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).
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Museum of Musical Instruments
Vintage Guitars Info
Vintage Guitar and Bass
Clubs & Associations
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Guitars
Source: Google News
Congressman visits village, encourages merchantsNew Canaan Advertiser, August 29th
New Canaan Music store owner Phil Williams, right, shows Jim Himes a vintage guitar during the Congressman's visit to various New Canaan businesses last Friday. (Michael Catarevas photo). Making an official visit to New Canaan on a sleepy August ...Read more
Folk legend John Gorka live in concert at the Peterborough Players TheatreNewHampshire.com, August 28th
The first release in over four years from the acclaimed songwriter widely regarded as “one of contemporary folk music's leading talents” (Vintage Guitar), the album's 12 songs are beautifully produced and sequenced from beginning to end. With guest...Read more
Nashville Americana singer excited to move to RatonSangre de Cristo Chronicle, August 27th
RATON - Raton residents should get used to hearing the Folk and Americana rhythms from Matt Campbell's vintage guitar. The Denver native and current Nashville resident is moving to Raton. “We saw a lot of open opportunity here and a community that ...Read more
Annual SoHum Beer Fest & BBQ Smoke Off at Mateel SaturdayThe Willits News, August 25th
With their fusion of vintage guitars, bluesy vocals, funky bass and mashups of the classics, Cold Blue Water will rock the house. Local indie rockers, 3 Legged Dog, featuring the popular SoHum musicians, Tanner Speas, Trent Sanders, and Graeme Scott...Read more
Crooks steal expensive audio boards, vintage guitar, handgunswreg.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
TUCKED AWAY — Lakeland Music offers vintage guitarsMississippi Business Journal (blog), August 14th
However, Lakeland Music does offer something special, and it, too, is tucked away. Housed in a backroom and invisible to the average Lakeland Music visitor is a veritable treasure trove of vintage guitars, an inventory that routinely draws customers...Read more
Waterville Police Investigating Vintage Guitar TheftWABI, August 11th
A Waterville man is asking for your help tracking down three guitars he says were stolen from his garage over the weekend. Waterville Police say a burglar entered local musician Michael Reny's unlocked garage on Chase Avenue early yesterday morning...Read more
Exclusive: Watch Eagulls do “Tough Luck” in a room filled with vintage guitarsA.V. Club, August 7th
It seems like only weeks ago that we were showing you a video of Eagulls covering Stone Roses in our Chicago studio. Since we can't get enough of the band's self-titled debut, it's time for more. This video comes from the At: Guitar Center, which is...Read more