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    

2012 Gibson Usa Les Paul Standard Goldtop W Case No Reserve Super CleanGibson Usa Les Paul Standard Electric Guitar Amber 2013 1928 Martin Guitar Serial # 39247 W/ Hardshell CaseGibson Les Paul Deluxe*vintage 1981*goldtop*excellent All Original Condition*1959 Gibson Es 335Superb Players Grade Original 1962 Gibson Les Paul Sg With Ebony Block 1p No Res2014 Gibson Es 335 1963 Block Reissue Martin Acoustic Guitar D-18 Serial #197460 In Hard Case2013 Gibson Usa Les Paul Traditional Ice Tea Flame Burst W Case No Reserve2001 Usa Gibson Les Paul Standard Dc Flametop Prs Custom 24 W/case & Warranty Nr1957 Fender Tweed Vibrolux'62 Vintage Fender Bassman Electric Guitar Amplifier (head)Gibson Es-335 Dot Reissue*mint Condition*memphis*2012*semi-hollowbody*no ReserveKlon Centaur Overdrive Guitar PedalGibson 70 Anniversary John Lennon J-160e Acoustic Electric GuitarAmpeg B-15n Flip Top Not Mint But It Has The Mint Tone! Lqqk1965 Original Fender Vibrolux Reverb-amp Oxford Speakers No Reserve1961 Fender 6bq5 Tremolux *ultra Rare*Vintage 1961 Fender Precision Bass - Not A Relic1919 Martin 0-18 Nazareth Pre-war Guitar 6-string Acoustic Flat Top VintageMartin Hd-28 1986 Vintage Acoustic GuitarGibson Es330 1965 Plays Sounds Great Cherry Red Gorgeous No Reserve .99 Start 1979 Ibanez Ps 10 Paul Stanley Kiss Made In Japan Destroyer Iceman Rg Jem Pgm2012 Gibson Usa Sg Standard P-90s Cherry Red W Case No ReserveGibson J-45 Old Acoustic GuitarVintage Left Handed 1968 Gibson Eb-2d + Original Case Lefty Free Shipping W Bin!Vintage 1963 Fender Blonde Bassman Amp Amplifier Model 6g6-b2012 Cf Martin D-28p D28p D-28 Rosewood Dreadnaught W Case No ReserveWarwick Alien 6 String Fretless Acoustic Electric Bass Guitar2013 Martin 000-28ec Eric Clapton Signature Model Acoustic Guitar W/ohsc1947 Martin D-28, Amazing Guitar! Beautiful Loud Tone! Ohsc!Gibson Les Paul Custom Classic In Wine Red -- 2012 Nashville1990 Gibson Les Paul Custom With CaseGibson Es-339 W/hscVintage Gibson Guitar2003 Gibson Sheryl Crow Signature Model Country Western GuitarCollings D2h Acoustic Guitar W/case Very NicePrs Singlecut*10-top*birds*2001*emerald Green*paul Reed Smith*no Reserve*Fender 1979 Percision Electric Bass Guitar VintageNew Rare Martin D21 Special / Very Nice ( Not Original Case)Heritage H-535 Classic Lefty Lh 2012-2013 Gibson Les Paul Standard - Left-handed - W/ohsc & CandyFender 1966 Super Reverb Players Dream LqqkPeavey Evh "wolfgang" Trans Red Flame Usa Archtop W/ Ohsc Mint2005 Taylor T5-s Tobacco Sunburst T5 Standard With Hard Shell Case OhscGibson Les Paul 2006 Studio Premium Plus With Hardshell Case- Us Shipping OnlyMartin 000c-mr Steve Miller Custom Artist Edition Guitar1995 Taylor 612c Acoustic Electric Guitar Beautiful Flame Excellent Condition!Gibson Usa Anniversary Flood Les Paul Studio In Green Swirl1980 K.yairi Yw800 Japan Vintage Brazilian Rosewood Body Acoustic GuitarGibson Pre War Classic Sj-200Vintage Usa Mesa Boogie Combo Guitar Amplifier Mark 2 Mark Ii Wicker1977 Rickenbacker 4001 Lefty Left Handed Vintage Bass GuitarGibson Les Paul 100 Standard 6-string Electric Guitar [n1268]December 2010 Taylor 814ceRickenbacker 4003 Electric Bass GuitarTaylor 714ce Limited 2003 Ltd Summer Strummer Cocobolo/spruce1975 Fender Precision Bass Natural No Reserve .99 Start Plays Sounds Great!2004 Bourgeois Custom Country Boy Bearclaw Red Spruce/figured MahoganyPrs Studio Quilted 10-top Electric Guitar (sapphire Smokeburst)

Recent News: Guitars

Source: Google News

Blues man Matt Schofield comes to Playhouse
The Ridgefield Press, May 23rd

The Schofield story is exploding internationally. The LA Times stated, “In Schofield, the UK has produced the best blues guitarist from any country in decades. Head and shoulders above the herd.” Vintage Guitar magazine said, “The best of his...Read more

Motorcyles, Star Wars and pigeons: 8 more Instagram feeds to follow
Cult of Mac, May 23rd

Love vintage guitar porn? You have to follow Mark Agnesi, who runs the show at Norman's Rare Guitars in Los Angeles. Norm's is like Disney World for fans of old wood and everything geetar. Agnesi (@markagneis) is kind enough to take us behind the ...Read more

Play it again: Yukon musician's shop to sell restored instruments
CBC.ca, May 23rd

"My two favourite things in the world, as far as shops were concerned when I was a kid, were motorcycle shops and vintage guitar shops" he says. "I want it to be a ... In other words, it will be nothing like shopping for vintage guitars on eBay...Read more

Longtime friends keep traditional guitar alive, well in Broken Arrow
Broken Arrow Ledger (subscription), May 20th

He's been featured in national publications—Guitar World magazine, reviews in Vintage Guitar magazine and features in Saxophone Journal and Bassics Magazine. While living in Nashville he became a part-time member of Jerry Reed's band. In addition he ...Read more

For the Freaks of Nature, It's All About Raw Fuzz
Phoenix New Times, May 15th

“No one in the band plays a $5,000 vintage guitar. I mean, we are a punk band,” says Shircliff. "We know what this music is supposed to sound like, and when it comes to vintage equipment, it's the fuzz that needs to sound right, the guitar sounds. We...Read more

Hear vintage guitars the way they were made to be played
Fredericksburg.com, March 25th

On March 28, Picker's Supply will host its first Vintage Guitar Tone Tasting, an event that will combine elements of “Antiques Roadshow,” a wine tasting, a concert and a history lecture. Dillard will handle the story of each instrument and singer...Read more

In Your Neighborhood – Old Friends Vintage Guitars
fox2now.com, February 20th

WENTZVILLE, Mo. (KTVI) – FOX 2 News in the Morning is live in your neighborhood at Old Friends Vintage Guitar. Old Friends was started by Kevin Coe in 2011. Coe wanted a placed where he could show off his vintage guitar collection and supply a ...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