the serious guitar collector

Values of vintage guitars are dictated mainly by supply and demand

A bit of a quiz to start us out this month. Match the seven line items below with their relative percentage price increase since 1997 of 30, 100, 200, 250, 300, 600 and 1000% (answers listed at the end of the column):

1956 Gretsch 6120 _______ %
1973 Stratocaster (sunburst) _______ %
1959 Gibson Les Paul Custom _______ %
1997 U.S. Dollar (inflation) _______ %
1967 Rickenbacker 375 _______ %
1952 Telecaster _______ %
1973 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe _______ %

Although many conclusions may be deduced from the results of the quiz, here’s one: at the same time the U.S. Dollar was losing value (according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’ inflation gauge) to the tune of about 30%, the vintage guitar market has rewarded the “usual suspects” handsomely while turning a dispassionate glance to other rare vintage electric instruments.

For electric guitar collectors and investors of the usual suspects – Les Paul, Stratocaster, Telecaster and ES-335 models made from 1951 to 1965 – fortune’s gaze has proved profitable to them, as values have increased greatly. Some models have gained 1000% in ten years, eclipsing many other investments. At the same time, many of the standard early 1970s versions of the usual suspects have gained in excess of 300%, somewhat due to the tracking of values of the earlier guitars and somewhat due to affordable nostalgia.

This market’s narrow vision has not graced other rare guitars from the same period. Specifically, Gretsch and Rickenbacker electric models from their best periods have seriously lagged behind the strong demand exhibited for key Gibson and Fender models. Even more perplexing is that it seems many of the best vintage Gretsch and Rickenbacker electric models were produced in lower quantities than premium Gibson and Fender guitars in the same period. In addition, some of the most iconic guitarists and songwriters in the history of rock and roll used these wonderful Gretsch and Rickenbacker electric models. The Byrds, Chet Atkins, Steven Stills, Pete Townshend, Tom Petty, Brian Setzer and that obscure band out of the UK called the Beatles (George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney) all played these unique four, six and twelve-strings.

Values of vintage guitars are dictated mainly by supply and demand. Rockstar sponsorship usually helps create demand and low production numbers ensure a general lack of availability. Supply figures for vintage Rick guitars, if the Rickenbacker book (by Richard Smith) production totals are accurate, highlights the rarity of these electrics. Old key Ricks seem to be more rare than important vintage Gibson and Fender models but much less desirable.

Ultimately, the market is always right regardless of anyone’s opinion. Seemingly, the finest vintage Gretsch and Rickenbacker models are under-appreciated, considering all the great players that produced volumes of classic music on those same instruments. A fairly common 1965 CBS-produced Stratocaster sells for more than a 1956 Chet Atkins 6120. Also, even though about 9,000 double-cut Les Paul Junior guitars were produced, they sell for more than many rare vintage Rickenbacker models. Finally, take note that early 1970s Les Paul Deluxe, Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars gained as much or more than most old Gretsch and Rickenbacker electric models over the last ten years.

Golden-era Gibson and Fender vintage electric guitars have outpaced the value gains for most production electrics from other manufacturers’ key periods. High prices that are increasing at a great rate gain momentum as possible sellers may delay a sale – fearing a loss of future gains – and speculators enter the market with profit motives. If Gretsch and Rickenbacker golden-era electrics gain in popularity, I would expect prices to climb quickly, due to relatively low unit production. Although tepid gains were recorded during the last ten years, a significant catalyst might generate enough interest in these special guitars to put them in the highly desired, highly prized category. Until then, long live the Cyclops.

Answers: 1956 Gretsch 6120 = 100%, 1973 Stratocaster (sunburst) = 300%, 1959 Gibson Les Paul Custom= 1000%, 1997 U.S. Dollar (inflation) = 30%, 1967 Rickenbacker 375 = 200%, 1952 Telecaster = 600%, 1973 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe = 250%)

Larry Meiners
Larry Meiners writes this column for Premier Guitar and is the author of the Gibson Flying “V” and Gibson Shipment Totals books as well as the audio CD book for instrument collectors, Live! At The Guitar Show.

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Flying Vintage and The Serious Guitar Collector are trade names of Larry Meiners. All content herein may not be reproduced or copied whatsoever without written permission of Larry Meiners. Copyright ©2007 Larry Meiners