The price of a vintage or boutique instrument is not tied to the playing pleasure it can bring.
In 1961, Italian artist Piero Manzoni sold a batch of serial-numbered cans of his excrement, which he titled Merda d'Artista (translated as Artist's Shit). All 90 of the 30-gram cans were quickly scooped up by patrons and collectors of avant-garde artwork. The selling price for these limited-edition articles was tied (by weight) to the price of gold, which, on some psychological level, may have increased their legitimacy or at least their worth.
Most of the established art world saw the whole thing as a sick joke. In cutting-edge circles, Manzoni's collection was viewed as a critique of the art market and consumerism, yet he surely advanced the very forces that he was mocking. Although each example sold for about $34 at the time, over the years they have proved to be a decent investment, with single cans now fetching as much as $132,000. I'm not sure who the joke was on—especially considering that the authenticity of the cans' contents has been disputed.
Without being facetious, I often think of this example when I read about vintage and boutique equipment. So, what is it that makes a piece of gear collectible, and is that different than being an investment? I certainly think of guitars as art and craft, but not so much as financial instruments. When planning financial futures, we mere mortals rarely think of investing in art, let alone cans of shite. Still, a lot of guitarists I know view their gear collections that very way.
There are published price lists for vintage—as well as merely old—equipment, which perpetuate the idea that guitars are similar to stocks or bonds. That's good for collectors and vintage dealers who all have a vested interest in continuing to push values upward. Unfortunately, for most of us, it puts a lot of examples of beautiful instruments out of reach.
Now, I know that a lot of you will jump to the defense of affordable new instruments, many of which perform as well or better than coveted collectibles. But as Manzoni proved, utility isn't always the point. It used to be fairly clear what constitutes a collectible piece of gear. Rarity is obviously a big component for both vintage and boutique guitars. If the market is awash with something, it's difficult to defend it as collectible. This may work for a one-in-17-ever-made korina Explorer, but it does nothing to explain the price tag on the hundreds of thousands of 1960s Stratocasters.
The inferior instruments churned out to meet the "Beatles Boom" demand from 1965 into the 1970s helped propagate the myth that "they don't make 'em like they used to," which is now the mantra of guitar collectors and dealers.
So, obviously, there is some elasticity in that argument. The inferior instruments churned out to meet the "Beatles Boom" demand from 1965 into the 1970s helped propagate the myth that "they don't make 'em like they used to," which is now the mantra of guitar collectors and dealers. That bit of folklore has been pretty much exploited by the boutique market that is seemingly positioned to become the new vintage.
For those who actually lived through the era when Mike Bloomfield, Eric Clapton, Peter Green, and Jimmy Page were "discovering" the magic of the Les Paul Standards built circa the late 1950s, we understand the strong allure of those instruments based not only on their sound, but on the association with the musicians who used them. The same can be said of some other models and brands from the same era. There was the feeling of belonging to a small tribe of insiders who realized that a new 1968 Les Paul hanging on the guitar store wall was not what the cool kids played.
Those older guitars didn't look, play, sound, or even smell like the glossy new product being spit out by the big factories. The side hustle of pawing through pawn shops and scouring mom-and-pop music stores for the real deal was just part of the attraction. It was like mining for Bitcoin in the physical world—and when you found it, you could plug it in. And this was still several decades before most players heard the term "vintage guitar." These feelings and ideas coalesced to make old guitars and amps desirable, collectible, and increasingly more expensive, despite the fact that modern guitars are now just as amazing.
I must confess to having collected a small pile of new and vintage amplifiers and guitars over a lifetime of playing, but my main focus was on the joy that they brought to me when I plugged them in. My motivation was always to get things I really liked. Perhaps there was some delusion about not losing money when it was time to sell, but as the clock ticks I question even that.
The absurd notion that old, rare guitars or even well-made boutique instruments are investments is not going away because that's the way our economic model is structured. So, get what you truly love and stop worrying about resale. Invest in your enjoyment, but don't buy crap
An extroverted hollowbody that deftly spans styles—and the ages.
Characterful Dynasonic pickups. Lively top end. Surprisingly versatile. Well put together.
Expensive for a Korea-made instrument.
