Graph Tech News

What You Should Know When Buying A Vintage Guitar

Feb 01, 2018
There are many reasons why someone might opt for a vintage guitar over a brand new one. First off, vintage guitars are beautiful.

There are many reasons why someone might opt for a vintage guitar over a brand new one.
First off, vintage guitars are beautiful.

Just take a look at the 1895 Martin 0-38 Parlor guitar below, for example. This 122-year-old antique features a Brazilian rosewood back and sides, a herringbone inlay, ebony fingerboards and bridge, and a spruce top.


Photo Credit: Vintage Guitar Gallery of Long Island

Secondly, vintage guitars have history. They come with a story. A past. A personality. Listen to Norm Harris, the owner and founder of the legendary Norman’s Rare Guitars, talk about this 1960 Gibson Les Paul:

We had the opportunity to drop by Norman’s while in California for NAMM in January. CLICK HERE to follow along and watch the full video!

Some manufacturers are strong believers in the idea that aged wood has superior tonal qualities. A lot of people also prefer buying guitars from a time when they were given a lot more individual attention as opposed to the ones created for mass market today.
Either way, once you’ve decided you want to get your hands on a vintage guitar, you’ll probably start wondering what you should even be looking for. Well, we’ve got you covered. 

Here are some things to consider:

  1. Who’s selling?

    If you’re buying from an individual seller, it’s important to ask a lot of questions ahead of time and keep the communication ongoing throughout the entire transaction process. Do your due diligence on the character of the seller to make sure you don’t run any risks of being deceived about the guitar’s authenticity.

    If you’re buying through an online distributor like Reverb, you’ll find a good spread of sellers from established brick-and-mortar shops, to individuals and everyone in-between.

  2. What’s the condition of the guitar?

    Generally, professional sellers will detail all conditional issues in the listing itself so you’re free to ask as many questions as you want before purchasing. Keep in mind that not all issues fall into the same category and that while some might make you reconsider buying, others won’t even affect the guitar’s playability or tonal qualities.

  3. How much does originality and condition matter?

    A lot! Two guitars of the exact same make, model, and year can be vastly different in price because of the condition they’re in. Some vintage collectors are also very particular about how many parts on the guitar are from the original manufacturer. An “All Original” tag can be extremely difficult (and very expensive) to find.

    If you see a guitar with a “refinished” label, it means that it was repainted at some point. Often a refin can reduce the value of a vintage guitar by 50%! So, if you’re looking for high collector value, you probably won’t be looking for a guitar with a spotless, shiny finish.

    A common issue with vintage guitars is headstock break. Although incredibly instrumental to the musical output of a guitar, the angle of the headstock itself combined with the high tension of the strings, and the strength with which the guitar’s played, often result in headstock breakage. Unfortunately, even though luthiers are able to repair them nearly to perfection, a guitar with a break is worth significantly less than one that hasn’t broken.  

  4. Player Grade vs. Collector Grade

    A vintage guitar labeled “player grade” means it’s musically desirable but has often had too many non-original finishes, or has seen too much use to be of interest to a collector.

  5. Which vintage guitars are worth the most?

    The value of vintage guitars ranges a lot depending on their make and date. For acoustic guitars, Martin dreadnoughts from 1933 up until WWII are some of the most sought after pieces by collectors. Gibson Jumbo acoustics (like the J-45), and one-of-a-kind-artist-owned or historically significant guitars are also considered highly valuable. 

    In the electric sphere, solid body Gibsons from the late ‘50s (like the original run of Flying Vs and Explorers or the elusive “Cherry Sunburst Les Paul Standards”) or Fenders between the years of 1950-64 are greatly coveted by collectors. The earliest Telecasters and Broadcasters are also highly prized.
Are you planning to venture into the vintage guitar market? Do you already own a vintage guitar? Let us know in the comments below or hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter