Does Rare Count?

This 1961 Byrdland is super rare. Only about a dozen made but you could probably score one for under $20K. Why so little? Because most collectors don’t really want to spend a lot of money on a Byrdland. Rare doesn’t always translate to dollars.

The great paradox in vintage guitars is about rarity. Bursts aren’t rare (1600 or so built). They cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Blonde 335’s are somewhat rare (211 built) but not crazy rare. They cost in excess of $100,000 in this roaring fire of a market. Stratocasters are as common as Lincoln pennies (well, not quite) but certain rare custom colors can cost close to $100,000. But even a Burgundy Mist Strat isn’t as rare as, say, a blonde 1961 Byrdland (12 made) or a 59 blonde Epiphone Sheraton (3 made). And those two guitars won’t even get you $25,000. That’s still a lot of money but the price and the rarity are not forming a neat and orderly line that follow conventional logic. Clearly rare doesn’t really count. Or does it?

Let’s look at two factors instead of just one. Rarity and desirability. How many are there and how many people want one. Ah, the old supply and demand thing. You know all that. Supply and demand applies to vintage guitars for sure. But there’s another factor. It applies to serious collectors and definitely not to players. That factor which goes beyond desirability and rarity is not easily defined. It’s the great desire to have something that will make your friend’s jaw drop. It’s a “where did you find that??” guitar. You could also call it a “I’ve never seen one of those!” guitar. It seems that every big collector with the means has at least one burst, black guard Tele, 54-57 Stratocaster, blonde ES-335, Gold top Les Paul and a lot of other guitars that take a somewhat less exalted place in the man cave. But which one does this collector take out of the case and show you when you walk in to see his wonderful collection? More often than not, it’s the one you’ve never seen. The one you didn’t know existed. The one you can’t find that you’ve always wanted.

These unicorns are often special order guitars and are rare beyond rare. Some are one of a kind. Some, maybe one of a dozen. Great examples? Black ES-345’s (there are five from 59), blonde ES-355’s (I know of 4), black Les Paul Standards (I know of 2). Fender didn’t do special orders like Gibson did. There are some really rare Fender colors but there are more of them than you might expect. A Seafoam Green Strat will impress your friends even if it’s a color they wouldn’t actually want. Sparkle finish Strats and Teles command some serious outlay and will always dazzle when you open the case. No one knows how many there are because nobody kept track.

When’s the last time you saw a sunburst ’59 355 (rare) in mono (rarer) with a stop tail (rarest). I know of only one. Gibson stopped making blonde 335’s in 1960. So, how about a blonde 63 (one of two blonde block neck 335’s known). Or a greenburst 335? There are two green ones I know of but only one greenburst. Then there are guitars that seem common but are crazy rare. A 1958 335 in red? There’s one. 59 335 in red? There are 6. All crazy valuable because they are not only rare but they are rare often one off versions of really desirable guitars. So, what are these guitars worth? That’s a post for another day.

They don’t get any rarer than “one of a kind”. This is the only known sunburst stop tail ES-355. It’s a 1959. There are a few other sunburst 355’s from the early 60’s but not more than a half dozen.
Super rare cherry red 1967 Flying V. They made a few dozen in cherry. They made 175 total between 67 and 69 (cherry, sunburst and walnut). This is a great example of how rarity, combined with desirability translates into big bucks. 67 Gibsons are not valuable, as a rule but these bad boys can sell for as much as $75,000.

5 Responses to “Does Rare Count?”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, good perspective as always! Another determinant in my mind is if the subject guitar was widely played, or at least with substantial photographic documentation by a famous musician. If Clapton had widely gigged with a ‘59 Jazzmaster I think their value would be significantly enhanced…Hendrix is seen pictured with an early ‘60’s Epiphone Wilshire (upside down of course!) but is primarily known for playing late 60’s Strats…but the hardcore guitar nuts amongst us can appreciate a true rare bird regardless of its financial value…RAB

  2. Bone Idol says:

    I’ve had the ‘rarity vs desirability’ argument for years… And desirability will always win.
    After all, every pebble on the beach is unique, millions of years old and yet totally devoid of any value…. Unless that pebble is a gem stone, only then will it become a desirable must-have item.
    For desirability is an amalgam of many things: age, rarity, celebrity, value, covetousness etc. etc.
    Yet desirability can be a fickle mistress, what is extremely desirable today may be thought of as crass or gauche tomorrow… The whole thing can be a minefield.
    Me?… I play them… Gve me a guitar I can play over a priceless piece of objet d’art that I dare not take out of the case without wearing white cotton gloves on fear of pain of death!
    For me, music will always triumph over rarity and desirability…. A true winner!

  3. Collin says:

    Desirability is THE most important factor in value, followed by condition, in my humble opinion. Rarity is a distant third factor.

    If that wasn’t the case, a ’64 Epiphone Riviera (170 made) wouldn’t be 20-25% the value of a ’64 ES-335 (1,241 made). But that’s the reality.

  4. okguitars says:

    They are not mutually exclusive. You can certainly have a rare and valuable guitar that gets played. Stradivarius violins are the poster child for this.
    They can be worth $16 Million but they get played (and heavily insured).

  5. RAB says:

    Hear, hear for Bone Idol’s sentiments! As Frank Zappa was fond of saying, “shuddup and play yer git-tar!” Now if I could just bring myself to take my vintage guitars to excessively hot or cold and windy, dusty outdoor 4 hour gigs!

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