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    

C.f. Martin 000-28ec Eric Clapton Signature Mint Condition W Ohsc & Papers D-28 Gibson Les Paul Standard1968 Martin D-28 Acoustic Guitar -- No Reserve & Free Shipping Martin Standard Series D-35 Dreadnought Acoustic GuitarGibson Les Paul R8 Flamed MapleFender Princeton Vintage 1960 - Large Cabinet91' Greco Bass, Maple And White, Rickenbacker Copy, Right-handed Martin 000-28h Acoustic Guitar W / Ohsc! 2001 Model Scalloped Braces! No ReserveGibson 1957 Les Paul Junior Electric Guitar Refinished Not Reissued.Pre 1976 Rickenbacker 4000 Bass And Combo 450 12 String Like 4080 Genesis RushGibson Les Paul Standard*1992*sunburst*no Reserve*Gibson Custom Shop R7 Les Paul Historic Wildwood Spec Frost Blue Gloss CollectorRare 1977 Marshall Jmp 100w 2203 Combo Guitar Amp, 2-12, El34 Tubes, Master, Nr 1951 Gibson L-48 Archtop Acoustic Guitar W/ Original Lifton Case Please Read1959 Fender Stratocaster, The Real Deal! Used Near Mint Tom Anderson Hollow Cobra Humbucker Telecaster Tele Model93 Gibson Dove Ebony Guitar With Hard Shell Case And PapersGibson Es-335 Td 1967 Original! Clean!! 1 Owner No Reserve!!Huss & Dalton Dm*2003*acoustic Dreadnought*no Reserve*2005 Gibson Les Paul Standard Faded Electric Guitar Honey Burst W/ohsc + CandyKramer 5150 Eddie Van Halen Replica GuitarGibson Ripper 1974 1975 L9-s L9s No Reserve!Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster 50th Anniversary - Sunburst W/ Tweed Case Gibson Usa Sg '61 Reissue- One Piece Body!Gibson Songwriter Standard Ec Acoustic Guitar - Mint ConditionGibson Custom Shop Ltd. J-45 Adj. Acoustic Guitar 2012 ModelVintage Fender Princeton Reverb-amp Aa764 In Very Good ConditionVintage Original 1967 Fender Deluxe ReverbMint Gibson Les Paul Custom Classic Light Limited Edition 2014 Vintage Sunburst2014 Gibson Usa Custom Les Paul Axcess Alex Lifeson Electric Guitar W/ohsc & CoaMartin D-18 1999Pre Owned Gibson Les Paul Classic 1960 Reissue Guitar W/case SunburstMartin 000-28ec Eric Clapton Model. **excellent Plus**2011 Prs Custom 24 Dave Navarro Signature Model - New Old StockVintage 1972 Fender Telecaster 4 String, Right-handed, Solid - Body Bass GuitarIncredibly Rare Modulus 4 String Headless Bass All Carbon Fiber Prototype20 Year Old Vintage Gibson Les Paul Honey BurstCf Martin Lx1e Ed Sheeran Signature Limited Edition Lx Rare Little Guitar! Mint!1979 Gibson Es-335 Time Capsule, Walnut Finish, Skb CaseGibson Sg Standard Electric Guitar - Made In Usa 6 String Alembic Bass. Europa Series.2013 Gibson Usa Elliot Easton Tiki Firebird Gold Mist Poly With Case No Reserve2 Vintage Original 1958-1960 Gibson Paf Guitar PickupsGibson Usa Slash Signature Les Paul Tobacco Sunburst Gibson Acoustic J-45 True Vintage Acoustic Guitar Adirondack Hide Glue1991 Hamer Usa Sunburst Gatc Xg Color Ot Quilt / Tom Electric Guitar-rarely UsedGibson Eb-2d Eb2d Bass Guitar Rare Walnut Finish 69-73. W. Fender Jazz StringsGibson Les Paul Standard Electric Guitar With Hard CaseGretsch G6118 Anniversary Hollow Body 6-string Electric Guitar + Hard CaseMartin 00-18v Right Handed 6 String Acoustic GuitarGibson Les Paul Custom 1997 CherryburstGibson Skunk Baxter Firebird (similar To Firebird Vii) Superb With Ohsc1957 Gibson J 45 Vintage Slope Shoulder With Sitka Spruce And Mahogany2004 Gibson Les Paul 1960 Classic Epiphone '65 Elitist Casino, Mint, No Reserve !!Gibson Cs-356 Custom Shop*stunning Top*2002*bigsby*semi-hollowbody*no Reserve* 2013 Gibson Usa Rosa Corsa Slash Les Paul Red Flametop W Case No Reserve2011 Martin 000-28ec Eric Clapton **near Perfect**Marshall 1962 Bluesbreaker Combo Amp - No Reserve2003 Gibson Les Paul Double Cutaway

Recent News: Guitars

Source: Google News

The Rise of Guitarist Brock Betz
Urban Milwaukee Dial, February 27th

Fast forward twelve years and Brock is no longer fooling around with his father's vintage guitar and jury-rigging custom amps. Instead, he's rocking an Ibanez JS1200, leading the instrumental rock'n'roll trio, Brock Betz Band, and playing shows across ...Read more

Gary Burnette: A big smile, some fine guitars
Asheville Citizen-Times, February 27th

When the internationally known Bee 3 Vintage Guitar shows open, Bonnie and Gary Burnette have already spent a lot of time getting ready for the events held every year in Spartanburg, Charlotte and twice annually in Philadelphia. Gary Burnette is one of...Read more

L.A.'s Rock 'N' Roll Flea Market is More Like a Party That Happens to Sell Stuff
LA Magazine, February 26th

With vinyl vendors, vintage guitars and continuous cocktails, the Rock 'N' Roll Flea Market gives Los Angeles a hangover cure featuring both the “hair of the dog” and shopping. Jamming from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the first Sunday of every month at The...Read more

Mesa/Boogie® Founder Randall Smith Chosen by Readers for Induction to the ...
PR Web (press release), February 20th

Mesa/Boogie® is excited to announce Vintage Guitar magazine, the leading publication on vintage and collectible guitars, has inducted founder Randall Smith to its Hall of Fame in the Innovator category. This year's inductees, as well as winners of this...Read more

Power rock trio SIMO to bring vintage guitar energy to Sky City
The Augusta Chronicle, February 17th

At first glance, the power rock trio SIMO appears to have stepped out of the '60s with 30-year-old guitar virtuoso JD Simo fronting the band, channeling a psychedelic energy reminiscent of guitar god Jimi Hendrix. With a kaleidoscope of retro clothing...Read more

How Carmel's Rumble Seat Music owner went from rocker to vintage guitar ...
Monterey County Herald, February 17th

How Carmel's Rumble Seat Music owner went from rocker to vintage guitar peddler. Rumble Seat Music owner Eliot Michael holds a 1958 Explorer electric guitar previously owned by Eric Clapton in front of a wall of vintage guitars and amps at the store in ...Read more

Man charged with stealing 2 mandolins from store 2 days apart
WKRN, February 14th

(WKRN) – A man was arrested Friday for allegedly stealing a mandolin from a guitar store after he had shoplifted from the business days earlier. Police reported John Reed, 40, shoplifted a mandolin worth nearly $5,000 from Carter's Vintage Guitars on Feb...Read more

A vintage return
Youngstown Vindicator, February 8th

Thomas Diggins, who opened Hootenanny Vintage Guitars at 14 N. Phelps St. in downtown Youngstown in 2009 but closed it in 2011 due to family issues, plans to reopen the store in March after Youngstown State University students return from spring break...Read more