Premier Guitar talks to Patterson Hood about the inspiration for the new Drive-By Truckers album, why he recently switched from the Goldtop to an SG, and the beauty of taking a simple approach to tone.

Patterson Hood gets down and digs into his Gibson SG Special at a February 16, 2011 show at Penn State York University's Pullo Center. Photo by Adam Chlan.
Drive-By Truckers front man Patterson Hood has never made any bones about being a rocker. From his rock-approved beard to the 1969 Goldtop Les Paul (known as Estelle) to his penchant for recording on analog tape, Hood is a vintage-natured rock star in an age of polished studio trickery. His songs are filled with big guitars and even bigger characters, and despite being pigeonholed by some as “southern rockers,” it’s been a successful enough formula that the Truckers have remained in a near constant state of activity since their 2001 breakout record, Southern Rock Opera.

Perhaps that’s why the feel of the band’s latest release, Go Go Boots, was so unexpected. Quieter and more reflective than previous efforts, the high-flying leads are traded in for tender shuffles and haunting slide work, courtesy of fellow Truckers Mike Cooley and John Neff. A dose of Muscle Shoals soul—the music of Hood’s upbringing—is added for good measure. But gone is the Goldtop, replaced by a stripped-down SG and a parlor-sized Baxendale acoustic.

Of course, you can’t mess with success too much. Distorted guitars still lurk in the corners of the mix, and Hood continues to weave together characters full of bad thoughts and worse decisions—though it’s apparent the band learned a few things from recent side projects backing R&B luminaries like Bettye LaVette and Booker T. Go Go Boots largely leaves the hard rock behind, and still manages to groove in a way that we haven’t heard before—a remarkable accomplishment for a band that has been together for over 20 years and put out close to a dozen full-length records.

You wrote in a letter to fans, “If The Big To-Do was an action adventure summertime flick (albeit with some brainy and dark undercurrents), this album is a noir film.” Go Go Boots definitely sounds different in tone and style, but the tracks for both albums were recorded around the same time. Did you know how you wanted the tracks to be split up as you went into those sessions?

Yeah, pretty much. We had a pretty specific record and sound we wanted to make with The Big To-Do, but we had these other songs that didn’t quite fit. We still felt really strongly about them, so we decided to go ahead and record everything—and just kind of separated them out.

We knew early on while cutting songs that they would be on the second record. It was actually kind of fun working that way, because it enabled us to take a longer amount of time on the record—more than we’ve ever really had the ability to take before. Last year, whenever we had time off from the road, we’d go in and just kind of piddle with it—working with it for awhile at a pretty leisurely pace. I think it suited this type of record a lot.

Go Go Boots is certainly a lot more laid back than its predecessors, and has a lot more of that Southern soul vibe. Is that a by-product of growing up in the Shoals of Alabama?

Certainly. This record definitely addresses the music of our upbringing in a more direct way than we ever have before. That’s something that we’ve always wanted to do, but it’s really just now that we’ve gotten to a place where we can do the music justice. There are elements as far back as our first record—a song like “Sandwiches for the Road” probably would have fit really well on this record. But it takes a certain amount of discipline as a player to be able to really give that music justice.

We were also influenced by the side projects we’ve done. While working on the Bettye LaVette record [2007’s The Scene of the Crime], we kind of had to learn a new way of playing in order to do that record. Likewise, when we did the record with Booker T. [2009’s Potato Hole], we learned so much from him, even with the really brief period of time we had. It was like a graduate level course in song construction.

A big part of this album’s beauty is the grooves that you guys fall into—it seems effortless for a lot of the record. You and Mike Cooley have been together forever. How have you guys grown together as musicians in that time?

I love playing with him. We’ve played together for 26 years, and didn’t get along for many of them. We actually get along great now, but the first 10 or so it was pretty rough going a lot of the time, and it can still turn on a dime. [laughs.]

Does that tension make for better music?

It’s not a bad kind of tension. We obviously have a lot of respect for each other— otherwise it wouldn’t work. We’re just both very strong personalities, and we’re about as different as could be, but we have a huge respect for the differences because we’ve realized that it makes us a better band. And at the end of the day, I love his songs and I love what he brings to the table on my songs. His playing is very—I won’t say undisciplined, because he’s an extremely great player—but he plays with a certain wild abandon and bravado that I find very appealing to the songs that I write.

It also makes for a really nice contrast having John Neff on one side and Cooley on the other. Neff is an extremely tasteful and disciplined player, and the two of them really never clash musically. It’s pretty amazing how well they play together—because they both bring such different things to the table—and I really consider myself lucky that I get to stand between them.

Hood (center) and Neff (left) hang back while Cooley (right) takes a solo at a March 18, 2011 show in Denver, Colorado. Photo by Michael Bialas.

Hood (left) with bassist Shonna Tucker (middle) and guitarist Mike Cooley (right) at a February 2011 show at the Vic in Chicago. Photo: Robert Loerzel.

