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Buy-Buy, Recession

In 1980, $250 would not get you much of a new guitar. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $672 in today’s dollars—and you can definitely buy a brand new, gig-ready axe for that amount today.

During our country's last recession, I was but a fresh-faced kid, barely able to stretch my wimpy little hands around a G chord. I desperately wanted a good guitar. Regrettably, a good guitar was unattainably expensive, so I wound up with cheap foreign crap made of plywood that sounded like fishing line tied over a cardboard box. Today, our country finds itself deep in financial woes yet again, but unlike the last recession, I have a job and a little cash. And that means I'm faring far better in this guitar buyer's market.

The heavy competition amongst guitar manufacturers has generated enormous improvement in the quality of low- and moderately priced guitars, whether imported or built in the US. It used to be that a new, cheap guitar sounded, well, cheap. In 1980, $250 would not get you much of a new guitar. Adjusted for inflation, that's $672 in today's dollars—and you can definitely buy a brand new, gig-ready axe for that amount today.

New, inexpensive guitars have

vastly improved over the past 30

years, which is all well and good,

but what's far more exciting is the

current vintage market. We may

be reaching a perfect storm for

buying classic American guitars.

Think of it a bit like the stock

market, only instead of blips on

your computer screen, it's a sexy

6-string in your hands.

In the December 2010 issue of

Esquire, Ken Kurson wrote:

The markets are about to

make a run similar to the

one we saw in the late 1990s.

It's not a leap in productivity

catalyzed by American ingenuity

. . . this time it's more

that we've so undermined our

currency and so dramatically

debt-leveraged our future that

assets priced in dollars have

nowhere to go but up.

Everything I've been fretting

over for the past two years—

inflation, the price of gold—is

good for many stocks. After

all, what is inflation? It means

that each dollar is worth less.

So it now costs 1300 of them

to buy the same ounce of gold

that was recently had for 650.

By the same token, the share

of GE that you could buy for

$14 in June will now cost you

$16. Is that because GE is a

better company whose future is

more promising today than in

June? Maybe. But another way

of saying it is that each dollar

is now worth only 1/16 share

of GE compared with 1/14

share in early summer.

In short, guitars aren't necessarily

worth more, just our dollars are

worth less. So you can hold onto

your cash and watch it go the way

of the peso or you can buy that

old Esquire you always wanted.

The other factor in the perfect

buying storm is that the vintage

guitar market has been wildly overpriced

for the past decade. Again,

like the stock market, the actual

value is far different than the inflated

sale price. Gruhn Guitars and

The Official Vintage Guitar Price

Guide can swear all day long that a

1957 goldtop is worth $150,000,

but try getting somebody to actually

pay that. Anybody who needs

to move a vintage instrument will

take what this cash-strapped world

is able to spend, and that might be

a fraction of what authorities and

experts estimate the instrument is

worth. Sure, any bozo with a two-comma

income can slap down the

platinum card and pay the inflated

price, but those kinds of crazy,

rich-guy purchases have all but

dried up. And this forces the real

price—our street price—down.

Strangely enough, I earned less

money last year than I've made in

about eight years, but I've bought

three guitars—which is more than

I've ever purchased in one year. I

searched Craigslist and eBay, sorted

through a ton of crap instruments

and delusional sellers (“I won't take

a nickel under $15k for this 1971

refinished Melody Maker"), and

managed to find a couple of great

deals. Surprisingly, I even found

a real bargain on an old-ish Les

Paul at Guitar Center in Nashville.

That's proof it's a buyer's market.

I'm not suggesting that buying

guitars is a fiscally responsible

retirement plan. It's better than

investing in commemorative

NASCAR plates, but it's probably

not going to take care of you in

your old age like stocks, gold, or

real estate. Over the past decade,

a lot of people who were investing

heavily in vintage guitars would

have been better off burying their

dough in Mason jars in their backyard.

Some folks lost a fortune.

But, if you love guitars—the

fact that you're reading this issue

of Premier Guitar means you

probably do—now is a great

time to get the one you've always

wanted or get back the one that

got away. But don't buy an old

Country Gentleman and hide it

in a vault. Twang on that thang—

that's the only way it's really worth

the money. It may not appreciate

in value, but you will appreciate it

more every time you plug it in.

John Bohlinger is

a Nashville-based guitarist

who works primarily

in TV and has recorded

and toured with over 30

major-label artists. His songs

and playing can be heard

in major motion pictures, on major-label

releases, and in literally hundreds of television

drops. Visit him at