News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

Hi everybody, and welcome to this month's edition of “This Old Guitar.” In the last column, I answered a reader's query about what are some modern day collectible guitars, so for this month, I thought I would step back and write a little about what many consider to be the definitive collectible vintage guitars. Along with that, we will look at some possibilities on what a guitar enthusiast might consider collecting today, as the ultimate instruments become pretty much unattainable, due to price and scarcity.

 So, my top ten best of list includes, in no particular order:

Pre-war Martin D-45

1950's D'Angelico New Yorker

Pre-war Gibson SJ-200

Gibson F-5 mandolin (Lloyd Loar signed) early 20's.

1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard (the popular cherry sunburst model)

1959 Gibson Flying V/Explorer

Early 50's black guard Fender Telecaster

Mid -late 50's Mary Kay model Fender Stratocaster (blonde w/gold parts)

1959 Gibson ES-335 (blonde)

1961 Fender Jazz Bass (stacked knob model)

While any list like this is purely subjective, I believe this list pretty much follows what is generally perceived as being in the uppermost echelon of vintage guitars. I did include one mandolin, and did not attempt to figure the banjo into this. All of the above mentioned instruments are considered the best of that particular style. They have stood the test of time and probably have not been improved upon, decades later. Often copied, yes, but never better. Given the scarcity of these instruments and the demand for them, most of these collectibles have been bought up and are no longer on the market. And, when one does pop up, the price is generally way out of reach for the average guitarist. To give you an idea, an original 1939 Martin D-45 would bring somewhere in the $100,000 and up range. The Gibson F-5 mandolin with Lloyd Loar's signature would bring $40,000 and up. The least expensive of this list would be the stacked knob Fender Jazz Bass, which could be a $10,000 instrument today.

To sum it up, all of these instruments would fall in the $10,000-$150,000. Hey, at this point, let's face it, we are no longer just talking guitars, we are talking serious investment stuff. Though I myself would love to be able to pull any one of these jewels out of the closet to play on, it just isn't likely to happen. Being a vintage guitar dealer/music shop owner has its advantages, no doubt, but making tons of money while stashing away a vault full of vintage relics isn't one of them. At least not in my case! Even though, like most guitar players, I must be content to have and enjoy a few nice instruments, I do often think of interesting and attainable ways of collecting guitars. It is also something I am asked about often.

Now that we have briefly discussed the cream of the crop and hit upon some new modern classics in last month's column, let's look at some other ideas. Call them the bridesmaids, or runners-up, or whatever.

I have always been intrigued by the notion of amassing a complete collection of a particular model. One that is still within reach, where the sum total is far greater than its individual parts. Three of these that just jump out at me are:

Gibson Firebirds

Gibson Melody Makers

Fender Antigua Finished models.

First, the Gibson Firebird guitars, 1963-1965, came in four models (1,3,5,7). And to go one step further, one might include the second edition, which began in 1965 and ran until 1969. So, from 4 up to 8 guitars, and – voila! – a collection that can be had. Individually, they are striking instruments. But get them all together and you have made quite an impression.

You could expand this theme, what with all the different finishes that were offered and so forth, but just the standard sunburst finish would surely do. For around $18,000, you could purchase the first four, and for about $25,000, you could have a complete set of eight. Now, granted, this is not pocket change, but for the serious collector, it is at least attainable still.

The second bunch would be the Gibson Melody Maker guitars, which were designed as the beginner level instruments, the ones so many of us may have had at one time or another. From the single cutaway late ’50's version, in one and two pickups, to the double cutaway version, one pickup, two pickup, sunburst and cherry red, a person could fairly easily put this group together. While it may not have much in the way of snob appeal, it still has its own special place. From as few as four guitars to as many as eight guitars, you could spend between $2,500 and $4,000 and have a very interesting little guitar collection. You could even expand it by including the SG shaped Melody Makers in the Custom Finishes. (Pelham Blue metallic and Cardinal Red).

Thirdly is the idea of having a collection of Fender guitars in the Antigua finish, a sort of gray to cream sunburst finish. Although some people find this finish to be less than attractive, a complete collection would have quite an impact, I believe. From the Mustang to the Jazz Bass, it would make quite a visual statement. I believe the whole collection would include: Mustang, Telecaster, Stratocaster, Coronado, Jazzmaster, Mustang Bass, Precision Bass and Jazz Bass. I would guess that for $10,000 or less, this could be put together.

While these instruments may not be the next sure thing, I can't help but think that a whole collection of any of them would have a greater value than the individual instruments. It’s kind of like getting the complete set of trading cards or the completed coin book. The whole thing becomes far more impressive. And, compared to the true blue chip vintage instruments of the 20th century, these other collections could be attained, and it could be fun, which needs to always be factored in to this.

While these are just three ideas on ways to build a guitar collection or have some bona fide collectible/vintage guitars, I am sure there are countless other ideas.

Two other things worth mentioning: once upon a time, a vintage guitar with a repaired cracked headstock or a refinished body was  considered taboo. Now, as instruments become scarcer, people must turn to alternatives, and the general guitar buying public is beginning to accept these guitars. A pro headstock repair, or a pro refinish job, renders the instrument very useful once again. Granted, it may not be as desirable or as valuable as an original, it can still be a fine guitar. People are shaking off the myth that an instrument with changes or repairs are no good, and that is good news.

Well, I guess that is enough for now. I would be happy to hear from you readers, your ideas and comments on the ever-changing landscape of these old guitars.

So until next time,

Keep Rockin’