The Death of Vintage?

This 63 Guild Duane Eddy cost less than $4000. Perhaps the younger generations are discovering this (and we aren't)

This 63 Guild Duane Eddy cost less than $4000. Perhaps the younger generations are discovering this (and we aren’t)

Got your attention, didn’t I? I keep reading (on that newfangled interweb) that as soon as the baby boomers (like me) get to be too old to play their vintage guitars, the market will tank and nobody will care about these guitars any more. That is crap, to put it gently. I approach this belief from two positions. First, how old do the folks making these statements think we are? 95? The oldest of the boomers are now around 68 and the youngest, according to most folks who keep track of this sort of thing, are 50. The first question that comes to mind is at what age do the doom sayers think we are going to stop playing? BB King is 88. Chuck Berry is 87 and Buddy Guy is 77. None of them appear to be giving up the guitar until the grim reaper comes to call.  The overwhelming majority of my vintage clientele are between the ages of 50 and 65. So, does that mean the market will tank in 30 years or so? If so, then that’s long enough for me. I hope I continue to play until I die at the ripe old age of 95 or so. My father lived to that age and while he didn’t play the guitar, he would have been capable of doing so almost to the end. I don’t think many of us boomers are thinking of hanging up the old ax any time soon just because we’re getting up there in years. Beyond dumb statements about the baby boomers getting too old to play (and buy vintage guitars), what about upcoming generations of players? Certainly a part of what makes our favorite guitars our favorite guitars is that these were the guitars of our collective youth. The  generation after us wasn’t even born when the Beatles hit The Ed Sullivan Show in 64. That brings me to my second approach to the issue. The generation behind us grew up in an era of Norlin Gibsons followed by pointy headed Superstrats and BC Rich’s.  Hamers too, I suppose and Ibanez’. Are these the vintage treasures of the future? Could be but I don’t think so. I think that, ultimately, there will be an ever increasing appreciation of the guitars that we love so much-Les Pauls, 335’s, Strats, Teles, SGs and so many others built between the early 50’s and the mid 60’s. I base this partly on my experiences with younger buyers. Many, between the ages of 25 and 45 were influenced by their fathers (that would be us old guys). My son, who was born in the 80’s, is drawn to older guitars but not necessarily the same ones we like. He likes Jazzmasters and Jaguars but he plays a Nash Telecaster. I spoke not too long ago with Ben Taylor of Southside Guitars in Brooklyn (home of the current hipster population including my son) and asked him what that generation is playing. “Cheap stuff but good cheap stuff. They don’t have a lot of money for the high end guitars.” True enough but he went on to note the same thing I did-they like the old guitars but gravitate toward the ones that are more affordable like Jazzmasters and Jaguars and maybe Guilds and Gretsches. You know, the ones that are incredible bargains when you look at quality versus price. Maybe they’re smarter than we are. We tend to gravitate toward the most expensive ones (who here doesn’t want a burst?) but there are great, great guitars from the 50’s and 60’s that don’t command prices above $5000. You can get a 60’s Guild Starfire for under $2000. A 60’s Fender Jaguar for around $3000. A Guild Duane Eddy for under $4K. How about a mid 60’s Gretsch Gent or Nashville for under $3K? These aren’t the guitars that collectors are after but they can be incredibly good guitars. They were in high demand back when I was a kid. I would have killed for a Gent back in 64. They just didn’t become the big money collector guitars. With new high end reissues pushing $5000 (and above), I would hope to see a resurgence of these great old classics among the next few generation after us old farts. Eventually, more of them will be able to afford the wonderful instruments that we are currently playing and perhaps even more of them will inherit them when we’re gone. But don’t hold your breath. I’ll be playing for at least another 35 years or so.


Still touring at 87, Chuck Berry should serve as an inspiration to all of us old players. You're never too old to rock and roll (but you can be too old to duck walk)

Still touring at 87, Chuck Berry should serve as an inspiration to all of us old players. You’re never too old to rock and roll (but you can be too old to duck walk)

16 Responses to “The Death of Vintage?”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, right on comments! I think the eventual demise of the Baby Boomers may have some impact on the vintage market but agree that it won’t end it. Look at all the 25-40 year old musicians who lust after and own vintage gear like we do…reference the many interviews or guitar rag photos of these folks proudly displaying their vintage axe. And younger players like Joe B. continue to carry the vintage torch…so I don’t think we’ll see the time when an immaculate ’59 Burst is selling for $1,000 (though that’s what I paid for my first one in 1970, ha, ha)…RAB

  2. Remy says:

    I really enjoy your blog and as it turns out, I own a ’62 Guild DE 500. Just a couple of numbers from Duane’s. Great guitar! Only fifty or so were made with Dearmonds. And just like you point out, I gravitate towards Gretsch and Guild. Gibson? Love dem jazzboxes. I’m 36, but rest assured, I eat hipsters for breakfast.

