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 Gibson Les Paul Custom 1973 Needs Patent# Pickups & Parts Ez Project 1988 Gibson Es-335 Dot Electric Project GuitarGibson Usa Les Paul Traditional Project Guitar Complete American Lp Body Neck Stunning Original Vintage 1966 Custom Colour Candy Apple Red Fender Stratocaster1958 Fender Esquire Vintage Player - 1957 Maple NeckJoe Bonamassa Signed/played Gibson Skinnerburst Les Paul '59 Reissue No Reserve!1973 Martin Standard D-35 Acoustic GuitarOriginal Vintage (not A Reissue) 1965 Blackface Fender Deluxe Reverb AmpFender Showman Amp - Either Late 1961 Or Early 1962 - Good Working ConditionFender Telecaster 1966 1975 Martin D-28s Slot Head Guitar1983 Fender Japan Telecaster Thinline Jv-serial Rare !!1960 Fender Stratocaster, Collectors Dream! All Original All Case Candy!Gibson Les Paul Classic Antique Heritage Cherry BurstVintage Guild Starfire Electric Guitar - Hollow Body W/caseReal Original Vintage Schecter Pt( Pete Townshend) Telecaster! Made In Usa! Rare2005 Gibson Les Paul Murphy Aged Historic Reissue 59 R9 Lemonburst YamanoMartin J40 Jumbo Acoustic Guitar 2008 Model! International Bids Ok! No Reserve!!1977 Gibson Les Paul Tobacco Sunburst2012 Gibson Custom Shop L-7c Gibson Les Paul Traditional Pro Ii 50's Neck GoldtopGibson Les Paul Standard Electric GuitarOriginal 1963 Fender Precision Bass2013 Gibson Les Paul 58 Reissue Vos Custom Shop Sunrise Tea Burst!!!1960 Gibson Les Paul Special Electric Guitar Vintage Player W Bigsby No Case E51Vintage 1963 Fender Princeton Brownface Amp Tim Biskup Handpainted Fender Stratocaster GuitarGibson Les Paul Custom Shop Historic 1955 55 Re-issue/r5 Goldtop "2012"Vintage 1964 Gibson Epiphone Excellente Ft-120 Prototype Brazilian Rosewood!!!Albert De Alba Handpainted Fender Stratocaster Guitar1964 Gibson J-50 Adj Acoustic Guitar With Hard Shell Case J-45 Natural2006 Gibson Flying V Left Handed Electric Guitar No Reserve $1.001986 / 87 Fender Stratocaster 1962 Reissue-rare Mary Kaye Ash Pre Custom ShopMint Fodera Matt Garrison Model Copy 5 String Electric Bass W/ken Smith StringPre-gibson Tobias 6 Strings Bass Classic Serial #802 No Reserve1966 Guild F20Fender Usa/custom Shop 2004 Stratocaster Guitar 1968 Fender Princeton Reverb Amplifier Vintage 1960 Guild Ce100b Guitar No ReserveGibson J-45 Standard Limited Edition Cobra Burst Finish Acoustic Electric Guitar1996 Gibson Historic Series Reissue 60 Les Paul Special Custom Cherry OhscOriginal Vintage 1961 Fender Stratocaster Sunburst Strat Guitar Pre Cbs1962 Gretsch Sparkle Jet 6129 (burgundy) - Near Mint - Rare1964 Fender Stratocaster, Awesome Vintage Strat! You Got To Hear This One!1980 Martin D-35 Acoustic Solid, Great Sounding And Playing MartinTaylor 814ce Acoustic/electric Guitar Grand Auditorium Cutaway W/ Hard Case 2007 Gibson Usa Les Paul Classic Tabacco Sunburst With Case No ReserveGibson Les Paul Classic1997 Gibson Les Paul Special Double Cutaway Tv Yellow Electric Guitar2003 Martin Hd-28v **near Mint**2006 Gibson Es-335 Excellent Condition No ReserveMartin D-28 Authentic 1931- Unplayed Mint Condition-original Martin Shipping Box1958 Gibson J-200 Acoustic Guitar!!! Brazilian Board!!!Shawn Stussy Handpainted Fender Stratocaster GuitarMarshall Silver Jubilee 2553 Amp HeadVintage Gretsch Guitar2014 Gibson Trini Lopez Es-335 Model 37 Of Only 250 Collector Owned Mint!!!Gorgeous 93 Gibson Custom Shop Advanced Jumbo Montana Special - 1 Of 36 MadeGibson J-45 Acoustic Guitar1966 Fender Stratocaster

Recent News: Guitars

Source: Google News

LR Baggs and American Songwriter Present: Cale Tyson
American Songwriter, October 30th

We teamed back up with L.R. Baggs for another live session, this time from Carter's Vintage Guitars in Nashville. Watch Tyson perform his tracks “Traveling Man” and “Oaxaca,” with a little help from Nashville guitarist and songsmith Pete Lindberg...Read more

// Vintage Guitar Show am 1. & 2. November
musikmachen.de, October 30th

Mit der Vintage Guitar Show findet dieses Wochenende in Oldenburg die größte Schau alter Rockgitarren in Europa statt – und das bereits im 30. Jahr. Gitarre & Bass gratuliert recht herzlich! Nachdem die Vintage Guitar Show im letzten Jahr aufgrund des ...Read more

Vintage guitar found in local garage
Lincoln Trail Publishing, October 29th

Everybody loves the idea of finding a hidden treasure in a barn, garage, or storage unit. We have programs such as "Antiques Roadshow," "American Pickers," "Storage Hunters," and "Storage Wars." We wonder to ourselves, "What's lurking in my attic, ...Read more

Several types of damages available in car accidents
San Francisco Examiner, October 29th

You would be entitled to the value of the vintage guitar, not the much less valuable new model. There are other significant areas of special damages. Wage loss is one. A person is entitled to recover the value of the time they miss from work. If a...Read more

Man charged with stealing vintage guitar
WMC Action News 5, October 29th

Officer say Nelson broke into a home in late May and stole several musical instruments, including the vintage guitar. Police say Nelson pawned the guitar in July for $1,000. Nelson told officers he bought the guitar from a woman in Bowling Green...Read more

Man charged with stealing vintage guitar in east Nashville
WKRN, October 29th

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -. A man was arrested Tuesday for theft after he allegedly burglarized a home in east Nashville, taking a 1979 Gibson Les Paul guitar, which he then resold to a Hermitage pawn shop. Police reported Donald Nelson, 36, broken into the ...Read more

Play Guitar? Head on Over to City Winery
New York Times (blog), October 28th

The event, which also includes a display of vintage guitars and a silent auction of instruments, will raise money for music education programs run by the Church Street School for Music and Art as well as Little Kids Rock, which provides instruments...Read more

Historical Rock Photos, Vintage Guitars and Artwork Take Center Stage at Rock ...
PR Web (press release), October 1st

Backstage Auctions' annual Rock 'n Pop Auction features over 700 lots filled with rare rock and pop memorabilia featuring The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Fleetwood Mac, KISS, Neil Young, Climax Blues Band James Taylor and many ...Read more