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    

1965 Fender Stratocaster Vintage Electric Pre-cbs Sunburst Strat GuitarGibson Les Paul Standard 1959 Re Issue Historic Sunburst Slow Iced Tea Cherry 1959 Guild Capri Ce-100d Vintage Player Electric GuitarGibson Les Paul Standard Double Cut Plus*2001transparent Red*no Reserve*Vintage 1953 Martin 00-17 Acoustic Guitar Mahogany 1964 Fender Stratocaster Vintage Electric Pre-cbs Olympic White Strat Guitar1954 Fender Princeton Guitar Amp Original Vintage Tweed Champ On Steroids Super1983 Gibson Les Paul Black Beauty 82 Vintage Custom Guitar Standard Tim Shaw Pus1981 Gibson Les Paul Custom 3 Pickup (black Beauty)Gibson Les Paul 60 1960 R0 Reissue Historic Vos1959 Gibson Es-330 Vintage Semi Hollowbody Acoustic Electric Guitar Es330 Es-3351961 Gibson Es 345 Vintage All Original Hardware And Electronics 1 Original Paf1989 Gibson Explorer With Upgraded Seymour Duncan Sh-55b Pick-ups1973 Marshall Super Bass 100 Watt Tube Head Amp Jmp SuperbassYamaha Sbg3000 Right Handed Electric Guitar1960 Fender Jazzmaster Vintage Electric Jaguar Custom Color Sparkle Guitar 19611968 Martin D-28 Vintage Flat Top Acoustic D-18 Guitar Brazilian Rw & 1969 Case1947 Gibson Sj Southern Jumbo J-45 Vintage Flat Top Acoustic Guitar2011 Gibson J-45 Custom Acoustic Electric Guitar - Vintage Sunburst W/ Case WowC.f. Martin D-28 Near Mint Condition W Original Hard Case & Paperwork Martin D28Vintage 1960's Fender Jaguar 6 String Electric Guitar Cbs Era Made In Usa1956 Martin 00-18 Vintage Player Acoustic 0018 Guitar W Ohsc Hardshell Case E59Vintage 1926 Gibson Mastertone 5 String Banjo W Hardshell Case E59Rickenbacker 4001 Bass Guitar, Rick Bass, Ricky Bass, Burgundy Glow, Made In UsaPaul Reed Smith Custom 24 Ten Top Electric Guitar1979 Gibson Hummingbird Acoustic Guitar In Heritage Cherry Sunburst2001 Gibson Les Paul Standard Goldtop Gold Top Wow!!! L@@k!!!!Gibson Les Paul Standard Double Cut Plus*mint*2006*translucent Amber*no Reserve*2000 Martin 000-28ec Eric Clapton Model Acoustic Guitar With Case No Reserve1963 Martin 0-18...excellent !!!...sweet & SolidTravis Bean Guitar Tb500mm 1997 Serial #0011970 Vintage Gibson Es-150 Dw Guitar Es-150d Walnut Electric Hollow-body W/ohsc1975-1977 Gibson Flying V Electric Guitar Super Rare Alpine White - No Reserve!! Gibson Les Paul Custom Ebony 2008 Genuine Ebony Fretboard Black Beauty2011 Prs Sc58 Stunning One Piece Artist Top - Mint! Singlecut Fire Red Burst1974 Gibson Es -335 Left Handed Lefty Vintage Electric Guitar Ex Condition!1968 Gibson Es 330 Guitar1930s Gibson Acoustic GuitarUltra Rare Factory Black Vintage Original 1968 Gibson Es-335 Tdv +ohsc Stunning!Vintage 1978 Fender Precision Bass Guitar All Original With Hang Tags Excellent!Vintage 1976 Gibson Les Paul Custom Sunburst Left Hand LeftyGibson Custom 2014 Historic 1960 Reissue R0 Les Paul Electric GuitarGibson Les Paul Traditional Pro 2011 With Lollar P90's---1974 Gibson Les Paul Custom Vintage Sunburst Standard Electric Special Guitar2013 Gibson Les Paul Standard With CaseBeautiful Rare Vintage Original 1957 Gibson Es-225 Tn Natural Es-330 Type + OhscVintage Gibson Hummingbird Left Handed Acoustic Guitar Lefty Beauty!Fender Precision Bass Elite Ii Bass Guitar American Made 1983 With Gig Bag Fender American Deluxe Jass Bass V 5 String W/ Ohsc2011 Gibson Les Paul Traditional Pro Honeyburst Plek'd Coil Split 50s Neck Look!Fender Original Vintage 1953 Blackguard TelecasterNew Gibson L-1 Robert Johnson Acoustic Guitar Gibson Sg Standard Historic Reissue Electric Guitar (mint)Tom Anderson Drop Top Classic! 2009 Excellent Condition!Fender Orange Krush Stratocaster*custom Shop*1995*21 Of 25*rare*no Reserve*Martin Hd28 Sunburst Acoustic Guitar 2010Vintage Original 6 String 1965-68 Gibson J-50 Adj Acoustic Guitar Great ShapeVictoria Victorilux Combo W/6l6 ExcellentGorgeous 2006 Gibson Flying V In Cream Color W/ Ohsc!1973 Fender Telecaster Vintage Factory Left Handed Lefty Ex Condition!

