Why The Hype?
So I’m sure that if you’re into guitars and guitar gear that you’ve no doubt come across people passionately arguing about whether vintage guitars sound, feel and look better than their modern counterparts. The “vintage” tag is often given to guitars over 30 years of age, or more likely in the guitar community, guitars built before the year 1980. Many collectors however consider the golden era of the guitar (in particular the electric guitar) the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Obviously there are exceptions to this generalisation, but think about how many of those museum-piece models are from this era: the 1959 Sunburst Les Paul, the 1952 Fender Telecaster, a 1957 Fender Stratocaster. The list goes on and on.
Ok, so, why the hype? Now I do have to admit, I’ve never played one of these “holy grail” era guitars, but I have played vintage instruments from this period, and I do agree that they have a ‘vibe’. Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that decades of playing has worn down the finish on the back of the neck so that it feels like a worn-in pair of shoes, or that the wood has dried allowing the guitar to resonate more (myth?). Or maybe it’s just because I love that look of a relic’d finish, just like Stevie Ray Vaughn’s famous sunburst Strat. The few vintage guitars that I have played definitely do have character to them, something that modern instruments just haven’t had the chance to reach yet after years of use.
The hype could also be down to the fact that a vintage guitar is coming with decades of history, rather than a brand new guitar hanging on the wall at Guitar Centre with a scratch plate sticker advertising that it comes with free guitar lessons. Even if a vintage guitar isn’t an instrument owned by a famous rockstar that you would’ve seen on the cover of guitar magazines since you were a kid, this could have been the instrument of a working musician who earned their living for decades strumming away on this very instrument. I love seeing stories of people buying a vintage guitar to find old photos, receipts, catalogues and other cool nostalgia inside the case. It seems that many guitar owners of this era loved to keep track of these things, something that I just don’t see as much anymore. Imagine seeing the receipt for a Fender Strat made in the 1960’s, which at the time would have only cost around $275USD. Or a photo of the previous owner playing this very guitar with his band at some point in the decades gone by.
I have purchased many second hand guitars, which are probably some of my more favoured instruments due to the history that they have come with. I have a Gibson ES-335 that used to belong to a former teacher of mine, which has all sorts of cool wear and tear that tell a story. On the back of the body, you can see ink from his sheet music that must have rubbed against the body of the guitar inside its case on a hot day, and into the finish of the guitar. You can see the five lines of the musical stave and parts of a treble clef. How cool is that (I think so anyway)! I also have a Fender Telecaster that I purchased from a store, from which the store clerk explained to me that the guitar had been sold to them by a guitar collector in town. It wasn’t too old at the time, but already had some wear and tear, particularly on the first three frets of the neck as if the previous owner loved playing open D and A chords. I love that this can tell parts of a story of who once played your guitar, leaving your imagination to fill in the rest.
If you’re thinking about dropping some serious cash on a vintage instrument, here’s a few key points that I think will help persuade you if you’re on the fence. Think about your mobile phone. Now think about your phone 10 years ago, how about 20, how about in the 1950’s? If you were born then, you would know that there were no mobile phones of course – that is just how far this technology has changed! Now think about the guitar. The design of the Fender Strat or Tele or Gibson Les Paul is virtually exactly the same as it was 60 years ago. The body shape, the layout of the controls, the colours. Pretty much exactly the same. Sure there have been different styles along the way for the guitar (think 80’s) but in the current day and age we are mostly trying to recreate the instruments that we were making all those years ago! Safe to say that your priceless vintage instrument will never go out of date or down in value.