guitar shops vintage stock in the 1980′s out of Tokai reissues…..he might be lying, but to be honest….could you or I tell? He did have the originals to work from after all, so if one of these showed up now, how would you know. Theres always been ghostbuilders like Max and his infamous Les Pauls, but to be honest they probably play better than some of the originals anyway.

So what about originallity?

The most popular 3 guitar modifications of the late 1970′s were…

Brass Nuts: The Idea was that Mass = Sustain….look at John Sykes main les Paul…Brass nut…it went out of fashion, but for a year or 2, everyone had one.

Natural Finish….thats right, many of these ” Classic” instruments were stripped down to bare wood. Im pretty sure Ive seen Lowell George of Little Feat playing a natrual finished 1960′s Strat with a humbucker in it

Hot rodded pickups, Humbuckers: I once read somewhere that the Dimarzio Super Distortion pickup was the most popular modification for Fender Strats in 1978….anyone seen Dave Murray of iron Maidens black Strat for example. Thats right, he wasnt the only guy in England with an old Strat doing that most of them were hotrodding and chopping up fitting new pickups and tremelos….which begs the question.

Given the above information there should be loads of these guitars out there right, the vintage market would be flooded with non original instruments particulaly Fenders…….oh…there isn’t??????

When I walk around Denmark Street now much of what I see is Firewood. Snake Oil and misinformation….Ive seen late 80′s squier Strats labelled as JV era (1982-83) and a host of other guitars no one in their right mind would fucking touch labelled as “Collectable” “Classic” and “Rare”.

Some Firewood

Vintage and Rare have a couple of 1970′s Les Paul Deluxes in at the moment….and ok…people used them. Townsend, Scott Gorham and the like, but lets be honest, why buy a multilaminate fucking sandwich layered LP body thats had a new neck fitted for £1700, when you could buy a used recent reissue for about £1200 in the classified ads. It ll likely be better made and you could take the wife/girlfriend/care giver on a citybreak and maybe throw in a nice dinner too. To put it bluntly no one at Gibson in 1974 gave a shit about build quality until much later when Joel Dantzig at Hamer and Paul Reed Smith actually challenged the big two and perhaps scared them into action as they saw their market share shrink. Townsend trashed enough along the way so clearly even he wasn’t that bothered and his main guitar is a heavily modified 1989 Clapton Strat nowadays.

So given the anathema surrounding the Vintage Guitar market. I did find it interesting when I recieved an email today from Music Ground saying they had some Vintage pieces….Priced To Sell.

The Hightlights include

Please note this is another 59 335 for illustrative purposes only

1959 Sunburst Gibson ES335 for………a nudge under £16 Grand!

The last time I saw one of these it was in Cherry and they wanted close to £40K….even though this burst isnt as desirable thats still a £23K guitar on any good day.

Then there was a 56 Strat, immaculately clean for £16 Grand….didn’t they used to be £20K plus 2 years ago?

Granted the 1964 Strat they had was about £24 grand….but I do wonder, with Simon Cowells talent shows and corporate cover versions dominating the music industry….will future generations care enough about Vintage guitars to sustain such incredible pricing in the future?

Im as guilty as the next guy….my own rather meagre collection of pretty much uncollectable instruments are doing well with one guitar inparticular doubling its money….but hey Im a player….not a guy sticking them in a vault.

Other Collectables such as Wine and Camera’s seem to be doing ok, even in this digital age an old Leica M will cost you a fair bit…..if its the right model that is!

But as a final thought if the kids playing Guitar Hero never make it from plastic box to musical instrument. Will there be an adjustment the market never recovers from, or will it be the easy to fake Metal guitars from the early 1980′s that become the stock options of tomorrow?

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