Most of the Western world revolves around a January to December calendar. Vintage guitar dealers also have a unique calendar – the buying year begins in January with the Orlando Guitar Show and ends with the granddaddy known as the Arlington Guitar Show in late October.
So, I’m sitting on a plane returning from Arlington reviewing the past year. My good friend Tim Kummer probably summarized 2007 best when he said these words of wisdom in Arlington, “Hey Kev, is it me or did prices come down?” For the most part, truer words have never been spoken in a kinda sorta way. The vintage bass market is everywhere from lukewarm to white hot. Let’s start with the good news.
Feel the Heat
The bottom line is if you have a 4001 or 4005 Rickenbacker, a Gibson Thunderbird from the ‘60s, a crazy rare colored Fender bass or a spaghetti logo Precision, you are in the white-hot, molten, thermonuclear segment of the market in terms of desirability. Interesting additions to this list are EB2/ Rivoli and Embassy basses. The pricing here is all over the map, ranging from affordable to new car money. These pieces are extremely desirable right now and pricing went up 20-25% in the past year. If these pieces are properly priced, they sell immediately and have a short shelf life. No bargains are to be found buying in this segment but you will be the belle of the ball if you latch onto one of these. The thing I like seeing here is that there are no fringe or fad items; they are all staples and because of that I expect this to remain stable for the foreseeable future.
Do the Cha-Cha
There are products that have gained in popularity and have had a slight rise in value over the past year. Although not vintage, Rickenbacker 4003s are trading like hot cakes. Black block Jazz basses, ‘70s tortoise guard Fenders, A-neck Precisions and Telecaster basses are selling and commanding a good price for a good piece. MusicMan Stingrays and Sabres have also made a comeback; seven to eight years ago, these basses were gold and they are now at a point where the price has rebounded. There are also a few Gibsons in this segment. Just about all EB and Ripper series basses, along with the RD basses, are now en vogue. Early G&Ls with the old style headstock are making a surprising appearance, too. In some instances, this year’s wholesale price was last year’s retail price.
The one thing I am really enjoying right now is that this is probably the most robust segment of the market. These pieces are not cheap but they are within reach. The folks buying this stuff are players and not so much collectors, and the one thing I frequently hear is, “I just sold my multi-string and am going back to a four-banger.” In my opinion, this is the segment to watch. As it grows, there will be a vacuum effect bringing other gear into this segment.
I Wish I Had a Crystal Ball
A few weeks back I was chatting with a bigticket dealer buddy of mine about the top side of the market. He is an old timer in both the guitar and real estate financial markets and in his opinion, the top market is currently flat. He explained to me that a lot of guys who were into this segment of the market would hit the home equity line, buy a piece, get sick of it, sell it to pay back the line and pocket a few sheckles in the process. The problem is that the housing market is in a downturn and it’s impacting the upper-tier of the collectibles market.
The other issue is that most players can’t afford this type of gear. The market basically outran the player’s wallet. The good news is that many prices haven’t gone up recently so there are a lot of top echelon pieces available. Do not expect any steals, but right now is a buyer’s market. A lot of folks smarter than myself speculate that if the Christmas economic variables are positive the market will pick up. If not, as we get closer to a new president, they expect the big-ticket market to come back strong.
2007 was an interesting year. Gear in the lower-midrange segment ($1500 – $5000) was the big seller. Refins, ‘70s gear and early ‘80s pieces were hot. Tbirds and old Ricks became rare as hen’s teeth. Player gear such as old G&Ls, ‘70s Gibsons and reissue stuff – all priced between a grand and $1500 – heated up. Bass dealers are seeing a slide back to four string basses. The low B crowd is still thriving, but the multi-string set isn’t as popular as it once was. Because of this, 2008 will find affordable, good, used, under $5000 items ruling the market.
Of course, these are just opinions, not a roadmap for the year ahead. This is what I’m predicting for my business. Beginning in a few months, I’m going to have a coast-tocoast dealer roundtable exploring this topic. Thoughts? I’d love to hear them! Until then, pass the stuffing and don’t forget the cannolis.
Kevin Borden has been a bass player since 1975, and is currently President of Goodguysguitars.com.
Feel free to call him KeBo.
He can be reached at Kebobass@yahoo.com
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