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    

1968 Gibson Es-330td Sunburst ~~no Reserve!~~ Vintage Guitar 1960's Es330/3351983 Gibson Les Paul Custom Black Beauty ~heavily Aged~ Vintage 1969 Mojo 1970's1948 Fender Deluxe Guitar Amp Amplifier Original 1969 Vintage Marshall Plexi Superbass 100w Valve Amp/amplifier Hendrix/kossoffFender Telecaster Guitar 1952 Original Nacho Banos AuthenticatedUsa G&l Asat Classic Telecaster Guitar Swamp Ash Body Tele Bartolini PickupsFender Aerodyne Stratocaster Rare No Pickguard Japanese Strat Model! No Reserve!Fender Vibrolux Tweed Guitar Amp Amplifier 1959 OriginalHeritage H575 Aged Gold Custom Guitar With Hard Case H 575 Vintage 1987 P-90 S1995 Fender Telecaster Tele Electric Guitar Yamano Custom Shop Vintage ReissueMarshall Jtm 60 1 X 12 Combo Amp 1995 Model Made In England! Nice!Fender 1999 American Standard Stratocaster Electric Guitar W/ Ohsc (s07020447)1978 Vintage Gibson Usa Es-175d 6 String Sunburst Hollow Body Electric Guitar Fender Blacktop Jaguar Hh Electric Guitar*mim*2011*no Reserve*Vintage National Duolian 1932 Ez Project Heritage H580 Flamed Custom Guitar W/hard Case H 575 580 Limited Edition 1995Fender 1988 Hm Strat Usa Raspberry Maple Kahler Pink Heavy Metal 80s Vintage 1960's Japanese Guitar - I Believe It Is A Teisco?Vintage Marshall (jcm800)mk 2 Master Model 100w Lead Guitar Amplifier Head As Is1968 ?? Fender Bassman Amp Head, Drip Edge 1998 Fender Nashville Telecaster Deluxe, Near Mint Condition2015 Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul 1957 Reissue R7 Cs7 Gold Top Vos W/ Ohsc No ResStunning Gibson "les Paul" 120th Anniversary Guitar With Original CaseFender Vintage Reissue '65 Deluxe Reverb Combo Electric Guitar Amplifier, Black2006 Gibson Usa Les Paul Studio Premium Plus Aaa Collector Owned - Never Played!1979 Gibson Les Paul Custom Electric Guitar1965 Fender Bassman Blackface Vintage Tube Amplifier Head Aa864/ab1651993 Gibson Chet Atkins Tennessean- Burgundy, Righthanded - Electric GuitarVintage 1981 Rickenbacker 4003 Jetglo Bass W/case -all Original - Original OwnerVintage 1966 Gibson Es-335 12 String Project Guitar - Husk Only, Great ConditionTaylor 314-ce-l4 Acoustic Electric Guitar --- No Reserve & Free Shipping66 Vintage Fender Blackface Super Reverb Charvel San Dimas Pro Mod - 2010 - Made In Japan - Great Condition W/ Case - Mij1990 Rickenbacker 360/12 Fireglo - Pristine Condition - Absolutely Stunning!!!!Taylor 815ce Acoustic Electric Guitar*1999*jumbo*fishman Prefix*ohsc*no Reserve*1999 Taylor 914 C Acoustic Guitar Ohsc Carr Mini Mercury Guitar Amplifier Upgraded2004 Taylor 514ce Acoustic Electric 6 String Guitar With Hard CaseVintage**exceptional** 1959 National Mdl. 1155 Silver Pearlized Resonator Guitar1962 Fender Stratocaster Slab Board Gretsch G6120dsw Chet Atkins Hollowbody Electric Guitar, Excellent Shape!Vintage 1960's Gibson Lg 1 Guitar SunburstFender '65 Deluxe Reverb 22w Tube Guitar Amp Head Custom Wine Red TolexMint Strymon Big Sky Reverb Guitar PedalJames Trussart Steelcaster Copper Engraved Roses Telecaster Tele RustomaticFender - Stratocaster - Mij - Right-handed - Surf Green - Electric Guitar Gibson 2014 Sg Standard Electric GuitarUsed Warwick Neck Through Thumb Bass 5 String Bass GuitarFender Sonic Blue Jag-stang Kurt Cobain Guitar Nirvana JagstangMesa Boogie Dc-5 1-12 Combo Tone Monster!!! .98 No Reserve1973 Kazuo Yairi Alvarez Classical Guitar ~ Conquistador ~ RamirezOrville By Gibson Les Paul Custom (no Reserve!!)Sovtek Mig-50 Vintage Tube Guitar Amplifier Serviced, W/line Selector !!!1995 Mij Telecaster 50's Tele Esquire 6lbs Fender Japan Free Shipping!2003 Taylor K14 Ce Ventian Cutaway Acoustic Electric Guitar OhscGibson Les Paul Melody Maker 2014 P90 Relic Locking Bridge Sweet! .98 No ReserveGibson Acoustic Advanced Jumbo Acoustic GuitarGibson L-00 Red Spruce 12 Fret Acoustic - Limited Edition - Only 3 Months Old!!!Ernie Ball Music Man John Petrucci Majesty Siberian Sapphire (headstock Cracked)Gibson Les Paul Special Double Cutaway

