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What are Vintage Guitars?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 23, 2024
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Vintage guitars are highly desired, finely made, older guitars manufactured between the early 1920s and early 1970s. Guitars manufactured earlier than 1920 aren't usually considered collectibles because they don't have the same playmanship. Guitars manufactured after 1972 also don't carry as much value because of mass production, automated manufacturing procedures, and loss of overall quality. Some of the most valuable guitars were made in the 50s and 60s.

Vintage guitars continue to grow more valuable with age rather than less. For example, the 1971 Gibson SG Deluxe electric hard body is a vintage guitar because of its high quality coupled with a short run and few numbers compared to the Standard Edition. You will recognize the SG Deluxe by its mother of pearl block inlays along the fret board, a Bigsby vibrola tailpiece (tremolo bar), and the Tune-O-Matic bridge. The SE and Deluxe both featured warm humbucker pickups and rosewood necks. Most models were made in a cherry wood or mahogany finish, making the rare walnut finish worth twice as much. A 1971 SG Deluxe walnut finish guitar in good condition can sell for as much as $1,900 (US) - a price that is likely to increase with time rather than decrease.

Guitars that were favored by famous musicians can also play into the mystique and therefore price of a vintage guitar. Jimi Hendrix emblazoned the Fender Stratocaster not only into the hearts and minds of a generation, but into history itself forever fusing it with rock legend. There are many different models of Stratocaster today but only the more expensive models are made in America while lower end models now come from Mexico. Older Strats from the 60s are classic vintage guitars.

Newer guitars are often released in limited editions under the name of a legend, such as Fender's Eric Clapton series. These guitars have special hardware or a signature design, however they are not likely to become vintage, at least not in the classic sense. Production line manufacturing steals some of the "soul" of modern instruments. They simply don't have the same feel to the collector as older hand crafted guitars. However, collectors born today may have differing opinions in the year 2030. Hang on to it for a few decades and see. A guitar that is generations old, looks new, and was high quality to begin with might be considered vintage eventually. But the more of them there are around, the lower the price they will fetch.

For steel string acoustic guitars, nearly all older Martins are considered vintage with varying values attached depending on the model and condition. Classical guitars and bass guitars have their own vintage models.

Normally, the nicer a guitar has been kept, the higher it's value, though this isn't always the case. Extreme wear from heavy playing on a very rare and old guitar can add 'character' and a sense of history to the instrument. However, wear from use is different than wear from abuse. A guitar that has been mistreated and ignored will show the wrong kind of wear and this can lower or even negate its value.

Guitars owned by legends will have hefty price tags attached and are usually sold through auctions. These aren't necessarily vintage guitars but can be. Most of their monetary value, however, will be in their history. These guitars can sell for $10,000 and more.

Many guitar shops that sell new stock also sell rare guitars and will pay cash for a collectible, though the seller will only get about half the worth or a little more if taken in trade-in value for another instrument or store credit. If selling by classified ad, be sure to list all of the features that make the guitar vintage, then wait for that special buyer that recognizes its value.

Better yet, hang on to it. In 30 more years it might be worth a fortune and you'll be glad you still have it. Maybe you'll even start playing it again.

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Discussion Comments

By ab254303 — On Oct 04, 2007

My mom gave me her 1976 Fender acoustic guitar, steel strings. It's in great shape and it has a single piece of wood as the neck going into the "bigger part" (I'm really technical because i know a LOT about guitars, can you tell?). I was under the impression that this was now vintage. Is that true? its in really good shape. how much do you think i could sell it for?


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