The Top 10 Most Valuable Vintage Guitars

Does NOT include artist-associated specific guitars, like Clapton’s Blackie or Willie Nelson’s Trigger - only runs of specific makes and models for a range of years…

Newsletter herefrom Vintage Guitar

And here’s the list:

A lot more acoustics vs. electrics - that’s the one thing I didn’t expect. Oh, and no Stratocasters, not even a first-year 1954…

ETA: Hereis a thread on the UMGF Vintage Page - they point out a couple more acoustics that Gruhn/VG missed…

Makes sense to me: acoustics are finer examples of the luthier’s art, generally. Nothing newer than '60, either.

I will say this - as someone who has owned and played some vintage electrics and acoustics, the difference between a good modern acoustic vs. a good vintage is greater to me than the difference between a good new vs. vintage electric. When I pick up an electric, I pick up my new homebrew Teles even though I could pick up my great example of a vintage electric. But when I pick up an acoustic, I always pick up my old guitars…

Yep, and anything made past-60 is mass-manufactured and will ‘never’ be collectable.

Oh - not true at all E-Sabs:

  • Mid-80’s PRS’s (Paul Reed Smith) - the ones he built himself before transitioning to a manufactured brand - command big bucks

  • 70’s Teles are collectible - although 70’s Fenders are notorious for a lot of poor quality and bad design changes, the Teles were the last to be affected. They had 4-bolt necks up until the mid-70’s for instance (vs. 3-bolt Micro-tilt “upgrades” that earned a bad rep, in part because of their design and in part because the change happened when Fender quality was bad in general…)

  • Some limited guitars - e.g., early SRV and Jeff Beck and Clapton signature Strats - are very collectible. I am not even speaking to those cheesy $25,000 “exact replica” models that are built to be hung on some Boomer’s wall…

But they just won’t have the cachet. (Except for PRS) At least, not for another 20 years. It’s like how all the ‘best 20 albums of all time’ stop circa 1980.

Oh, no argument there - the canon of golden-age Gibson, Fender, Martin guitars = 20th Century music is pretty fixed…

A lot of the 1970’s Martins had issues with the pick guard. The wood pulls away and starts cracking the finish. My D18 (1975) went to a Martin shop 6 years ago. Looks good as new now.

The guy at the shop mentioned this repair is very common.

A D18 Sunburst will never be the worlds most valuable. But, I love the sound of mine.

Not surprised to see the D’Aquisto on the list. Nor am I surprised it’s the only archtop - they’re too associated with jazz and not enough with stars to pull the heavy dough (damn few jazz guitarists are stars, or jazz stars guitarists).

I played a real 1936 D18 “shadetop” (Martin collectors prefer that phrase; “sunburst” is the phrase Gibson uses - since many of their models have the sunburst finish - far more than Martin - their phrase is much more common). The '36 was probably worth $75 grand or more. Regardless of value - ::sigh:: what a great guitar.

As for the 70’s, that was considered a bit of a lowpoint for Martin - similar to Fender and Gibson but for different reasons - with Martin it was a combo of new restrictions limited their access to Brazilian rosewood and the fact that the costs associated with complying with their legendary Lifetime Warranty was costing them too much so they built heavier-duty guitars so they wouldn’t have repair costs - which in turn made the guitars sound less lively…

…**Beware of Doug **- yeah, those D’Angelicos and D’Aquistos are gorgeous as hell but very specific in their application.

George Gruhn wrote something interesting in the latest issue of Vintage Guitars, talking about the state of the market and the role of speculators versus players (tool-users) and collectors. Speculators, says George, drive the prices up beyond what players and collectors will pay. When we have a market correction, like now, speculators run away from the market and prices drop back to what players and collectors will pay. Reads true to me.

Now, are any players paying $100K+ for something to actually play? If so, are they using such guitars to make their music? And if they are, does it matter to you and me? Does the specialness of that guitar reach our ears? Or is the specialness only useful to the extent that it makes the owner want to play?

WordMan and I have discussed this for years.

Eric Clapton had a Martin OM from the 20s or 30s that was auctioned for huge money, and I think that model and year are generally worth big bucks. He used the guitar on his unplugged concert, which included the hit single of the unplugged “Layla”. Did anyone hear anything from that guitar that was worth anything more than a $500 guitar?

I know that Mark Knopfler has numerous vintage Strats and at least one very valuable sunburst Les Paul that he uses to record. I also know that he doesn’t take any of those guitars on the road. I feel, having seen him in concert several times, that he sounds better on the road than he does in the studio. Maybe he feels better playing those high-dollar guitars in the studio, but does it make any difference that we can sense?

I started a thread a while back about the brief time I got to spend with my pastor’s father’s 1938 Martin R-18, which is only worth a couple of thousand dollars. I recently got to play a Martin from the 1850s, a very nice nylon-string guitar, which is apparently only worth about 5K, despite probably having been handled by Christian F. Martin his damn self. Prices are funny.

Sorry, WordMan, I loaned my copy of Clapton’s Guitar to a friend, so I can’t supply the correct Martin model and year for the Clapton guitar.

Didn’t use to be. In the days of big band music, every group of more than about 8 pieces had an unamplified rhythm guitar - almost always an archtop with really high action so you could go chonk chonk chonk chonk, 4-to-the-bar, all night.

Absolutely - and the ukelele was king, too. What’s interesting is that in this era of complete musical egalitarianism - everyone can publish all their music however they want and consumers can listen in a huge variety of ways - there appears to be a big surge in live acoustic performance and a return to these types of instruments. To which I say: more, please.

**Crotalus **- yeah, we have. There’s usually more food to push around on the plate in that type of topic - or else the guitar-geek message boards wouldn’t have fodder for yet-another-go-round of topics…

A few thoughts:

  • Regarding Knopfler - it is conventional wisdom to separate what you tour with from your stated preferences. You may be a “vintage” guy who tours with modern stuff, simply to avoid risking the gear and/or because the modern gear can better handle the tech/sonic demands of today’s touring.

  • Sounding good in a big arena setting is very different from sounding good in a small-club setting which CAN be (but doesn’t have to be) very different from sounding good at home. Being a vintage guy usually means “being a vintage guy at home” i.e., when it is not about super loud and external performance; it is about lower volumes and playing for fun. In those settings your focus is much more on exploring with the instrument, not relying on the instrument to deliver a predictable sound at a precise time in performance. In my experience, a good vintage instrument often inspires that exploration through a combination of sound and playability (and impact on your mind for a variety of reasons) that matter to that player at that moment. So it can be a very selfish thing.

  • But vintage instruments can still be dogs - that Martin you reference is one. I remember finding that one in Chicago and texting with you as I was checking it out. I had just finished playing a 1934 Gibson Roy Smeck - just a sparkling, magical woody and open sounding old guitar - and found that Martin. I pulled it off the wall and strummed it and it thunked like a plastic toy. Martin has simply never demonstrated the ability to pull off an archtop/f-hole guitar. Their whole DNA is tied up in flattops.

Oops, gotta run…

Back for a sec -

  • That 1850’s Martin is not worth what a vintage D28 might be because it was not the design that was used to shape the sound of American music. And because it is old and more delicately made given the nature of the design, it really is for collectors more than troubadours. That’s the beauty of my older acoustics - the design and construction lend themselves to heavy play…