    Just one small comment, though. The DE 500 you show wasn’t sold for less than 4k. Check the listing:

    The reserve was not met. My sunburst was about 4k, but blondes command a premium. Stunning guitar, by the way!

    My comment aside, keep writing these great blogs!

  3. Eduardo Araujo says:

    Heck with this crap. I’m 20 years old and I love vintage axes – and have many other friends that do, also. We may not have the money to buy them now, but sure as hell we’ll buy one in the future.

    By the way, I’d definetly go for a 65-68 ES-3X5 with the price of the new reissues. Even though the reissues are pretty great guitars and are getting more and more accurate.

    And, OK, the neck of those late 60s may be skinnier but it has old wood, folks (and I’m pretty adaptable)…

  4. cgelber says:

    Right on, young dude.

  5. cgelber says:

    You are correct. But if it didn’t reach its reserve, it’s probably not worth what its owner thinks its worth. I’ve seen a number of DE’s that have sold for under $4K but probably not blondes.
    I eat hipsters at dinner generally and usually the early bird special.

  6. Rob says:

    “Vintage” will never die. It will just get younger. In time, today’s “vintage” will become “antiquity” and increase in value simply due to the forces of supply and demand..

  7. CW says:

    The market has already indicated that younger players are paying a premium for the models that their favorite artists played growing up. That concept is old (Clapton anything, Bursts, Beatle guitars), but it’s repeating.

    So now we see really high prices on Kramer Barettas and other pointy 80s shredder guitars (this is fact, check out the prices!), along with much higher prices for vintage offset Fenders, (Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Mustang etc), since people my age (I’m 30) grew up enamored with artists who played those.

    I have quite a few high-end vintage guitars, but it’s certainly the exception for me to run into other guys my age who even know what I’m talking about.

    Will high prices exist for vintage in the future? Probably so, but don’t assume that the most desirable will be the same models that Boomers want today, and if anything, some lurking bargains today might catch up to the “blue chip” stuff in the future.

    Except Bursts….which are always in their own category altogether.

  8. Jake says:

    Currently a 30 year-old with a long history of buying vintage guitars.

    Bought my first vintage piece at 23, a ’71 Jazzmaster on the cheap. Several years later flipped it for enough cash to get a ’66 Jazzmaster straight up. Then I was able fortunate enough, I have some great friends, to trade that straight up to their guitar shop for a ’60 Jazzmaster. And I just traded a ’65 Sheraton for a ’59 Jazzmaster. That Sheraton, also came from a series of vintage guitars that I had amassed and sold through the years.

    In your 20s… you don’t have a lot of money. Trying to get started in life, paying off student loans, etc… When it comes time to buy that guitar you are saving up for it just doesn’t make sense to go for a guitar you can’t sell for the same amount, if not more, than you paid for it. With financial stability so hard at this age you do need something to fall back onto. This is where vintage guitars come in!

  9. Mike says:

    I was starting collecting vintage gear in the late 80ies, quitting it coupla years later and starting it again – only for low profile now – in the late 90ies. I think I’ve seen quite a lot of changes.
    Gil Southworth had Bursts for sale in 1994 from US$ 25k to 40k. ’64 Frost blue Firebirds III reverse? 7k! Lake Placid Blue Strat ’64? 7k! ’58 Sunburst(!) Tele? A nice 8.5k! Those were the days.
    After this beautiful time the money came in and flooded the market in almost unlimited amounts.

    First: it eliminated probably 80% of the old crowd: aficionados, and serious collectors, highly interested in vintage guitars but with not too much money in their hands. They were replaced (or elbowed out) with bankers or wealthy blokes, who see guitars strictly as investment pieces.

    Second: it dried up the market. Reason is: you can’t sell a guitar like a Burst for which you paid – let’s say – 250k in an act of craziness for about half of it. Even when the market should collapse. No way. So those guitars stay in the vaults, probably forever. One who has 250k for a guitar to spend, plays in a different league anyway. He doesn’t care about the guitar, he wants his money.
    Who has seen Frost Blue reverse Firebirds for a while? 50ies Sunburst Teles? Let alone for reasonable prices?

    Third: because nobody can admit that the vintage market is now more or less for wealthy people only (and totally dried up, as we know now), everybody tries now to make cheap and really uninteresting guitars palatable, as a pseudo-stimulus for the next collector generation.
    Nobody ever collected Mustangs, Jaguars, Melody Makers, Gretsches (the famous White ones may be an exception) or Guilds. Now one’s argument is: “highly underrated guitars!” True, there are some, maybe early Epiphones or so, but certainly not Fender’s or Gibson’s budget line guitars. They came into focus because they were played by the usual suspects like Kurt Cobain, simply because they had no money at the time. If any of these grunge or punk kids had some breed, they would have bought Les Pauls and high quality Fenders and stuff. For sure. Check out Steve Jones’ LP, there’s even a signature! Ha!

