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 for 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    

Vintage 1965 Fender Jazzmaster Usa Electric Guitar Sunburst Original W/ Hardcase1930 Gibson L-1 Vintage Flat Top L-00 Big Body Version Pre-war Acoustic GuitarVintage 1922 Martin & Co 0-18 Acoustic Guitar Gibson Sj200 Vintage 2000 Beautiful Players Guitar No Reserve Auction .99 StartRare C.f. Martin 0-28 Parlor Guitar -1890s - Beautiful Vintage Antique Acoustic Nice Original Vintage 1951 Gibson L7n L7 N Blonde Jazz Archtop Mccarty Pickup NrNice 100% Original Vintage Dot Neck 1961 Gibson Es-330 330 Cherry Red + Ohsc1960 Epiphone Coronet Vintage Gibson Epi Les Paul Jr Wilshire Electric Guitar1966 Fender Stratocaster! Vintage Strat With Case Candy! Rare Find!1997 Gibson J-160e Acoustic Guitar Bozeman Mt Usa Made Beatles John Lennon Ohsc2010 Rickenbacker 360-12 12 String Electric Guitar Jetglo 360/12Gibson Les Paul Standard Double Cutaway*2002*no Reserve*Vintage 1977 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe! W/original Hard Case! 100% Original!1979 Gibson Es-345 Stereo, All Original Vintage Gem! Ohsc! Super Clean!1965 Guild M-20 Vintage M20 Vintage Gibson Strings Flat Top Acoustic Guitar30's Vintage Gibson Century Of Progress Guitar, Project Guitar1974 Gibson Les Paul Standard Guitar With Factory Humbuckers - No Reserve!!Martin D-28s Vintage 1967 Brazilian Rosewood Tone Monster D-28 Authentic 12 FretPre Cbs Fender Precision BassTaylor 814ce Acoustic-electric Guitar With Hardshell Case1993 Guild Brian May Signature Electric Guitar W/ Treble Boost Pedal Rare Green!1963 Fender Jaguar1946 Martin Herringbone D-28 Excellent Condition W/hscTaylor Koa K24ce Acoustic/electric Guitar1959 Fender Tweed Champ Amp Amazing Condition! All Original1932 Martin Style 3k, Rare Ukulele! Beautiful Koa Wood!Nice! 1999 Gibson Les Paul R7 ~ Gibson Custom Art Historic 1957 Goldtop Reissue 1954 Gibson J45 J-45 Awesome Player!Martin Custom Shop 00-12 Fret 00-28 Acoustic GuitarVintage 1982 Yamaha Sg-1500 Jade Green Electric Guitar Santana Sg-1000 2000Fender 1957 Telecaster Electric Guitar1973 Fender Precision Bass Jazz P Bass Vintage Electric Natural GuitarGibson Pre Historic Les Paul 1959 Reissue Guitar 1988 Heritage Cherry SunburstGibson Custom Les Paul Custom Electric Guitar, Black 89 Flawless, Mint !1920's 14" Wide Washburn Style A Brazilian Rosewood Parlor Guitar No Reserve 1969 Gibson Sg Standard1965 Guild Capri Ce100d - Sunburst61 Vintage Fender Brown Super Guitar Amp... Mint ConditionGibson Usa Explorer Electric GuitarGibson Usa Les Paul Traditional Electric GuitarGibson Sg Custom*vintage 1972*all Original*no Reserve*Stunning Original Vintage 1968 1969 Gibson Les Paul Custom Black Beauty No Resv!Martin Hd-35 Acoustic GuitarGibson Les Paul Custom Ebony Black Beauty 2009 Custom Shop1980 Gibson Flying V 2 V2 Electric Guitar Natural1966 D-28 Martin Guitar With CaseGibson Les Paul Lpr9 1964 Gibson F-25 Lg-3 Lg-2 B-25 Vintage J-50 J-45 Folksinger Acoustic Guitar '64Gibson Les Paul Standard Quilt TopFender Vintage 1966 Showman Blackface Amp With Jbl 130 A CabinetNew Martin D-28 Acoustic Guitar W/caseJapanese Epiphone Les Paul Standard Lps-80 Japan Gibson Headstock Sg Mij AaOriginal 1993 Ibanez Rg550 Guitar Near Mint Usa Jem 550 770 Rg Emerald Green! Hamer Usa Artist Electric GuitarPaul Reed Smith Mccarty Brazilian Rosewood 1960's Epiphone Ft-110 Vintage Frontier Dreadnought Flat-top GuitarVintage 1966 Fender Bass V 5 String BassSuperb Original Vintage 1959 1960 Gibson Les Paul Junior Nice Cherry Red Noresv!1956 Fender Tweed Deluxe Guitar Amp..sweeeeet1997 Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul Standard, Plaintop + Upgrades, Rare!

Recent News: Guitars

Source: Google News

SLASH: Kids Today Just Want To Grab A Bunch Of Cash, Do As Little Work As ...
BLABBERMOUTH.NET, September 28th

Asked by Vintage Guitar awhile ago who or what sparked his interest to become a guitar player, Slash said: "Steven Adler, the original drummer for GUNS N' ROSES, got me interested in playing, although I'd been raised on music. When we were about 15, we ...Read more

St. Francis storage case-maker King Kase thinks inside the box
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 27th

"I built him a bunch of cases for his vintage guitars," Sloan said. Clapton requested Sloan's services after seeing the strength of the cases he'd made for Clapton's tour production company. Then there was his encounter in the mid-'90s with country...Read more

For Picker's Supply owner Bran Dillard, every guitar has a story.
Fredericksburg.com, September 26th

Now Dillard, whose business specializes in vintage guitars, is preparing to share some of that history when he opens his new Americana Galleria next week. The free, interactive museum will be in the back of his store on 902 Caroline St. in Fredericksburg...Read more

Vintage Guitar Show Oldenburg 2014
musikmachen.de, September 26th

Am Samstag, dem 01. November von 10 bis 18 Uhr und am Sonntag, dem 02. November von 11 bis 16 Uhr findet in Oldenburg in der IGS Schule am Flötenteich wieder die Vintage-Guitar-Show statt. Vintage Guitar Show Oldenburg. Bei der Vintage Guitar ...Read more

A job with strings attached
Crain's New York Business, September 11th

The 59-year-old Mr. Uhrik has owned and operated Retrofret Vintage Guitars in Gowanus since 1983. A Brooklyn native and graduate of Brooklyn Tech High School, he grew up as a self-proclaimed "total technogeek who took apart radios, TVs, everything, ...Read more

Thieves target Nanaimo shop's vintage guitars
Times Colonist, September 11th

The store had a vintage guitar show on Sunday, and Leighton speculated those responsible “might have been there looking at the guitars.” Three Stratocasters — the centrepieces of the store — were hanging on the wall behind the till. But the thief...Read more

Classic six-strings: Annual vintage guitar show starts Saturday
Herald Zeitung, September 10th

Providing both ear and eye candy for any music lover, “The Best Little Guitar Show in Texas” returns to New Braunfels this weekend. The sixth annual San Antonio Area Vintage Guitar and Instrument Show provides patrons with the opportunity to buy, sell...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