During the past 20 years, baby boomers looking to reclaim their lost, garage-band youth have contributed to the surge in vintage guitar collecting. As you’d expect, prices for the best examples have risen accordingly. But whether it’s a pre-World War II Martin flat top, a Gibson Les Paul from the 1950s, or a Fender Stratocaster like the one Jimi Hendrix used to play, there’s an instrument for every type of guitar collector.

Let’s begin with acoustic guitars. The biggest name in this category is unquestionably C.F. Martin, which was founded in 1833. Style designations for its flat top guitars have remained fairly consistent since the 1850s. For example, a 15 is considered a basic model, with increasing levels of detailing and finishing in models numbered 16, 17, 18, 21, 28, 35, 42, and 45. Thus a Martin D-18, one of Martin’s best sellers, is a big, boomy Dreadnought (that’s the "D") with enough extra touches to make it feel special, but not so many that you’d be reluctant to play it by a campfire.

Some of the most collectible vintage Martin flat tops include the Dreadnoughts from the 1930s, but any 12 or 14-fret steel-string models from the mid-1920s until the mid-1940s will bring a good price. The best part about collecting Martin guitars is that the company has made it so easy—vintage Martin guitars from 1898 to the present are easy to date because each instrument has an individual serial number.

Archtops are the other umbrella category of acoustic guitars. Gibson’s L-5 is one of the most coveted. First introduced in 1922, the guitar didn’t become popular until the 1930s, when guitars in general overtook banjos as the stringed instrument most beloved by the public. In 1934, Gibson came out with the Super 400. Epiphone answered with the Emperor. Gretsch competed with both companies via its line of Synchromatics, which had a cat’s-eye sound hole (Gibson and others went with more traditional f-holes). As for D’Angelico, it offered the incomparable Excel.

Other vintage acoustic guitars favored by collectors are the so-called cowboy guitars from the 1930s through the 1950s. These inexpensively made guitars were sold by Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward and featured stenciled or decaled scenes of cowboys and cowgirls on their flat tops. Some bore the "signatures" of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and the Lone Ranger.

Collectors who like guitars with a really big sound usually end up considering a 12-string by Martin, Guild, Gibson, or a host of other guitar makers. Leadbelly played a Stella, as did fellow bluesman Blind Willie McTell. Artists from folk singer Pete Seeger to Byrds front man Roger McGuinn popularized the 12-strings in the 1960s. And both Neil Young and Leo Kottke swear by their Taylors.

Resonator guitars are yet another acoustic category. Some vintage resonators, like the ones made by National, have bodies made from aluminum and a nickel alloy that’s sometimes c...

When it comes to electrics, no guitar has had a bigger impact on popular music than the Fender Stratocaster. The Strat was not the Southern California company’s first electric guitar—that honor goes to the 1950, solid-body Fender Broadcaster, which was renamed the Telecaster the following year. But the Strat defined the sound of rock ‘n’ roll and was the choice of everyone from Buddy Holly to Eric Clapton.

Another legendary Southern California guitar maker was Rickenbacker, which started out in the 1920s making metal bodies for National, and even made a Bakelite guitar in 1935. By the 1950s, Rickenbacker was known for Hawaiian guitars, but new models late in the decade caught the eye of John Lennon. When he played a Rickenbacker 325 with The Beatles, the company’s place in history was assured.

Fellow Beatle George Harrison played a solid-body Duo Jet Gretsch. Hollow-body Gretsch Streamliners and Country Clubs were big in the 1950s, and Chet Atkins played a hollow-body 6120—some models with his signature were sold as Tennesseans and Nashvilles. Seminal rocker Eddie Cochran was another early Gretsch customer.

Gretsch’s stiffest competitor was Gibson, whose solid-body Les Paul debuted in 1952. Collectors of vintage Gibson guitars are always on the lookout for a good Firebird or Flying V, and semi-hollow body ES 335s from 1958 to 1964 have proven quite collectible. But the Les Paul remains the most sought-after Gibson electric guitar, the choice of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, The Who’s Pete Townsend, and the Mother of Invention himself, Frank Zappa.

More recent entires in the electric market include ESP, Paul Reed Smith, Ibanez, Jackson, Schecter, Musicvox, Modulus (whose bass guitars are made of lightweight graphite), and Gittler (whose minimalist creations are fashioned from titanium).