    In summary: the times the vintage market was really exciting, motivating, stimulating, and a real good hunting playground are long gone, and they won’t come back. Never.

    Cheers, Mike

    As English is not my native language, there’s maybe something buried and/or lost in translation, I apologize for that.

  10. cgelber says:

    Yeah, those were the days. I couldn’t afford any of it. I recall pricing a 54 Strat in 1985 and it was $3500. I didn’t have $3500 in 1985. It only sounds cheap because you are referencing it in todays dollars. I bought an apartment in Manhattan around 1985 for $98000. That same apartment sold for close to a million a few years ago.
    You make some really good points but I believe Guilds and Gretsches have their merits. They may not be deemed “collectible” but if you’re a player, you need not be a collector (and vice versa).
    Plenty of players “stretch” a bit to buy the vintage guitar they want and that’s not a bad thing because they are so liquid. A good guitar well priced is easy to sell. generally you can get your investment back and if you’re lucky, you can make a buck or two.

  11. RAB says:

    Good point…it is all about context and perspective. When I purchased the aforementioned ’59 Burst (all original other than Shaller tuners, nicely flamed too!) for $1,000 in 1970 I was the laughing-stock of my town…”You paid $1,000 for a USED guitar?!” Ha, well I showed them,! I sold the guitar several years later for $2,500, making an enormous profit on a percentage basis!

  12. Danny says:

    will this weekend’s post be on the resurrection of vintage?

  13. cgelber says:

    No but the comments seem to support the concept.

  14. Kevin says:

    I have to say that I agree with your son’s logic Charlie. For declaration of interest – I was born in ’79, so I’m closer to your son’s age. My reference point for ES model guitars are people like Johnny Marr, Ryan Adams or Bernard Butler rather than Chuck Berry or Clapton. I own two ES models (a ’76 355 and a glorious 1960 ES 330 T that I bought today!), but I’ve had about ten Jaguars/Jazzmasters pass through my hands (I’ve kept two Jazzmasters – a ’63 in Inca Silver and a refin ’66) and I was seriously considering a ’60 Starfire III earlier before I picked up the 330. None of these guitars cost a fortune – sure I could cash in the ‘value’ in the guitars I own (12 give or take an acoustic) and have one really good pre-Norlin ES model (it would have to be a 355), but I’m too much of a magpie to be satisfied with one or two guitars.

    I also think that in the same way that the ‘baby boomer’ generation bought instruments in later life that they could never afford as kids, my generation are doing the same thing, just with different guitars. I’m pretty sure that a lot of these guitars (Guilds, Gretsch, Jaguars/Jazzmasters) are good investments over the longer term. Not say I’d pass up a 1959 ES 330 TD burst … but there’s value in these ‘also ran’ guitars – and as each modern band picks up a non-reverse Firebird, or Starfire, Jazzmaster or Duo Jet, they’re kicking up a new level of interest in these guitars that will eventually manifest in the prices going up.

    And lets be honest – a lot of these guitars are great instruments too!

  15. Nelson Checkoway says:

    You’re right on the money as usual, Charlie. The loss of boomers from the market could eventually have an impact, but they’ll be replaced by younger players. And one of the chief reasons is that the classic vintage guitars keep getting reissued.

    I’m not talking just about the high-end and custom shop lines. Think about it: nearly every electric guitar made today by Gibson or Fender is either a vintage reissue or based on a vintage style. Even their import lines follow this: Chinese Epiphone Dot-neck 335s and Goldtops and Mexican Fender Strats and Teles. And the standard US made lines like the Gibson SG are all variations on the originals from 1961 to 1969 (I haven’t seen any new SG-IIIs or Gibson Marauders on the reissue front!)

    These are the guitars young players are buying and, eventually, the real deals from the 50s and 60s will become their holy grails. Plus, younger artists who can afford real vintage are playing it: Adam Levine of Maroon 5 was honking on a beat up blue Strat last week on The Voice – maybe a relic but it looked like the real deal. And then there’s the brag factor: an artist says he “got the sound” from that ’63 Strat his producer lent him, or the Plexi sitting in the corner of the studio.

    There’s no real innovation going on in guitar design – even the respected 2nd generation guitars like PRS basically hark back to Gibson golden age design. With very few exceptions, Gibson and Fender have failed to introduce new models over the past few decades with any traction. So as long as they dominate the industry, we’re likely to see more of the same — and this should perpetuate the DNA of the great ones.

  16. cgelber says:

    Maybe that explains why most of my buyers are over 40.

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