Guild X-175 Manhattan Special
Ease of Use:
Solidbodies rule the electric guitar market. So it’s easy to forget what a presence hollowbody electrics once were, and how profoundly different they are as instruments. Hollowbodies feel, resonate, and sustain differently. They also invite different techniques and playing approaches—particularly when you add the mechanical miracle that is a Bigsby vibrato to the mix.
Guild’s X-175 Manhattan Special is a 3"-thick, true hollowbody based on a design that Guild released in 1954. But with its single-coil Dynasonic pickups and satin Malibu blue paint, it’s a Manhattan that, stylistically and sonically, spans the breadth of Guild’s guitar-making history. It’s also very inspiring to play—especially if you’ve spent most of your 6-string life in the solidbody sphere of influence.
From Manhattan to Malibu
Calling the Manhattan Special striking is an understatement. With a body that measures 17" across at the lower bout, that blue finish, and chrome aplenty, it has the presence of a ’55 Chrysler sent to the custom shop for a matte-paint makeover. The satin Malibu blue paint job is the only finish available for the Manhattan Special, which is distinguished by Dynasonic pickups. It’s too bad the sunburst and natural finishes that appear on other Manhattan models aren’t options (or a gloss version of this lovely blue, for that matter). That said, the Special wears this more au courant finish with undeniable grace, and the blue flatters the instrument’s curves and ample size, while looking stunning under lights.
Hollowbodies have a reputation as delicate among solidbody players. And while you wouldn’t want to get too reckless with the Manhattan onstage, it’s anything but frail. Consider this: Thanks to a major package courier that shall remain nameless, the X-175 went on an unplanned two-week tour through a heat wave before I got it. When I finally received the package, I feared the worst. But the Guild was not just intact; it was also nearly in tune.
Give the guitar just a cursory once-over and you can see that Guild’s Korean factory is sweating the details. The fretwork, binding, and shaping of the soft U-profile neck are especially nice. And the only small flaw I could find was a little accumulation of the satin paint at the neck joint. Otherwise, the build is super clean.
Dynamic Duo Takes Metropolis
The Manhattan Special is special, in part, for its Dynasonic pickups, an evolution of a DeArmond design that was common on Guild’s ’60s thinline offerings like the Starfire. It was also a common sight in Gretsch hollowbodies of the era, which makes the Manhattan a cool alternative for players that want a touch of ’60s Gretsch tone magic in a guitar with less iconic baggage.
The Dynasonics and the big Guild hollowbody are a great match. The combination also highlights what a unique and versatile pickup the Dynasonic can be. To my ear, they inhabit a sweet spot between a Rickenbacker Hi-Gain’s concise, ringing punch, a PAF’s meaty growl, and a Telecaster’s twang and zing. There’s a lot of balance in the tone profile, and a lot of practical upside, too. It can drive a Marshall or a wide-open Bassman to crunchy Malcom Young/Billy Duffy riff zones, where the hollowbody’s low-end resonance and coloration add ballast to the hot, round, and crystalline top end. The Dynasonics also give a lot of weight and presence to output from the first and second strings, making the Manhattan a natural for fat, ringing jangle tones and snarly early Neil Young-style solos. (The first incarnation of Young’s Les Paul, "Old Black," had a Dynasonic in the bridge position before he switched to its more famous Firebird pickup. Young also loved the sound of big, hollowbody Gretsches.)
From Uptown, Down to the Bowery
Ironically, the Manhattan’s ability to deliver so many bright and present tones means it handles some classically hollowbody tasks less well. Some aspiring Grant Greens might find the tone-attenuated neck pickup a touch too plonky for the sultriest, smokiest jazz settings. Still, even if it doesn’t have a ES-175’s buttery, wooly humbucker mass, the neck-position Dynasonic can still generate sweet, muted jazz textures, tight country swing sounds, and scads of thick, funky Jimmy Reed and J.J. Cale tones.
Though any hollowbody can feel like an armful if you’ve spent your whole life playing a Stratocaster, the Manhattan is invitingly, addictively playable, and will coax you along many unexpected creative vectors. The narrow jumbo frets make slinky bends a breeze. Dynamic fingerstyle and hybrid picking techniques both sound fantastic on the Manhattan—which can simultaneously generate piano-like resonant low tones from the bass strings and biting top end from the high strings in the way only a hollow body with well-balanced pickups can. But the Manhattan also feels great and sounds wrecking-ball huge in straight-ahead punk settings, and it’s a thrill to plug into a tape delay and a Marshall and chug in Johnny Thunders style, while hollowbody overtones dance at the edge of feedback.
