How to Buy a Vintage Guitar

How to Buy A Vintage Guitar

This is Definitely the Holy Grail of Guitars

Georgia Luthier Supply
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A Vintage Guitar is Manufactured After 1920

A vintage guitar usually gets mixed up with the term antique.

These guitars usually include guitars that are manufactured between the years of 1920 up to 1970.

Guitars manufactured before the 1920's are not as sought-after because they do not have the same sound and playing appeal as the post 1920 guitars.

Guitars after 1970 were largely mass-produced and considered factory guitars. So guitars made before the 1920 CAN be termed antiques.

Vintage Martin D28?

Vintage Martin D18 Valued At: $20,000

The real "sweet spot" for a guitar would be the pre-war guitars (WW2 that is). So anything from the 1930's to 1940 are considered the most collectable guitars. Martin D28 Herringbone guitars in the area of 1937, 1938, 1939 can be worth $100,000 if in good shape. D18 Martins of the same vintage can be worth 10-20 thousand or more. I've listened of stories of picking these guitars up at yard sales and flea markets for $5 to $10. Of course that was 30 to 40 years ago.

Condition of a Vintage Guitar means Everything

When you are getting into these kind of prices, condition of the vintage guitar can mean the difference between its worth being $2,000 or $20,000, dependent on the amount and kind of damage and worn out parts.

A vintage guitar can carry its own set of problems. If not properly maintained they can have a lot of repair potential.

Here are some problems I have seen:

  • Warped Necks
  • Worn Out Frets and Fingerboards
  • Bellied Top. Damaged or Loose Bracing.
  • Loose Bridge
  • Neck Needs Resetting
  • Major Cracks Need Repair in Back or Top
  • Shrinking Pick Guard Causes Cracks The Top
  • Split Bridge
  • Buzzing Inside Guitar Because of Loose Brace
  • Finish is Totally Trashed.
  • Machine Heads Bent, Worn Out, Replacement
  • Usually a vintage guitar in disrepair can have some or all of these ailments. Be aware that some of these items can be very expensive to repair by a qualified repairman. Up to several thousands of dollars. If the guitar is worth a lot of money, go for it. If not - avoid it.

    For additional guitar buying tips refer to my article on Best Guitar Buying Tips where you will learn about potential guitar problems and lots of other "heads-up" guitar purchasing advice.

    Vintage Gibson

    Gibson 1940 Jumbo Valued At: $100,000

    Search Out a Qualified Appraiser

    Check serial numbers of the vintage guitar. Both Martin Guitars and Gibson Guitars have serial number tables that will give you the model and year of manufacture. Use this as a guide. You could also take the instrument into a VERY qualified vintage guitar instrument appraiser.

    Two of the best are Elderly Instruments in Lansing, MI and Ghrun Guitars in Nashville TN. They have talented staff and will give you a honest appraisal and a list of problems with the instrument and possibly a cost to repair.

    Vintage Gibson Les Paul

    Vintage Gibson Les Paul 1950's Era

    Not to overlook the vintage electric guitars, such as the Gibson Les Paul, Gretsch Chet Atkins series and White Falcon, Fender Original Telecasters and many others.

    Gretsch Chet Atkins Guitar

    Vintage Gretsch Chet Atkins Model

    Electric Guitars Have Less Structural Problems

    Electric Guitars tend to have less serious structural problems than their acoustic cousins. The troubles tend to be more electrically oriented and neck and fret problems. For electrical problems take a guitar to a repair shop that specializes in electronic repair and possibly makes custom made electric guitars for the most professional service.

    If you wish to tackle some of the guitar repair jobs yourself, look within the pages of my website for tips on Guitar Repair and Guitar Construction. I also plan on coming out with an ebook on both of these subjects. Look for those in the next few months.