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Year Ender 2021 Part 1

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).

One Response to “Year Ender 2021 Part 1”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, fascinating! I personally don’t pay too much attention to prices because my small guitar and amp collection is pretty stable. They all get gigged. And I was certainly wrong about market trends when I sold the last of my five original Bursts (a blade neck, tomato red ‘60) for $11,000 in 1990. Some people were saying at the time they’d hit $25K. They were right but it seems they were also wrong too, eh?

    As Frank Z wisely intoned, “shuddup and play yer git-tar!” RAB

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