News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

Hi everybody, and welcome to the dog days of summer. I was hoping to carry on with last month's column on the downtown stores of yesteryear, with a story on one of the more outlying stores of that era, but I just haven't gotten all the info together yet. Hopefully, next month.

In light of this, I will instead answer the Question: Could I shed some insight on what might be a modern day collectible guitar? You know, like when Ford rolled that 1st T-Bird off the assembly line in 1955, it was hailed as an instant classic and it still is, some 45 years later. So which guitar is going to have that same distinction?

I got out the crystal ball, but it was snowy. I dusted off the Ouiji board, but it said "Answer Cloudy." I peered into the Magic 8 ball, and it told me to "Try Back Tomorrow." So the answer is, I DON'T KNOW.

Still, let's take a look at some interesting guitars and amps of recent vintage, and see what we might learn from this, and how it might apply to the immediate future.

Sometimes people will confuse the term "collectors item" with the word "investment." What we will concern ourselves with here are items that serve both functions: guitars/amps that are sought after as collector's items that also happen to have been solid investments, too. Considering that you can have tons of fun using these instruments, the fact that you could sell them at a profit later is all the more noteworthy. Most investments, i. e., stocks, bonds, etc, just don't do the same thing for you.

We will discuss some of these this month.:

My short list includes:

Music Man Van Halen guitar.

Matchless amps.

Limited Edition Martin Signature model guitars.

Limited Edition Rickenbacker guitars and basses.

Paul Reed Smith Dragon I guitars.

The first common thread is that these models are no longer available. They were made in the 1990s, for the most part. They all sell for more today as a used item than they sold for brand new.

When Music Man issued the Van Halen guitar circa 1994, they did not know exactly how it would fly. But when Eddie abruptly ended his relation with the company some 18 months after the initial production began, these guitars became overnight phenoms. A guitar that you could have bought brand new in 1995 for roughly $1350, you could sell one year later for roughly $2350. Production totals are not available, but my guess is that fewer than 1000 were made.

Matchless amps, which were Mark Sampson's attempt to build the definitive VOX AC-30, were monster amps, but they were deemed too costly to produce and therefore too expensive to afford. Well, let me tell you, that $1800 price tag in 1996 seems like a killer deal today. When Matchless finally had to throw in the towel at the end of the 1990s, these amps began commanding prices of well over $3000 for a used version.

Limited Edition Martin Signature model guitars, in particular the first run OOO-28 Eric Clapton models, were intentionally produced in a limited number. Some of the other high-end Brazilian rosewood models are creating some stir amongst the collector crowd. Given the way the real vintage Martin guitars have appreciated, the knowledgeable crowd is already looking to get in on these very fine, limited-run modern day masterpieces.

The Limited edition Rickenbacker guitars - in particular the Roger McGuinn 12 string and John Lennon 325 - are highly sought after. Ten years ago, a McGuinn would run about $1500 brand new. We recently sold a used one for $2750 and had the guitar less than 24 hours.

The first run of the Paul Reed Smith Dragon guitars, which retailed for $6000, and could have been purchased new in the early 90's for around $4000, could easily bring double, if not triple that amount today.

So, there you have a brief run-through of some of the items that would qualify as the modern collectible. All of them were considered very pricey when new. Some people complained and claimed sticker shock, but history proved that quality is hard to beat. Coupled with a little luck, all of these guitars/amps have done very well. I wish I would have hung on to a few of these models when I had the chance. But that was then, and this is now.

So, you may ask, where does leave us in the year 2000? Like I already said, I DON'T KNOW!!. Ask me in the year 2005! But seriously, what can we glean from all this? I believe there are a few basic principles:

(1) Quality counts.

(2) Don't be fooled be the initial price.

(3) Demand and supply are everything, especially when "Limited" really means a finite number

(4) Be lucky. Until you get that crystal ball to work, anyway.

(5) And Last But Not Least: buy what you like. If it happens to be the next Van Halen or Roger McGuinn 12 string, then oh, happy day for you. And if it goes nowhere, at least you have something you can enjoy, which is why you should be buying one in the first place.

So, try as I might to avoid The Question, I guess if I was going to buy a new guitar, with "collectable" in mind, I would lean toward a Brazilian rosewood guitar. Martin and Taylor both offer very fine versions. Paul Reed Smith seems to always come out with something that does very well. The same can be said for Rickenbacker signature models. Perhaps one of the Historic Series Les Pauls, by Gibson, may prove to be a good buy, what with original late 50's bursts bringing $40,000 or more.

But I am simply guessing here. Polish up your own crystal ball.

So, I guess that's all for now. Until next time,

Keep Rockin'