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Museum of Musical Instruments

Museum of Musical Instruments

If vintage guitars could talk... they'd be digging this site. With its many themed collections and exhibitions, it'… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Danelectro

Vintage Danelectro

This site is as cool as the Nat Daniels’s designed Danelectro guitars and amplifiers that grace its easy-to-navig… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Guitars Info

Vintage Guitars Info

This great reference site features detailed sections on vintage guitar makers, including Gibson, Fender, Martin, Gr… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Want to see all the old brochures and ads for your favorite vintage axe? Check out this great site, which showcases… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

2012 Gibson Les Paul Traditional Pro Goldtop!Rare Vintage 1925 Martin 2-17 Parlor / Spanish GuitarFender 1965 Deluxe Reverb Amp Head 22 Watts W/ Reverb PedalFender American Stratocaster Deluxe W/ S1 Switch Electric Guitar - One OwnerFender 1965 Deluxe Reverb Amp Head 22 Watts W/ Reverb Pedal & CoverFender American Standard Stratocaster Electric GuitarFender Blacktop Jaguar Hh Dual Humbucker Gloss Black Electric GuitarGibson Les Paul Standard Traditional Plus*2010*heritage Cherry Sunburst*Vintage 1978 Marshall Jmp 50w Lead Mk Ii Model 1987 Amp Head! Rare! No Reserve!Gibson L6-s*vintage 1976*seymour Duncan*dimarzio*no Reserve*Fender Jaguar 1965 Lake Placid Blue With OhscFender Blacktop Telecaster Hh Candy Apple Red No ReserveVintage 1963 Harmony H306a W / Original Jensen 1x12 Speaker! Rare! No Reserve!!!Fender Deluxe Series Nashville Telecaster Electric GuitarGibson Les Paul Guitar, Late 60's - 70, No Hardware, Project, Selling "as Is"'96 Gibson Les Paul Classic Goldtop1956 Gibson Es-225t Archtop Electric Guitar1965 Princeton Reverb.original Black Face AmpFender Johnny Marr Jaguar Olympic White Made In Usa *beautiful*Vintage 1960's Gretsch Guitar Tube Amp. Model 6151. Gorgeous.Peavey T-40 Bass W/ Ohsc Made In Usa T40 T 40 T-20Gibson 2016 Les Paul Studio Faded Series T Electric Guitar Worn Cherry*Gibson Es-330 1959 Custom Shop Reissue Vos Wildwood Edition Pelham Blue Es-335 1957 Gibson J50 Acoustic Guitar- Great Player, Great Tone ! Natural Top J45 !!1961 Gibson Lg1 Acoustic Guitar W/original Alligatorboard CaseReverend Jetstream 390 Electric Guitar - 3 Tone BurstTom Anderson Classic*sparkle Gold*2001*mint*no Reserve*2007 Fender Special Edit Custom Telecaster Spalted Maple Hh Korean No Reserve! Taylor 814ce Es2 Grand Auditorium Acoustic Electric Guitar With Cutaway And CaseAntique C1890 C.bruno N.y. Parlor Acoustic Guitar With Case Rare & BeautifulFender Telecaster Mexico Electric Guitar Apple RedTraynor Yba-1. Marshall Plexi Style Guitar AmpGibson Les Paul Studio Faded Electric Guitar*worn Brown*2012*no Reserve*Vintage Guild D25 Acoustic Guitar Sn Og409 - Made In UsaPrototype Yamaha Trbx505 Y&t Logo 5 String Bass For Tom Size Y&t's SoundmanElectrical Guitar Company Egc Standard Left-handedVintage 1966 Gibson Ga-55 Rvt Ranger White Panel 4x10 Combo Amp Rare No Reserve!Fender Standard Stratocaster Electric Guitar10 String Chapman Stick Railboard W/ Skb Hard Shell Case - Pristine ConditionMjt Relic Strat Sea Foam Green W/gold Hardware Brown Fender Case No Reserve Fender Black Stratocaster W/fat Maple C Neck Strong Pickups2015 Gibson Les Paul Lpm Project Body Neck2012 Martin D-18 Near Mint Condition Paul Reed Smith Custom 24 1995 10 Top Stamped By FactoryGibson Les Paul Special Double Cutaway With Seymour Duncan P-rails & Triple ShotGibson Les Paul Custom Dirty Fingers Planet Waves2008 Fender American Standard Telecaster Electric GuitarWarmoth Thunderbird P-bass John Entwistle The Who No ReserveLarrivee Mahagony Parlor GuitarPeavey Axcelerator F - Made In Usa, Fender Soft Bag, Prs StringsGibson J-45 Standard Acoustic Electric Guitar*lr Baggs*2014*j45*no Reserve*Gretsch G5128 Electromatic Hollow Body Electric Guitar Gold SparkleVintage 1967 Fender Princeton Reverb Tube Combo Amp - $1 Start, No ReserveGibson J185 Acoustic GuitarGibson Sg Standard Electric GuitarGibson Explorer Electric Guitar Project Needs WorkFender Deluxe Reverb Reissue Drri Head Version Used Two Hours Minty++ ExcellentGibson Es-339 Studio Semi-hollow Electric GuitarGibson Es-137 Custom Semi-hollowbody Electric Guitar*2003*no Reserve*Fender Vintage Hot Rod American 1960's Precision Pj Bass Reissue