There’s something about vintage guitars that cause so many players or collectors to truly appreciate them. Is it a reminder of the good ol’ days? Were these guitars made better than their modern-day counterparts? Old classic guitars can be a remarkable asset to any guitarist but don’t get me wrong, they can have some disadvantages.
If you’re pondering about making a purchase in the near future, this article will talk about some of the pros and cons of vintage guitars so you can determine whether or not they are a good investment for you.
Table of Contents
- How Old Are Vintage Guitars?
- What Makes Vintage Guitars Special? Are They Worth It?
- Benefits of Vintage Guitars
- They Are Collectible/Rare
- Finer Craftsmanship & Attention to Detail
- An Aged Tone
- Drawbacks of Owning A Vintage Guitar
- Fragile Wood & Dirty, Faulty Hardware
- The Parts May Be Hard To Replace
- Vintage Guitars are Expensive! (99% of the time)
- Summary & Conclusion
How Old Are Vintage Guitars?
Defining a vintage item can be difficult to determine at times. This is true even outside of guitars. In general, we can call something an antique if it is at least 100 years old, but what makes something “vintage?”
Honestly, this term can be used more loosely than the word antique, and it’s always progressing over time. A lot of people like to consider instruments from the 70s and before that as vintage, but what were the vintage guitars during those years? Most likely the ones manufactured in the 40s or 50s. If you are looking for the most old-fashioned electric guitar, you’ll probably have to find something from the 30s, since the first one was made in 1931. Acoustics go even further back!
Based on what we’ve seen in the past, a guitar that goes back at least 20 years can probably be considered old enough; however, others may argue that 30 is a more conservative answer. It makes sense too – those instruments from the 80s and even early 90s can safely be called vintage now.
What Makes Vintage Guitars Special? Are They Worth It?
In this segment, I will go over what I believe are the pros and cons of vintage guitars. I am aware that specific guitars from certain brands, or even years, have their own quirks, but this guide is more of a generalized look into them. If you are looking for a vintage guitar for sale, some of these tips may help you decide whether its truly worth it or not.
Benefits of Vintage Guitars
Let’s start off by talking about the good things these old guitars have to offer. It goes without saying that these guitars are pretty cool, and it can feel magical to play one, especially if you ever get to play a signature one used by one of your heroes. However, in this section, we will go in-depth about the best things about vintage guitars.
They Are Collectible/Rare
Because an authentic vintage guitar (that is not a reissue) is no longer manufactured, these are inherently rarer and more collectible, especially as the years go on. This also increases their value in nearly all cases.
Let’s take a look at a guitar style that everyone can call vintage – the Guild Starfire. Guild started up during the 50s, and their semi-hollow Starfire models (like the I, II, III, and IV) were very popular during the 60s. The Starfire is an old, iconic guitar used by players such as Buddy Guy, Jerry Garcia, and Son Seals. John Lennon was also noted for using 12-string one back in the day.
Because of its image, Starfires with the classic look, like the Cherry Red one, are reissued. In the 90s, it had been purchased by Fender, and nowadays it is owned by Cordoba. Still, a brand new Starfire still runs for about a thousand bucks. As far as I know, the Starfire II has changed its look in favor of something more modern, but the Starfire III and IV have retained their vintage Guild Starfire images.
On the other hand, an authentic Guild Starfire from their golden age in the 1960s can easily be worth double or triple that. I have a friend who has a Starfire II that has been estimated to be valued at about $3000. It’s basically never been played much and has been stored in a case, so it looks very good for its age.
You can see similar comparisons with Fender Stratocasters and Gibson Les Pauls too, they’re still being made, but the old ones will always be valuable. Still, with all of the reissues, vintage-style guitar pickups for jazz, blues, and rock n’ roll, and the right amp, you can get very close to the vintage sound you’re looking for if you care more about practicality.
Finer Craftsmanship & Attention to Detail
Many of the oldest vintage guitars are made with the best wood quality and hardware available during that time.
Additionally, many of them are handmade with care and careful attention, which is something that isn’t always seen in today’s guitars. There definitely are still handmade guitars out there, of course, but to compare a standard issue guitar from 50 years ago to one from today is an entirely different story. So many modern instruments are mass produced in outsourced factories and don’t get the love that they did decades ago.
Instead, many of these very old guitars were produced by hand in workshops, which has undoubtedly contributed to their value. An American-made 1950s Fender Stratocaster can easily be over $20,000 if it’s in great condition and has all or most of its original parts. Even if it’s been beaten up a bit, they are still extremely pricey.
Today, the classic ‘50s Stratocaster has been reissued, and while it’s still a great guitar for under 1000 dollars, it’s just not the same as the oldies. It’s definitely not American either. American-made Stratocasters are something that both vintage or non-vintage seekers tend to drool over.
Keep in mind, the first reissues of Fender Stratocasters were in the 1980s. Some of these are still American, but this was also the period where Fender guitars started being produced in Japan.
While these aren’t as authentic as the old ones, they are still amazing guitars. Importantly, these reissues can now also rightfully be called vintage because of their age. Also, if you happen to have a MIJ (Made In Japan) Stratocaster from the 1980s, I think you should hold onto it! It might be worth a considerable amount of cash someday.