Recent News: Guitars

Source: Google News

The Urban Voodoo Machine
Soundblab, January 25th

Vintage guitars were complimented by double-bass, keyboards and saxophone while Rickards stage presence and vocal prowess tied the whole thing together. Dressed like they've just stepped out of a 50s themed diner, the band played a flawless set of ...Read more

Yamaha and Line 6 collaboration yields Variax Standard electric guitar
Gizmag, January 22nd

Guitarists wanting the classic tones of yesteryear can risk financial ruin by amassing a sizeable collection of original instruments or they can take a much cheaper route and turn to the digital world for help. Line 6 has been modeling vintage guitar...Read more

Music Box: Dirty Bourbon River just the tonic for a fun night out
CapitalGazette.com, January 22nd

Vintage Guitar magazine describes Victoria's style as having "an undercurrent of toughness, a beautiful voice, great melodies and loads of charm (that) make her unique folk/pop music impossible to resist." Our beloved Unified Jazz Ensemble is also on...Read more

Plymouth: Tim's Auctions to hold massive auction of collectibles, cars and ...
Torrington Register Citizen, January 21st

Proceeds from the sale of a few items in the sale not coming from Donahue's estate (such as vintage guitars) will also go to benefit the Bristol Car Club, as well as St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, a cause that is near and dear to Chapulis' heart...Read more

Victims, cop testify about Durham fires
Monadnock Ledger Transcript, January 19th

Zotos went back to his apartment because he was concerned about some expensive vintage guitars his father had given him, which were kept in the bedroom. He told jurors that firefighters handed him the guitars through a window, saving his prize ...Read more

Guitar exhibition to coincide with concert to raise cash for young musicians
The Northern Echo, January 19th

Vintage guitar expert and collector Paul Brett whose instruments will be exhibited at Tennants the same evening, is helping organise the concert for Future Talent - a charity founded by HRH The Duchess of Kent and Nicholas Robinson in 2004 providing ...Read more

One careful owner: The story of a desirable vintage guitar about to be auctioned
Washington Post, September 8th

Sometimes, a person, a place and a thing are inextricably linked, sharing a history that's unduplicatable. Such is the case with Lot 88 at this Saturday's Quinn's Auction Galleries sale in Falls Church. John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a...Read more

Nashville is Truly a (Vintage) Guitar Town
American Songwriter, July 17th

Gruhn Guitars, opened in 1970 by George Gruhn, and Carter's Vintage Guitars, owned by Walter and Christie Carter, are the stores of Nashville's best-known vintage guitar dealers. While Gruhn doesn't boast about his clientele, he doesn't need to...Read more