The market for vintage guitars is huge. From tour-battered instruments with colourful pasts to pristine pieces that have been perfectly preserved, there are many, many guitars to choose from. And with price tags ranging from £1,000 to over £100,000 (and above), there’s a lot of variety in what’s on offer. Whether you’re looking for an instrument that matches your style, or you simply want to add to your collection, we’ve put together some tips on how to buy a vintage guitar.
What is considered a vintage guitar?
The word ‘vintage’ is bandied around a lot these days. Sometimes, it simply describes the style of an instrument; it could be a modern replica of an old model, made to look and sound similar but ultimately lacking the character and heritage of the real deal. In our eyes, a vintage guitar is one that’s at least 30 years old. Whether it’s been held in the hands of an accomplished guitarist or left unloved in the corner of a garage, it’s an invaluable relic of a bygone era of music.
How to buy a vintage guitar
Check for original parts
Guitarists are known to be avid ‘tinkerers’, continually modifying their instruments to experiment with new sounds and styles. This means that many vintage guitars are far from their original state, having been fitted with an array of additions; the most common include pickups, control knobs, potentiometers, bridges, and tuning machines. Whilst these parts might improve how a guitar plays, they do reduce its value. The more original parts a guitar has, the higher its value.
Look at the headstock
The headstock is the angled part of a guitar’s head to which the strings are attached. It undergoes a lot of pressure from the tension in the strings and is therefore vulnerable to breaking (especially with Gibsons). You can tell if this has happened on a vintage guitar by a small fracture line between the headstock and the neck. But, does this really matter? If you’re a player, probably not; headstock breaks are fairly common, and a luthier would have no trouble in repairing it. If you’re a collector, on the other hand, it significantly reduces the value of the instrument – by as much as one third according to some estimates.
Is it a “refin”?
Another key factor for collectors is the finish of a guitar. If a guitar is labelled as ‘refinished’ (or a ‘refin’), it means that it’s undergone a paint job at some point in its lifetime. If it has, its value will be significantly reduced. Collectors appreciate original finishes because they often reflect trends and norms of the time period in which the guitar was made; in the 60’s, for example, Fender offered such colours as ‘Candy Apple Red’ and ‘Sherwood Green’ because of their popularity in the American car industry. If you’re buying purely to play, don’t take too much stock of the finish of a guitar – just be aware of how much it affects the price.
Where to buy a vintage guitar
- Independent guitar shops – If you’re not entirely sure what you’re after, getting the advice of a professional is the best way forward. You’ll pay slightly more than you would elsewhere, but you’ll receive solid guidance.
- Online – You can of course find vintage guitars of all qualities on standard auction sites, but there’s also a number of more specialist places. Gardiner Houlgate, for instance, focuses on vintage guitars and has auctioned instruments previously owned by Eric Clapton and Bukka White.
- Guitar conventions – It might not be possible in the near-future, but conventions are great for comparing lots of guitars in one go. The London International Guitar Show is, however, set to go ahead in October this year.
What are the most valuable vintage guitar models?
Whilst the value of a vintage guitar is determined by its condition and provenance, there are certain models that just seem to increase in value. One of these is Gibson’s Cherry Sunburst Les Paul Standards, produced between 1958 and 1960. Sold originally for around £300, these guitars now regularly go to auction for over £500,000. This princely sum is not only due to their master craftsmanship, but also because only 650 were ever made.
A blast from the past
If you’re looking to recreate an authentic vintage sound, check out Kore Studios’ ‘Studio B’. It’s equipped with a stunning 1978 Tweed Audio console, alongside the latest recording technology. With its unrivalled mix of retro and modern gear, you can achieve whatever sound you’re after. Get in contact with us to book a session in our South West London recording studio.