Every October Texas should rename this city Guitarlington. Arlington’s twenty-first year in the same location, this year’s event was bigger and better in the grand tradition of the Lone Star State. Our cowboy hats are off to Dave Crocker and his crew for hosting an excellent show deep in the heart of Texas (and the mild temps were nice too).
Dave informed me his attendance was up 8% at the door and he had the largest exhibitor group ever in the history of the show; a pretty darn good performance for a “slowing economy,” according to the media talking heads. Also a sign of the guitar times, Mr. Crocker stated that VIP attendance was up 50% from last year. It seems players, investors and speculators are looking to this red-hot market for collectible guitars as a place to invest.The show’s impressive metrics are a credit to Dave’s experience and his willingness to commit a lot of cash to advertising and promotion.
The song remains the same for vintage buyers, as the usual suspects – Les Pauls, Teles, 335s, Firebirds and custom color guitars – captured most of the attention. The notable exception this year was pre-CBS Sunburst Stratocasters. Their prices have risen so fast in a short amount of time that at these levels, many nice examples were displayed by a number of dealers.
When a certain model’s price rises quickly in the market, the typical response is for many owners to test the market with their pieces. There were more maple-neck Strats in the showroom this year than at anytime during this new millennium. Fender produced a bunch of sunburst Strats during the key golden-era years, and many are on the market looking for even higher prices. Quite a few Les Paul Specials in Gibson’s famous TV finish were available too; more Specials were on hand than their pickupchallenged catalog-mate, the Les Paul Junior. They have historically been a tougher sell than Jr. LP guitars, even though they made 50% fewer Specials.
Blackguard Telecasters were in short supply this year. Nacho Baños fine book about this model has created demand for these rare guitars and their price has risen rapidly during the past twelve months. Gibson F-4 mandolin pricing was higher at the show than recent national sales would have indicated. Most 1970s Teles and Strats were selling well; high prices for these guitars seems to be partly due to their “true-vintage” cousins being many multiples in price above their tags. It’s the same story with 1970s Les Pauls, although my opinion is that new Gibson Les Pauls are better than the 1970s models.
I didn’t see as many ES-335 guitars from the important ‘58-‘64 period compared to past fall shows. Player and better condition pre-war Martin Dreadnought guitars were very popular instruments. It seems the price differential between excellent and player grade Martin guitars is less than with 1950-‘60s Strats of the same condition; age, quantity and clientele account for the value variance. Key 1950s Les Pauls were highly sought after. Dave Rogers of Dave’s Guitars from Wisconsin brought a three-pickup LP Custom that went to a collector on Saturday. This LP Custom was a fine-looking example with an original black pebble-grain case with yellow lining.
National guitars, Fender amps, Marshall amps and just plain used guitars were popular items, but not all instruments were as trendy. Many model types are cruising along at the speed-of-inflation. Bringing up the rear in terms of “customer buy lists” were many Gretsch guitars (except 6120 and DuoJets) and many acoustic/electric archtop models. The archtop market has been unexciting for several years, although I think the two PAF L-5 and Super-400 models are undervalued along with the ES- 175 and other multiple PAF-equipped archtop guitars from 1957-1962 (not including the high-priced ES-335/345/355).
Finally, I overheard several experienced dealers talking about a market “correction,” as prices have increased a lot last year and this year. No one knows for sure as this type of talk is pure speculation. However, one thing is certain: many new market players have entered the guitar buying game in the last four years. Some play guitar, some don’t. They seem to share one objective: investment and speculation in a hot commodity. As condominiums in Florida and the NASDAQ has shown, freewheeling cash chases performance. If the market cools from its torrid pace for the best models, I wonder how many folks will leave the guitar world behind and jump on the next high-velocity bandwagon.
Larry Meiners writes the Serious Guitar Collector Column for Musicians Hotline® Magazine. Larry is the author of the Gibson Flying "V" and Gibson Shipment Totals books as well as the audio CD book for collectors, Live! At The Guitar Show.
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