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 54 Reissue 1972 Needs P-90 & Alnico Ez Project Stunning 100% Original Vintage C 1970 Gibson Es-335 335 + Ohsc - 1p No Reserve!!1966 Fender StratocasterPristine Gibson Les Paul Standard 120 Light Beautiful Honeyburst Flame Ohsc LiteNice Original 1957 Vintage Fender Duo-sonic Duosonic + Ohsc 2pu Musicmaster NorsFender Telecaster 1966 Vintage 1968 Gibson Es-335td Electric Archtop Guitar ~ Super Nice! Great Tone!Vintage Late 1964 Fender Jaguar Olympic White Matching Headstock Electric GuitarVintage 1967 Gibson Es-335 Tdc Cherry Factory Bigsby Vibrato All Original W/ohscAlembic Distillate Bass Guitar 19822000 Gibson Les Paul Standard Millennium Cream Sparkle Limited Run No Reserve!National Resonator Steel Guitar Nrp Black Rust Single Cone Delta Blues 2010Vintage 1959 Gibson Les Paul Tv Special Electric GuitarOriginal 1963 Fender Precision BassSuperb Blond 1979 Gibson Es175 Exceptional In Every Way No Reserve .99 Start Mint Gibson Bill Kelliher Golden Axe Explorer 2013 Ohsc Lace Nitro Hemi Pickups1967 50watt Marshall PlexiGibson Acoustic Guitar Sj-200 Standard - Super Jumbo, Natural True Vintage2013 Gibson Les Paul 1959 Reissue R9 Tobacco Burst Nos (global Ship)Fender 2009 American Deluxe Telecaster Aged Cherry Sunburst W/ Abs Molded Case1973 Martin Standard D-35 Acoustic Guitar2008 Collings Dreadnought D2h Acoustic Guitar NrTaylor T5 Koa 1973 Three Tone Sunburst Fender StratocasterVintage 1939 Gibson Recording King Ray Whitley Acoustic Guitar Pre War Jumbo1987 Prs Custom 24 Electric Guitar Paul Reed Smith Tobacco SunburstMint Pristine Gibson Brendon Small Snow Falcon Flying V White MetalocalypseHamer Electric Guitar T-51 Usa 1994Gibson Custom Shop Slash Les Paul Electric Guitar Vos 2008 Guns N Roses2008 (made In 2011) Gibson Les Paul Standard Lite Burst With Ohsc-mint1983 Gibson E2 Explorer W/flamed Maple Top & Ebony Fretboard + Ohsc1981 Gibson Flying V The V Stevie Ray Vaughan & Albert King Autographed L@@k2013 Martin Hd-35 **completely Perfect** (d28, Hd28)Vintage 1965 Mosrite Ventures Ii Rare Original Blue No Reserve Ships Worldwide!2008 Martin D-41 **perfect Mint Condtion.**Lovely Classic Es-335 Style 1983 Yamaha Sa-2000s Semi Solid Electric Guitar NorsGibson Les Paul Deluxe1992 Gibson Les Paul Standard Electric Guitar W/ Case - Natural - Gold Hardware1987 C.f. Martin J-40 Acoustic Guitar Nice!Vintage 1969 Gibson Sg Standard Killer Mojo Tone Machine!!98 Gibson Explorer Limited Edition Solid Body Electric Guitar Natural Usa 3372_3Gibson 2001 '58 Les Paul Reissue Flame Top 2001 Custom ShopCollings 2011 Sunburst Sj A Acoustic Guitar1962 Gibson Les Paul Jr One Owner2008 Paul Reed Smith Prs Guitars Singlecut Sc250 10-top Electric Guitar Wohsc2010 Gibson J-45 Standard Acoustic GuitarFender American Deluxe Thinline Telecaster Olympic White Tele Noiseless N3 UsaVintage Rare 1976 Rickenbacker 4000 Electric Bass Lefty Left Handed Mapleglo Hsc1973 Gibson Les Paul DeluxeFender Richie Sambora Custom Shop Stratocaster1956 Kay Silvertone 1382l Thin Twin Jimmy Reed Acoustic Electric Guitar1957 Martin Standard D-18 Acoustic Guitar W/hardcase1990's Fender Usa Custom Shop Robben Ford Electric Guitar W/case1956 Martin 00-18 Shaded Top Acoustic GuitarModulus Flea 5 String BassVintage 1981 Usa Bc Rich Mockingbird In Glitter Rock White!!Taylor Build To Order Custom Grand Symphony Grafted Walnut Bto Gs Guitar1960 Gibson Les Paul Special Electric Guitar Vintage Player W Bigsby No Case E51Gibson Chet Atkins Sst Acoustic/electric GuitarFender 1972 Telecaster Bass

Recent News: Guitars

Source: Google News

Alvin Stardust dies at age of 72
Belfast Telegraph, October 23rd

Undated handout photo issued Sunday July 3, 2005, of Alvin Stardust holding his first acoustic guitar, given to him on his 12th birthday, which he is selling. The former pop star recently discovered the instrument in his late mother's garage. He had...Read more

'Groove man' Bonneville arrives with Easy Gone
Saskatoon StarPhoenix, October 23rd

"Song and groove man" Ray Bonneville is on the road with his latest recording Easy Gone, described by Vintage Guitar Magazine as "another treasure from an artist deserving of more exposure." The Canadian-born musician, who has lived in Austin, Texas, ...Read more

Rig Rundown: The Gaslight Anthem
Premier Guitar, October 22nd

On October 8, 2014, Premier Guitar met with Alex Rosamilia and his tech Brad Clifford before The Gaslight Anthem's show at Marathon Music in Nashville. Rosamilia took PG through his rack of touring vintage guitars and revealed how he tailors his tone...Read more

Music Under the Water Tower begins season Saturday
Fort Madison Daily Democrat, October 22nd

(Supro is a vintage guitar.) But Busch has also been playing some “cool gigs” with Dale Beeks. With Beeks joining the trio for this occasion, they renamed it the Supro Quartet. When asked how to define Dustin Busch's style of music, Doug Seyb, founder...Read more

Play On! Power Pop Heroes by Ken Sharp... The Greatest Collection of Rock ...
Huffington Post, October 21st

My personal favorite... being a vintage guitar obsessive... Ken clues us into the very ... We'd stay at either a Holiday Inn or a Howard Johnson's and I'd get a taxi and go down to the pawnshops and sort of dig out all the vintage guitars. I bought...Read more

Trumbull Service Center marking 40 years
CT Post, October 20th

Steven Pastir, who also sells vintage guitars on the side, teaches automotive classes at Naugatuck Valley Community College, which he attended before transferring to Quinnipiac University. He said teaching keeps his skills current. "I've hired people...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

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