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    

1946 Gibson J-45 Vintage Flat Top J-50 Pre War Script Jumbo Acoustic Guitar 19451951 Gibson L-7 C Premier Archtop Guitar Vintage Sunburst W Hsc E471948 Gibson L-12-p Premier Jazz Archtop Sunburst Guitar L12p W Ohsc E471971 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe Electric Gold Top Guitar W Ohsc No Reserve E471959 Martin 000-28 Acoustic Guitar Vintage Player 00028 W Ohsc E47Vintage Gibson 1974 20th Anniversary Les Paul Custom Guitar Rare Gibson Les Paul Custom/sg Custom Shop Fire-tiger 3d Quilt Top # 15 Of 25Gibson '54 Les Paul Custom - 1954 Reissue - Black Beauty - Excellent ConditionVintage 1979 Ibanez Iceman Ps-10 Paul Stanley Signature Model Elec Guitar Kiss2004 Epiphone Elitist Byrdland Hollow Body Electric Guitar Made In JapanVox Ac-10 Twin Vintage 1965 Jmi Model W / Original Footswitch! No Reserve! Rare!2013 Gibson Les Paul Traditional New Honeyburst Project Neck Repair Lightweight1969 Fender Precision Bass UsaGibson Custom 1956 Les Paul Goldtop Reissue Guitar 1998 R6Gretsch G6119-1962ft*chet Atkins Tennessee Rose*semi-hollowbody*mint*no Reserve*Duesenberg Starplayer Tv Custom*semi Hollowbody**mint*dtv*no Reserve*Gibson Les Paul Electric Guitar - 19682011 Gibson Custom Shop L-5ct L-5 Ct Hollow Body Archtop Electric GuitarParker Fly Classic Electric Guitar U.s.a.25Gibson Les Paul Classic Plus1973 Gibson Les Paul Standard Special Order Factory Humbuckers - No Reserve!Martin Standard D-45 Acoustic GuitarGibson J-45 Tv True Vintage 2012 Rh Acoustic Guitar Sunburst W/ Hard Case*1960 Gibson Es-345 Stereo. Original Except For Tuners. Big, Wide Neck. Woot!!!Gibson Les Paul Signature T*vintage Sunburst*mint*no Reserve*Paul Reed Smith Prs Custom 22 Artist Package Guitar 2004 Royal BlueGretsch G6129t-1957 Silver Sparkle Duo Jet Vintage 1957 Style Electric Guitar2001 Martin D-45v Acoustic Guitar, Excellent / Mint, Vintage Series, No Reserve!1971 Vintage Fender Precision Bass All Original Relic Wear No Reserve Auction 1968 Gibson Johnny Smith Archtop Guitar - Citation - Le Grande - Super 4001952? Gibson Es-295 Sunburst Guitar Electric W/ Original Electronics Free Ship!1996 Gibson J45 Acoustic Guitar Great Player Killer Gibby Tone!! Gibson L5-s Vintage Electric GuitarGibson Les Paul Standard 2014 Rh Electric Guitar Honey Burst Perimeter*1978 Martin Standard Hd-28 Acoustic Guitar Gorgeous Player Near Mint W Ohsc E47Vintage Original 1978 Gibson Les Paul 25/50 Anniversary Electric GuitarVintage 1964 Gibson Acoustic GuitarGibson Les Paul CustomZb Custom Pedal Steel 10 String Guitar W/ Case & Dearmond 1602 Volume Pedal1970-72 Gibson Es-175d Sunburst Electric Archtop Guitar No Reserve Es175d E471968 Gibson J-45 Vintage Flat Top Acoustic Guitar Rare Cherry Red Finish J-50Fender Jazzmaster American 62 Reissue, Avri, Olympic White, Mastery Bridge2014 Gibson Les Paul Standard Premium Quilt Root Beer Rootbeer Electric Guitar 1927 Martin 00-42Rare 2014 Gibson Les Paul R9 1959 Historic Reissue-custom Shop Artist Stinger!Mesa Boogie Mark V Amp HeadGibson Bass - Les Paul Triumph - 1973Bc Rich Bich, Usa Made Custom Shop One Of A Kind Guitar! Hard Case Included!Taylor 714-ce 6-string Acoustic Electric Guitar With Case1958 Fender Stratocaster Body 58 Vintage Strat Sunburst No Reserve1966 Supro Thunderbolt In Exceptionally Fine Original Condition S64202013 Gibson Custom Shop Es-335 1959 Nashville Made 1980 Gibson Block Inlay Flying V Rare Guitar With Kahler And Original Hard Case Martin D-28 Guitar 1971. 6 String, Dreadnaught, Right-handedPaul Reed Smith Custom 24 With Birds Prs2000 Gibson Les Paul Classic Plus - WohscUsa Fender Rare Dearmond Telesonic Telecaster Hybrid/les Paul/gretsch-caster WowGretsch G6139cb Center Block Black Falcon Silver Semi Hollow G Cadillac Fixed 2002 Rickenbacker 4003 Stereo Electric Bass Guitar Rick-o-sound W/ Ohsc

Recent News: Guitars

Source: Google News

British rock music invades Fullerton
The Daily Titan, September 17th

Vintage guitars in glass cases stare back at viewers as they drip with history and the essence of great musicians that once played them. There is even a series of assorted picture sleeves of The Fab Four over the course of their career. A picture...Read more

Pickin' Parlor woven into this weekend's Rendezvous Music Fest in Beaver Creek
Vail Daily News, September 17th

Kit Simon and his dog Toby Wan Kenobe enjoy a little pickin' time. Simon is bringing dozens of vintage instruments to this weekend's Rendezvous Music Festival Pickin' Parlor. It's sort of like an instrument petting zoo, and because the instruments are...Read more

'Only Lovers Left Alive' is a gloomy vampire movie
Madison.com, September 16th

Holed up in an old house in an abandoned part of Detroit, he plays vinyl classics and collects rare vintage guitars brought to him by roadie type Ian (Anton Yelchin). In the not quite as depopulated streets of Tangier, Eve (Tilda Swinton) seeks out...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

Crooks steal expensive audio boards, vintage guitar, handguns
wreg.com, August 22nd

LAFAYETTE COUNTY, Miss. — Burglars in Lafayette County stole a vintage guitar, a flat screen TV and some rare, expensive parts for a recording console. Andrew Ratcliffe, the owner of Tweed Recording Studio, wants to believe some of what was taken was ...Read more