Build Your Collection I

Scott Chinery’s collection was broad, diverse and famous. Just goes to show you don’t have to be a rock star to curate a great collection. Having deep pockets helps, however and Mr. Chinery was not a poor man. His collection consisted of over 1000 guitars including a collection of blue guitars that he had built by well known luthiers. His death in 2000 broke up one of the finest collections in the world. I’ve owned three of them (so far). He also owned the Batmobile.

I’ve been asked to sell most of a very important guitar collection. I was struck by the breadth and depth of the collected guitars and I took the time to talk to the owner about how a major collection like this gets put together. As a dealer, I do something similar. I don’t simply buy guitars that will turn a profit. I buy guitars that fill the broad needs of my clientele. But buying a guitar that is to be your main player is not the same as starting (or building) a collection.

A collection of any kind whether it’s guitars, classic automobiles, watches, art or any of a thousand other things serves a few purposes. Some are practical or at least relatively so. You can get to the grocery store in your 1937 Bugatti Type 57 but thank god you don’t have to. You can tell time with your rose gold Patek Nautilus. You can play your 59 Les Paul burst. But the limiting factor is usually that you can only use one at a time. OK, you could wear a dozen watches at once and keep track of time in twelve different time zones but I think you might be better served to just do the math. You get the point. But a collection goes way beyond practicality.

A collection is, often, an investment. I have made the point that you can’t play a song on your stock certificates. Guitars have been a generally good performer over the past two decades with only one real correction in 2008 when Wall Street greed broke the economy. There are ups and downs for sure but the general trend has been up. A collection also is a leisure activity that can border on obsession. Call it that or call it passion-it’s the same thing and that makes us happier than we might be without it. And it doesn’t matter if your collection is worth $5000 or $5 million. You get a high level of enjoyment simply knowing you have it and by spending time looking for the next acquisition. That is where being a dealer intersects with being a collector. While I don’t have a permanent collection, I seek out guitars the same way a collector does. I want the best possible examples and I want the best years and models.

That goes to the heart of collecting. I don’t know a single collector who seeks out the least expensive player grade guitars he can find. Players do that but serious collectors are much more discriminating. Playability and tone are everything to a player but just two elements of many to a collector. Originality, condition, rarity, provenance and beauty each play a significant role. The price does too but to a much lesser extent than those previously mentioned. Nobody wants to overpay but most collectors don’t want to have to explain the issues when it comes time to sell. And they don’t want to open the case and see those issues every time they do so. Put simply, most collectors want a great example of a great guitar. And once they have that, they want another great example perhaps in a different finish or a different year. That’s where the collection building process becomes important. Building a great collection isn’t randomly buying cool guitars that you like. An important collection is focussed, thematic and reflects the personality of its owner. The next post will address the various ways to curate a great collection that will make you happy (or at least happier), proud, wealthier (maybe) and probably drive your wife (or husband) nuts.

On the other hand, being a rock star doesn’t hurt either. Some of the largest collections belong to well known rockers. Keith Richards, Rick Nielson, Jimmy Page and, of course, Nigel Tufnel all have large important collections. Geddy Lee has perhaps the most important bass collection in the world. It is wildly diverse and yet focussed. Here is Geddy and me and 10 per cent of the red 60 ES-335’s ever made. Do yourself a favor and buy his bass book. It is beautifully done and worth the money.

4 Responses to “Build Your Collection I”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, very cool! I can understand why some, especially those with deep pockets, want to have large and diverse collections. Not me. Even if I had “boo-koo” cash I don’t think my collection would be much larger than about 10 guitars and 10 amps…I play everything I have and that principle wouldn’t change. I sold a mint (and I mean mint!) ‘54 LP Goldtop because I was terrified to open the case for fear of inducing a single cold crack! So the guitar was useless to me and I sold it…

  2. Brian O Grady says:

    I remember saying to you that “I’d rather have 10 $4000 guitars than one $40,000 guitar” and you said that you felt the exact opposite 🙂

    My “collection” is my attempt to feel and experience the most sought after vintage guitars from as early as possible – but I don’t mind if the finish isn’t original or there’s a repair or replaced parts. It’s the only way I could afford them otherwise….. so my 62 Jag has a headstock repair and probable refin. My 58/59 Jazzmaster and 65 Strat are refins. My 53 Duo Jet is a reset neck. The 1960 355 is non-original PAFs and so on…… but I’m happy.

  3. okguitars says:

    Your collection, I think, is an intelligent way to have the guitars you most desire without breaking the bank. You put the quotes on, not me. The happiness factor is probably the most important. I may not have been as clear as I could have been about what constitutes a great or important collection. I’m looking at a collection as an expression of guitar history-whether it’s a single year, a single model or a century long overview. A collection of beat to hell but great old players is an interesting collection but perhaps not an “important” or cohesive one. That sounds elitist, I know. But, as I said in the post, a collection of cheap Japanese 60’s electrics is an important collection. Nothing elitist about that. A room full of beaters may be looked at as a bunch of cool old guitars but I’d argue whether it constitutes a collection in the sense that I’m speaking of. From another point of view, a bunch of pennies from the 60’s in average condition doesn’t, to me, constitute a coin collection. It’s just a bunch of old coins. I dunno, maybe I am being an elitist. On the other hand, I don’t have a guitar collection.

  4. RAB says:

    Charlie, good points. Also a “collection” to me infers some difficulty in assembling it. For example, an individual who has assembled a group of brand new R9 Historic Les Pauls paid a significant amount of money but encountered little difficulty in doing so…

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