Recent News: Guitars

Source: Google News

Gibson Interview: Xander and the Peace Pirates
Gibson, February 11th

“There's a great vintage guitar collection here in Amsterdam, so we've been recording with those, too. A '59 Gibson Les Paul for starters...” Keith: “My favorites? It's a toss-up between my Les Paul and SG. I love the coil-split between humbucker and...Read more

Kiefer Sutherland sings and writes songs, too
San Francisco Examiner, February 10th

It also housed his vintage guitar collection, which at one point numbered over a hundred rare models. Sutherland had launched his label/studio venture to help out his deal-seeking musician friends, like Lifehouse and HoneyHoney. He was too shy to play ...Read more

GUEST COLUMN: A guitar is more than wood and strings
Northwest Georgia News, February 10th

I believe we all thought, “Surely Tarantino's crew had dummy vintage guitars made up for that scene!” They did. However, they forgot to tell Kurt Russell, who grabbed the REAL vintage Martin and smashed it to pieces. Dick Boak, the Martin Guitar...Read more

These Rare Guitars of Rock Gods Are About to Be Auctioned Off
Fortune, February 10th

As the screenshot of the index shows, the vintage guitar market has been quite plat in recent years, and about 20% below levels in 2008 when a 17-year boom put values into the stratosphere. Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 1.59.37 PM Screenshot of Vintage ...Read more

Vintage Guitars Unveils the V501 and VEC501
Premier Guitar, February 8th

Anaheim, CA (February 8, 2016) -- Revamping their classic 'western' guitar model across both acoustic and electro-acoustic ranges, with newly-designed construction and bracing patterns to give the bright, lively responsive sounds of much more expensive ...Read more

'Hateful Eight' star destroys $40000 vintage guitar — and it was a loaner
MarketWatch, February 5th

During a scene in the Oscar-nominated “The Hateful Eight”, Jennifer Jason Leigh is seen strumming on a guitar — until co-star Kurt Russell grabs it and breaks it to pieces. But apparently this wasn't just any old guitar. According to a story on SSN...Read more

Vintage guitar flies back to Indy
Indianapolis Star, December 7th

Indianapolis music store owner Amos Arthur took a chance in 1958 and ordered a new, odd-shaped electric guitar. The instrument made by Gibson didn't have the gently rounded body that had been the industry standard for more than a century. Instead ...Read more

See Dave Rawlings Show Off His Scavenged Vintage Guitar in New Series
RollingStone.com, October 14th

You might credit Dave Rawlings' signature fast-and-flat picking style to an encyclopedic knowledge of the guitar greats, or to a natural affinity for the instrument. Perhaps even to his Berklee degree. They're all safe bets, but, as he jokes to Jackie...Read more