An Aged Tone
Now, there are ways to manipulate wood to make it seem more vintage, but there’s no better and authentic way to get that “mature” and “experienced” tone than having a guitar that’s been around the block a few times.
The wood that a guitar is created from can age like a fine wine. This aging process can happen in a number of ways because the porous nature of wood can change over time, and its vibrations and resonance can be altered.
This is especially true for old handmade acoustic guitars where luthiers were required to pay close attention to the instrument’s craftsmanship, particular with the wood choice and other techniques.
While it’s not a guitar, take the Stradivari instruments for example. The Stradivarius violas, violins, cellos can be worth over a million dollars, not just because they are from the 1700s and are super rare, but because they have been created with groundbreaking techniques from back in the day.
Antonio Stradivarius created instruments with an unparalleled tone which are nowadays used by world-class instrumentalists. While a Stradivarius may be an extreme example, it does demonstrate how the age and experience of a wooden, stringed instrument, like guitars, can positively affect its sound quality.
Drawbacks of Owning A Vintage Guitar
Owning a very old guitar is awesome! Not everyone can say that they have an oldie like a vintage Guild Starfire or Fender Stratocaster from their golden years. However, there are three important details that you should be mindful of when owning one of these treasures.
Fragile Wood & Dirty, Faulty Hardware
We’ve already gone over why aged wood can be an asset to your sound, but the wood on an older instrument can also be prone to damage or be in a less-than-ideal condition when you find it. In that case, restoration may cost you a pretty penny.
Many previous owners of vintage guitars might have stored their instruments somewhere that’s safe, but still didn’t consider the climate of the location. Even in a case, the elements can affect a guitar, and if it’s been up in an attic for 20 to 30 years, who knows what the wood’s condition will be in.
Oxidation can also build-up on pickups and hardware, but this is pretty easy to clean off. What you’ll most likely need to worry about are broken parts.
This isn’t too common, especially if its seen very little playtime, but the age of certain parts might cause things to fall apart if you decide to pick it up and play it regularly. Just be aware of the risks, and don’t be surprised if you need to get some cleaning and restoration work done. Fortunately, with the right stuff, you can do a lot of it on your own.
The Parts May Be Hard To Replace
It’s possible to repair things, but if something is completely messed up, it may prove to be difficult to find a replacement. Even if you do, switching it out can reduce the value of the instrument because it no longer contains its original parts. It now depends on what you value more – playability or originality.
If you manage to get the instrument fixed up – congratulations! You have a beautiful and functioning guitar that you play and show off. On the other hand, if you had to get aftermarket parts to get it back in shape, this can reduce the overall value of the instrument. Nonetheless, it will still be quite valuable because it’s not like it’s an entirely different guitar.
Having a 100% original vintage guitar is nice, but sometimes, old things need to get restored from time to time. The Parthenon in Greece is from about 450 B.C. so you can be sure that most of the structure is not authentic.
Despite this, it is still the Parthenon, and it has been a tourist attraction since ancient times. A 1960s Guild Starfire, like my friend’s, may have seen some restoration work too, and yet, it absolutely does not take away from the fact that it is a real, vintage Guild Starfire II. I hope my logic and analogy makes sense!
Vintage Guitars are Expensive! (99% of the time)
You probably know this already (and it might have been on your mind for some time), but if you are contemplating about buying a vintage guitar, your wallet is inevitably going to take a big hit.
I think if you’re looking to pick up something substantial that is in decent condition you can probably expect to spend about a grand or 2 at the very least. Something that is in the upper echelon of vintage guitars can cost tens of thousands of dollars. It really varies on certain factors like age, condition, and original parts.
If you’re just looking for a high-quality guitar to play, I’d advise against buying one and going for a brand new instrument. You’ll probably get just as much enjoyment.
On the other hand, if you’re making an effort to find a vintage guitar for sale, there’s always the possibility that you may just be a collector and have other guitars to play with. If you’re strongly considering a particular model, it’s also likely that it’s already within your budget and you’re not worried too much about pricing.
Only you can decide if the purchase is worth it. I think old guitars are cool, and I’d entertain having a couple of them one day, but I just can’t ever justify buying some of the ones that are out there.
Check out this video to see just how much some vintage guitars can run for!
Summary & Conclusion
I love the history that a lot of guitar brands and models have, but the sad truth is that over time manufacturing and construction can change and your favorite guitar might not be the same again.
This is true for many Fender and Gibson guitars, and picking up a vintage guitar can be nostalgic for some older players, where big names peaked decades ago. Even newer generations of players can appreciate owning a little piece of history though!
In this article, we went over some pros and cons of these instruments if you are thinking about becoming a future owner of one. Here they are once more for you:
- Collectability & Rarity
- Fine Craftsmanship & Attention To Detail
- An Aged Tone
- Fragile Wood & Dirty, Faulty Hardware
- Parts May Be Hard To Replace
- They Are Normally Very Expensive
In a lot of ways, vintage guitars can be better than new guitars, but at the end of the day, there is always subjectivity, and some people are going to prefer a new guitar over an old one. Getting a brand new instrument is still a wonderful feeling, but it’s hard to replicate the magic that a vintage guitar has to offer.