Hollowbodies aren’t for everyone. But the X-175 Manhattan Special is a welcoming, inviting instrument whether you’re new to the type or a seasoned hollowbody pro. You can lose yourself in a lovely wash of hollowbody and Bigsby-quavered overtones in clean, jangly settings, unleash barrages of feral, high-calorie punk riffs, or meander through smoky, fingerpicked chord melodies … and always feel at home. The Dynasonic pickups compound this versatility—exhibiting great range, balance, and sensitivity. At almost $1.5K, the Manhattan Special is expensive for a satin-finished, Korea-made instrument. But given the excellent build quality and real musical versatility of this Guild, the price will be fair for players whose bottom line is feel and sound.
Up close and personal with a mint-condition 1968 Yamaha SG-5.
As most readers likely already know, there are many strange and wonderful Japan-made guitars from the 1960s lurking in the lost corners of the vintage marketplace. PG's Wizard of Odd column covers many of them. Most of these instruments were mass produced as export commodities and showed up all over the world with a dizzying variety of different make and model names. Brands like Teisco, Conrad, Norma, and others were used as stand-ins for many low-end, made-in-Japan (MIJ) instruments of this era—typically denoting a guitar or bass that looks cool, but, more often than not, is lacking in terms of playability and tone.
Today's Vintage Vault pick is something a little different. Built and developed primarily for the surf-rock-obsessed Japanese guitar scene of the '60s, the Yamaha SG line came to include a range of guitars and basses that carried all the pizzazz of anything being built in this period, but with a bit better overall quality than your typical vintage MIJ fare. This reputation for playability and tone, combined with a unique, futuristic flair, has placed the top-shelf Yamaha SG models among the most collectible of all vintage guitars built in Japan.
Photo 2 — The neck of the SG-5, which had its original production run from 1966 to 1971, has a rosewood fretboard, a zero-fret nut, a 24 3/4" scale length, and 22 frets.
Unfortunately, like many non-U.S. guitars of this era, there's not a lot on record about the origins and production of these instruments. What we do know is that, in 1966, Yamaha introduced a series of new solidbody guitars and basses, which included the more conventional Fender-like SG-2 along with our subject today, the SG-5. The SG-5's body shape—which is usually called “the Flying Samurai"—stood out with its Mosrite-esque lower curve and exaggerated treble horn (predictive, somewhat, of the later Ibanez Iceman), as well as its idiosyncratic electronics and elongated headstock. This initial model was later joined by a handful of variants including 12-string and bass offshoots, and, eventually, by the even more eye-catching SG-2C and SG-3C, both often called the “Flying Banana." Per some sources, the Yamaha team consulted with surf guitarist Takeshi Terauchi in the development of the design. Terauchi was known for playing Mosrites, and there is an unmissable Mosrite influence on the Flying Samurai models.
Today's featured instrument is an SG-5 from 1968, listed on Reverb by Harlequin Guitar Club of Angmering, in the south of England. It carries your typical signs of use for a guitar of its age but is in very good condition all around and includes all original components and the original case.
Photo 3 — A close-up look at the guitar's face displays the 3-way toggle, the distinctive Yamaha vibrato bridge, the tone, volume, and mix dials, and the three single-coils—with the bridge and near-center pickups mounted together on the same plastic frame for ease of installation at the factory.
While there are a handful of variations on the Flying Samurai design, with different pickup configurations and finishes, prices on these guitars are typically set by the overall condition rather than by the slight differences between each individual model. Prices range from $600 to $2,000 and up. This white SG-5 has three single-coil pickups and an early, chrome Yamaha vibrato tailpiece, plus a Tune-o-matic bridge. It has a 3-way pickup selector switch with a blend control, plus controls for tone and volume.
The Yamaha SG line made it to the very early 1970s, when the whole Japanese guitar industry shifted its focus toward closer copies of American models. And while quite rare today, the decidedly '60s vibe of these guitars continues to earn fans among retro-psych guitarists such as Stu Mackenzie of King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, in addition to many Japanese guitarists. including Miki Furukawa. Yamaha has also reissued this body shape in more recent years, and one such guitar even shows up in the hands of the Doctor in a Peter Capaldi-era episode of Doctor Who. How's that for futuristic credentials?