Archive for January, 2022

Year Ender: Part Two

Wednesday, January 12th, 2022

One offs and rarities have been incredibly strong lately. This blonde 68 “long neck” 330 is an affordable rarity that would enhance any collection. Yeah, those black 59 345’s I had would be a nice addition but the six figure price tag isn’t for everybody.

In part one, I laid out what was going on in the vintage market in 2021 and tried my best to interpret it. Hindsight is always 20/20, so it’s a pretty easy thing to do. Looking ahead is not an easy thing to do and I am making a very strong disclaimer that I don’t have a crystal ball and anything I write is sheer speculation. I come at it with logic and experience but, truthfully, I have no idea what will happen next. Being a little less than a hundred years old, I have limited experience with pandemics. Nor with insurrections, climate change and bizarre conspiracy theories. All these things affect the vintage market in some way. I just don’t know how but I will take a crack at it if for no other reason than to entertain.

At the start of the pandemic, I thought the market, which had been steady and strong, was going to tank. Folks were out of work (especially musicians and restaurant workers-often the same people) and the economy was headed for trouble even if the Federal Government was handing out money with reckless abandon to small businesses, large businesses who said they were small businesses and just about everybody else. It must have worked because the market took off like a rocket. So, we still have a pandemic and it seems to be getting worse. The worse it got, the stronger the guitar market got. So, it is logical to expect that the market will continue to rise and folks will buy a lot more guitars in 2022. I don’t know if it will surpass 2021 in sales but I don’t see why it wouldn’t as long as Covid continues to be a big factor in everyone’s lives. The government handouts have slackened for individuals and small businesses but the payout for infrastructure projects is likely to put a lot of money into a lot of local economies. Good for the guitar market.

But what about the other stuff? Bad political behavior is nothing new and doesn’t seem to have a big effect on the market. The midterms aren’t until November so, I don’t expect much impact from that front until late in the year and then only if the republicans take back the congress. Interest rates are bound to rise but they are rising from nearly zero so how much will it hurt? A lot of folks buy guitars on credit but they already pay ridiculously high rates so high interest seems to be baked in already. Don’t ask me how credit card companies can get away with interest rates in excess of 18% when they can borrow money for virtually zero per cent. Climate change is a slow moving freight train that will cause massive problems eventually but much of the American public doesn’t acknowledge that a problem exists until it directly affects them on a daily basis. So, it won’t cause much alarm in the guitar market this year unless a tornado flattens your house and your guitar collection with it (“save yourselves, I’m going back in for the dot neck…”) A weak economy could be trouble but it doesn’t look that weak right now. Unemployment is down. Jobs are fairly plentiful and if it wasn’t for that pesky pandemic, things would calm right down and the guitar market would chug along like it has for the past 13 years.

Supply chain issues and inflation (both due largely to the pandemic) are driving factors, I think. The well heeled collector has a lot of cash and wants it to work for him. That cash had been on the sidelines for a number of years but with inflation ramping up, it’s a losing proposition to leave it as cash. Tangible goods are, they say, the answer. Up goes the collector market as long as inflation continues. The player grade market tends to follow the collector market and, even though the folks buying the player grade instruments don’t have a lot of cash on the sidelines, they are still buying. We all feel pretty bad with the ongoing pandemic and getting a new guitar makes us feel good. For a while, anyway. That’s a huge factor. I don’t know about you but even though I buy close to 100 guitars a year, every one I open feels like Christmas morning or my birthday. Feeling down? Buy a guitar. Feeling bored? Buy a guitar. Feeling good? (although I can’t imagine why) go play your guitar and decide you need another one.

My prediction is that this strong market is going to be here for a long time. I believe the guitar market has been undervalued for decades and this pandemic fueled correction will endure. The rising values will probably slow down and even eventually even stop but the market is, in my opinion, not going to tank. It can’t burst if it isn’t a bubble. Now go back and read the first paragraph.

Amps were lagging badly in 2021 but they are poised to move. Tweeds big and small have already taken a big leap forward as have Marshalls and small blackface Fenders. There are still bargains galore but don’t snooze for too long. In a world where a Dumble can sell for $175,000, anything is possible.

Year Ender 2021 Part 1

Tuesday, January 4th, 2022

59 ES-335’s were the star over the past year. Tough to find and selling in a day. On January 1, you could buy a collector grade one for around $50,000. By midyear, they were impossible to find and pushing $60K. By the end of 2021, you would be paying $70,000 or more.

