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What Makes Vintage Guitars Special

by Connor Lenihan July 10, 2018 0 Comments

Vintage Danelectro Article: why are vintage guitars special

Last week I made my way to the local guitar shop to buy a pack of strings. When I saw a 1960’s Gibson Melody Maker hanging on the wall, I couldn’t look away. I have always loved the simplicity of those instruments. The simple single coil pickup configuration was always eye-catching and “punk-rock” to me. That, obviously, wasn’t the most important part. It was VINTAGE. Vintage guitars are cool! It’s old! And vintage guitars are ALWAYS better right? Right??

Well, yes, and, no. There are many myths surrounding vintage guitars and vintage instruments in general. Many people have been left with the impression that if an instrument was made before 1980, it is worth more simply because of that. Others are convinced that guitar companies have to be making better guitars now than ever with all of the advancements in technology. There are, however, benefits to playing vintage guitars, and although they can have their drawbacks, for many people there is something special about playing an old guitar.

To this point, we often have customers ask:

  • What Makes Vintage Gear So Special?
  • Should I Buy Vintage Gear?
  • What Makes Vintage Gear So Sought After? 
  • Vintage: Simply Nostalgia or a Smart Investment?
  • Why is Vintage Gear so Expensive?

 

Materials

One reason as to why vintage gear, specifically guitars, are more expensive and sought-after, is because of the materials they are made out of. The instruments made from the early 50’s until the 70’s were made from expensive woods, such as the renowned Brazilian Rosewood.  If you’re looking at a guitar that’s stood the test of time for 30+ years and still sounds great, then chances are that it was built well.

We won’t pretend to be dendrologists, but everyone knows that certain trees make better guitars than others. A detailed explanation can be seen in Quora’s article: “What is the reason that Vintage Guitars are so expensive?”. For those who don’t plan on pursuing a degree in trees, this is what you need to know.

Madagascar Rosewood Image

Certain wood builds can allow a guitar to have better sustain, and also make the guitars more consistent in sound, since all the wood was almost identical. Back in the 70’s and before, many luthiers were using this kind of quality wood, so even some knock-off brands were using incredibly high-quality wood.

“Well, why don’t we just start using that type of wood again?” Well, it’s not that simple. Most of these species of trees have become endangered. Many of these trees took centuries to grow, so they won’t be back and plentiful for a very long time.  Also, importing this wood for the manufacturing of guitars or even just importing the guitars, is illegal. Gibson was raided in 2012 so the federal government could confiscate several pallets of wood. This is why guitars that still use these types of wood are so expensive, and so sought after. For a list of woods that are currently endangered and or protected, take a look at the wood-database.



Nostalgia

Many musicians may want older gear because it’s either what was around when they began playing, or because a musician they admire played that generation of instruments.  This connection can create a personal connection to owning a specific vintage guitar or amp. This personal nostalgia is a big component as to why many people choose to purchase vintage music gear. They want to relish in the time in which they began playing and want to own either the gear they had or the gear they wanted to have.

Another component of the nostalgia effect is who played those instruments. “The Burst”, or the Gibson Les Pauls dating from 1958 to 1960 are known to be some of the most expensive guitars on the planet. These guitars weren’t really seen as being that special until guitarists such as Billy Gibbons, Don Felder, and of course, Jimmy Page began using them. This was when the guitar really began to earn the name. In the 1970’s, everybody and their brother wanted to sound like Jimmy Page, so everybody wanted to have a guitar just like his renowned “Number Two”, his 1959 Gibson Les Paul Burst. In 2018, people can buy reissues with similar specs for this guitar for anywhere from three, to ten-thousand dollars. However, if you want one of the originals, you might need to take out a second mortgage. These guitars sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars - a great list of some of these purchases is over at NewAtlas.com. What are you paying for exactly? Yes it is made of a high-quality materials, and yes some of the most famous guitarists ever have played it, but what is factors more than anything else?


Supply and Demand

One of the most essential rules in economics. The number one factor that determines the price of a product, supply and demand. According to Reverb.com, there were only about 1400 Gibson Les Pauls made between 1958 and 1960 with the signature sunburst finish. Since these guitars are so renowned, there's ample demand to own one. High demand and only 1400 guitars ever made is bound to drive the cost up.

This is a huge factor as well when it comes to guitar amplifiers. Unlike guitars, they have almost always been made out of the same materials. However, some people will swear there's just something special about the sound of a vintage amp. Whether it's the ability to push the volume with limited distortion or the actual sound itself, quality vintage amps have a devout following. These amps do require a lot of upkeep and may require new parts which can significantly decrease the value of the amp. For example, replacing the power/output transformer on an older amp can drop the value by 15-20% according to guitarplayer.com.

The probability of finding an amp with all original parts makes another supply and demand factor.  People looking for well-known amps, such as a Fender Twin Reverb made in the 60’s with completely original parts, best be ready to spend since this amp could be worth a small fortune.  When one is looking into purchasing a vintage amp, they need to consider whether they are seeking originality or reliability. When an amp is this old, the electronics begin to wear down with time and affect the sound of the amp.

Another aspect to consider is the condition of the casing itself.  Anyone that plays gigs or tours knows the punishment an amp takes with all the moves.  A vintage amp might not be the best idea. The regular wear-and-tear on an amp used for touring can significantly affect the value of the amplifier, especially if it is vintage. However, if someone is looking to purchase an amp to use at home, or to keep in a studio, buying a vintage amp can be an amazing investment. Once you know the sound you’re looking for and understand how to maintain an amplifier, a vintage amp can be the perfect secret weapon to any musicians arsenal.


Final Thoughts on Vintage Gear

There are many factors that come into play when pricing a vintage instrument. Whether it’s the materials, what time period it was used in, or who was known to play it, there are many reasons as to why vintage instruments are so sought-after. Purchasing a vintage instrument can be a very solid investment.  In many cases, if properly maintained, vintage gear can actually appreciate over time. A few points we always recommend to customers to consider:

  1. Really understand what makes it special to you whether it’s nostalgia, sound or just owning a unique piece of history - knowing what’s driving you to really want a vintage guitar or amp usually helps to prevent buyers remorse
  2. Fully understand the requirements for maintaining gear, vintage guitars, amps and other gear need a touch more love than brand new items… if you’re unlucky or unprepared then the cost of your gear could just be the beginning
  3. Understand how to evaluate before you buy to make sure that you getting exactly what you think you are - you should know that modernized or replacement parts can reduce the value and also how to identify what’s been done to gear
  4. Try not to get addicted to buying ‘just one more guitar’ or ‘one more vintage amp’... good luck with that though, that’s how we got our start at Adirondack Guitar!

If you’re looking to pick up some vintage gear, you can find our collection of used gear over at Adirondack Guitar’s used listings and always feel free to give us a call at 518.746.9500.




Connor Lenihan
Connor Lenihan

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