There is a lot of fuss made in the guitar community about so-called ‘vintage’ guitars, ‘vintage’ being another word for ‘old’. There is a certain part of our world that longs to play a 30-, 40-, or even 50-year-old guitar or bass for a variety of reasons. To be honest, there is something to this argument when it is applied to instruments that truly are products of what many to be the ‘golden era’ of guitar production in the USA which, if we combine acoustic and electric guitars, would be roughly from the 1920’s to about 1970.
Guitars made during that time were made from old growth wood, the kind that doesn’t really exist anymore, which many feel accounts for much of the “X Factor” people seek in older instruments. They were also made with much more hand work and in lower quantities than guitars are made in these days.
Finally, these were the instruments played by the people who developed the musical styles we have come to know and love, as they were the only ones available at the time. Sure, there were good ones and band ones coming out of the guitar factories back then just like now, but, if you ever get your hands on one of the good ones, you start to understand a bit about why people seek this stuff out.
What I personally don’t understand is the increasing fervor and prices of post-1970 guitars and basses. As the 1970’s progressed, many of the things that made the older guitars important were lost to corporate buyouts, a push for quantity over quality, and a general decline in American industry. Add in the availability of imported guitars that were being built better with each passing year, and it is easy to understand the decline of our beloved guitar companies. The sick thing is these guitars are now starting to command prices that were unthinkable 15 or 20 years ago.
When I first started doing guitar shows in the early 1990’s, prices on the good stuff were still fairly reasonable so no one much cared about 70’s axes. We would routinely laugh guys out of our booth at the shows with their 1979 Strats that were only going for $500 or $600. Now, due to incredibly inflated prices on real ‘vintage’ instruments (30 grand for a guitar? Really?), that same ’79 Strat is going $1500 or more.
The funny thing is it’s still the same instrument that it was when it was less than half the price, with the same 3-bolt design, thick poly finish, and a too-heavy body. The late 1970’s was the low ebb of American guitar production and, while there are some that are good players, generally guitars from this period are the lowest quality instruments built in the 20th century and have very little in common with the guitars that made companies like Fender and Gibson great other than the name on the headstock. This very thing, more than any other factors, made players start to buy up older guitars as they knew the older ones were better even then.
Folks, it’s time to wake up: these guitars are not ‘vintage’: they are just plain old. They don’t represent anything positive in the companies that made them and they are certainly not worth paying large amounts of money for. Even the real-deal guitars aren’t worth what is being asked for them anymore, but that is a whole ‘nother article.
The tones, sounds, and music that many guitar buyers are trying to recapture from the good old days were really more about those who were playing them than the guitars themselves and, while tone-chasing is a noble, though often misguided pursuit, paying a couple grand for a guitar made 20 years or more after the real lightning struck isn’t going to get you there.
The real magic comes from people and their talent, not some un-attainable year of production. Plus, there are tons of great guitars being made today that are far better than their late ‘70’s counterparts. I, personally, would take a new G&L Legacy over any 1978 Strat on the market. There is nothing wrong with collecting guitars and buying what is personally meaningful to you. All I would advise against is over-paying for an as-close-as-I-can-get guitar that never had the magic in the first place.
Vintage Guitar Collecting Trivia
Originally published on: May 18, 2013 @ 11:18
You find a new martin to sound like my 61′ and we will talk
@ Chris, acoustics are a different kettle of fish!
Of course your ’61 Martin probably sounds a whole lot better for the reasons listed above. Old growth woods (harder/denser)
And age it self, dried out sap and much lighter between the wood fibres/grain. Naturally, it’s going to resonate FAR more and better than a new Martin, made from plantation woods and probably still too GREEN for guitar building!
This article was more geared to ELECTRIC guitars!
I have a vintage ’68 Hagstrom II that plays as well as anything made today. There really is a difference between old and new Hagstroms, since the old ones were made in Sweden. Swedish production ended in ’83, and the new ones are made in China, except for the Northen Swedes, which are made in the Czech Republic.
The great thing about vintage Hagstroms is that the necks don’t warp, due to the H-shaped truss rod. And it lives up to the claim of “the world’s fastest neck.”
I have a 78 Strat. In also have a 96 strat. Both are american made.
I accept your argument respecting build quality. The bridge on the 78 is installed slightly crooked. As far as quality of tone the 78 blows the 96 out of the water. The pick ups in 78 have a more mellow over wound type tone when compared to 90’s and later models. I disagree with your contention about old growth wood or 3 bolt necks blah blah blah. As guitars age they go through phases. The wood changes and the tone changes. In most cases it seems the older the wood the better the tone. 70’s vintage built guitars are reaching the point in this process that they are catching up with their 50’snd 60’s cousins. I don’t care what “collectors” think. The value of a guitar is in the tone not the so called collectable value. Yes it’s the same guitar, it just sound a whole lot better then it did 40 years ago.
To be fair the entire vintage thing is over rated in my opinion ..many years ago in the 1980s my dads mate had a 50s sunburst strat and 50 les paul junior hed had since the 70s when he play in “groups”…and id just bought a Ibanez Roadstar (think japanese strat shaped object) and even he had to admit my ibanez was just as good sounding and play-ability wise (not looks though as the roadstar wasnt a exact copy and isnt in my opinion as classy looking as the real deal..so not like the legendary Tokai and 80s japan made Squires)..its not that his “real” fender was a bad guitar …to the contrary it was a very very good guitar and had the looks (mojo galore…i remember us discussing how due to when it was made if he hadnt lucked out and got his hands on it how it could have been in the ownership of eric clapton hendrix rory gallager etc….or as i pointed out Eddie Van Halen could have slapped a Dimartzio super distortion in it,gave it a paint job … and reinvented rock guitar as we know it lol ) and tone .anyway my dads mate was so impressed he bought an ibanez himself…which he has since passed on to his son .so much so he went out and bought one him self ,,you still see them for sale on Ebay quite cheap as no one famous (apart from allan Holdsworth and Michael J Fox in the film Back to the future) has used them so not many people realise how good they are …i often feel like getting another but why be greedy? and ive got 2 strats already …if you spot one snap it up they are sweet guitars …he kept the strat for another 20 years then sold it for a fortune to a guitar collecting guy he knew in the area that ran a construction company..so was pretty well off..i remember upon hearing how much he sold it for say “wow i bet hes a good player to pay that much” and him saying “not really hes was awful but he can afford it…he just likes collecting things so good for him….”…as for 70s guitars been rubbish due to poor wood…im not so sure ….Eddie Van Halen had one of the best tones ever using 1970s parts that he cobbled together …my personal take on it is we all like to think were special and that our little world is special so if you can own a guitar that isnt available to the average person due to its rarity or simply due to its price been out of reach to all but the most wealthy of society then i can see how that would appeal to a certain type of person …and hey who would want to make themselves look like a ripped off mug by saying ” hey look at me i just played a 150K for this 59 les paul thats no better than a 2-3k one “off the shelf”… before the internet as far as i can remember in my early days of playing in bands no one obsessed over this stuff…i picked up a near mint 60s Vox AC30 for 150 quid in the 80s and it was just an old amp..I wanted one because Paul Weller of The Jam used them ..i remember been annoyed it didnt have built in Reverb like my Roland Jazz Chorus.. ..HiWatt and Orange amps were cheap as chips back then too …I still have my old ibanez nearly 40 years old Ibanez roadstar and it still sounds great and easily as good as my “real” USA 1998 fender deluxe strat and my only recently made in Mexico Fender Baja is just as good as then both…..BTW he still has the les paul junior which again back in the day were quite reasonable but now again command big cash…