It was 2006 and I was a relative beginner in the vintage market as a hobby dealer. I would buy something on Ebay that seemed well priced (usually a 335) and then sell it a few weeks later, always at a profit. The market was rising so quickly that you could buy a 335 for $10,000 on Monday and sell it on Friday for $11,000. Certain guitars hit price points that will still make your head spin. Then 2008 and the Great Recession took all of that away and we all licked our wounds and went back to whatever it was we were doing before all that madness. It was a bubble and all bubbles eventually burst.

Fast forward 12 years. It’s 2020 and the guitar market has been rising slowly and steadily with some dips and some surges but generally, the market rose in a civilized, non frenzied manner. It hasn’t reached the rarefied air of 2007 into 2008 even after all those years. Some guitars reached new heights by 2020 but most were still sitting at levels below their peak. Then the pandemic hit. You can go back and read what I wrote back then. At first, I thought the market would tank. When it didn’t I tried to make sense of the beginnings of a buying surge into the face of Covid 19. Was it new buyers who, with lots of time on their hands, were returning to the guitar dreams of their youth? That was part of it. Was it players who just needed something new to break the monotony and stress and boredom of lockdowns and working from home? Yep, that too. The cheap stuff was selling, the collector stuff was selling and everything in between was selling. The prices didn’t take off right away though. And then they did. I thought, at the time, that it was a bubble and I said so. Wrong again.

It seems, in hindsight, that 2020 was the calm before the storm although you wouldn’t have thought so at the time. Guitars that I had in my inventory for four, five even six years were suddenly selling at their asking prices. Guitars I took in trade like ES 175’s and a Guild Thunderbird and a bunch of Rickenbackers. Good guitars but not good sellers. But they all sold. In fact everything sold except amps which are still lagging a bit. Then it was 2021 and the market just kept on going. Not going crazy but moving briskly up in a more bubble like way. The asking prices started outpacing the selling prices on sites like Reverb. The market was being pushed and tested every day mostly by individual sellers at first but then by the dealers who didn’t want to be left in the dust if this surge was for real. Turns out it was (and is). In February of 2019, a Bigsby 64 ES-335 in 9/10 condition was a $16,000 guitar. By February of 2021, it was a $24,000 guitar with some asking prices breaking $30,000. That’s a 50% rise over two years. Lots of guitars had similar gains.

Part of this was driven by seriously diminished inventory. For example, In early 2021, there simply weren’t any 1959 ES-335’s to be found. For the first time in a decade, I didn’t have one in stock. I had a waiting list of seven buyers. They sold the same day I got them. The price in 2019 was usually around $38,000 for a clean stop tail with minor issues and $45,000 for a collector grade stop. A year later, if you could find one in 2020, a 59 was $50K-$52K. By early 2021, they were at $60K and they were still impossible to find. Then, as vaccinations became available, and people got back out in public and things were looking like they might be getting back to normal, the market slowed. By the Summer, folks were back at the beach and seeing friends and finally feeling like the end was in sight. But it wasn’t. Delta hit and we took two steps back. The guitar market, by September, had heated back up and prices surged in a way that gave us all whiplash. But it wasn’t just the pandemic causing the run up this time. Inflation and supply chain issues had become major concerns. There is a lot of cash out there and, with rising inflation, your bankroll was losing buying power every day. The stock market was looking like the wrong place due to a shaky economy largely due to supply chain issues along with inflation (and of course the pandemic)

The result, in the Fall of 2021, was a steep rise in collector grade guitars. It seemed there was no stopping it. The high end stuff just kept on rising, almost daily it seemed. This trend was given even more steam when the Omicron variant hit. Suddenly, everybody is scared again and many are locking down until better times emerge. Interestingly, a lot of collectors saw the huge rise in prices and started testing the market with some of their high end instruments. This alleviated the shortage of collector grade guitars to an extent but the prices seem to keep going up. By year end, there was one 59 335 on the market at $75,000. A few 58’s at $50K-$60K and a few 60’s in the same ballpark. Good quality 345’s and 355’s have surged 30% in just 18 months with 59’s leading the way up. 18 months ago, a 59 345 would cost you $20K-24K. Today, a 59 345 ranges from a low of $26K to a high of $40K for sunbursts. Where is this market headed? We’ll look into that but don’t expect me to fire up the crystal ball. I’ve been wrong more than I’ve been right this year.

The really rare stuff shot up as well. Anything in black was especially hot. This one of a kind 63 probably set records for a 63 ES-345 and two black 59 345’s changed hands for well into 6 figures. Three red 59 dot necks (out of 7 made) sold in 2020 to serious collectors. If it was rare, it was gone (usually in a day).