“Everybody Needs Love” is a great cover of the classic Eddie Hinton song—another Muscle Shoals alum. I understand it was originally recorded for a Hinton tribute 45?

Yeah, there is a little record store in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the guy who owns it is a huge Eddie Hinton fan. He wanted to do a series of 45s paying tribute to Hinton, with other people recording his songs. We were asked to do the second record in the series and recorded it around the same time we had studio time booked for our record. It kind of reshaped Go Go Boots—for lack of a better way of putting it—by helping us find something we were looking for on the record. Including “Everybody Needs Love” and “Where’s Eddie” (another Hinton track) on the album was a huge inspiration in writing and recording the first and last song, “I Do Believe” and “Mercy Buckets.” Those songs probably wouldn’t have been on the record had we not done Eddie Hinton’s songs.

The Hinton songs seem like these small moments of joy on an album otherwise filled with darker themes.

I kind of feel the same way about “I Do Believe,” and “Mercy Buckets,” as far as being the counterpoint to the darker elements on the record, and it sort of became part of the unintended theme of the record. To have these different characters, some of them obviously being misguided and doing destructive or bad things, and then have this other thing in there that’s more positive—someone maybe finding the light. In all of those songs, the redemption comes through a kind of lasting love. It sounds trite and cliché to say love is the answer, but maybe it really is.

Are you into the tone and gear sides of the music, or do you just like to grab a guitar and go?

I’m very much into tone, but I like finding it in the simplest way possible. I won’t say it’s due to laziness, but I don’t play a lot of notes. I gravitate towards as few notes as possible to present the melody that I hear, so I want each of those notes to really sound good. It’s probably something I’ve searched for as long as I’ve played. In recent years I feel like I’ve kind of found my sound, and I’m very happy with that. And I’ve found it in a pretty simple way with a tube amp, a speaker, and maybe one pedal—maybe not.

What amp did you go with on the album?

I’m mostly playing through a ’72 Fender Deluxe Reverb, and that’s been sort of my amp of choice for a while. It’s nice in the studio because it’s not so big, and you can turn it up and get it to break up just right. There’s really no need to have a huge amp in the studio. I also played a ’66 Deluxe Reverb blackface reissue that I got around the time of my solo album, Murdering Oscar, and also played through it on A Blessing and a Curse.

There are probably also a couple songs where I’m playing through one of [longtime DBT producer] David Barbe’s Ampegs. He’s got a bunch of really cool vintage Ampegs around the studio, and at any given time he might swap them out to see how it sounds. A lot of times, unless there’s something specific in my head, we’ll leave it to him. He knows what’s going on the tape and how it plays with the other stuff.

Fans are pretty familiar with your ’69 Goldtop, known as Estelle. Is that what we’re hearing on the record?

On this record I’m mostly playing my SG. It’s like the cheapest Gibson SG you can get without being an Epiphone. It’s unfinished—just brown. I got that around 2003’s Decoration Day, but started playing my Goldtop around 2005. I switched back to the SG about a year and a half ago when we were working on this record, because I was liking the sound better for what I was doing.

What did you hear in the SG that made you switch back?

I just like where it breaks up. I can make it sound really clean or really dirty without touching a knob, only by attacking the strings. It’s just a good guitar.

Is the SG tuned down?

Part of the sound we get is from tuning down a step, but the SG is tuned standard. At any given time, there’s probably going to be one person tuned standard, one person tuned down and someone else going one way or the other. We use all kinds of different tunings with all of these guitar players—it keeps everybody’s sound different.

It sounds like there’s more acoustic on this album as well.

Yeah, there probably is. I’ve got a custom-made acoustic from a guy named Scott Baxendale, who relocated to Athens about a year ago. He’s an incredible master luthier, and built me the guitar a few years ago. I just love that guitar—it’s a smaller parlor-style acoustic, but it has a little bit longer neck scale to accommodate my tuning. He studied video of me playing, and tailored the neck and everything else around what he saw. The first time I picked it up, it was the most amazing playing guitar I had ever played. So I’m playing that pretty much anytime there’s an acoustic.

I also have an old Craftsman acoustic, but I have no idea how old it is. Scott rebuilt it by re-bracing it, straightening out the neck and putting new tuning pegs on it—it’s a really cool guitar. And it really records well—it’s got a cool sound when you put a mic in front of it. It kind of cuts in a different place than any other guitar I’ve got. I’m playing that on the song “Santa Fe” on The Big To-Do.

Hood takes a break from riffing on the SG to belt out some notes at a January 2011 show in Tampa, Florida. Photo: Ian M. Ireland.
You’re known for having a uniquely analog mindset in the studio. The album’s liner notes say the album was tracked to “glorious 2" tape” and mixed to half-inch. What do you like about the analog approach?

I like the warmth of it. I love the way it kind of distorts and breaks up a little bit when you hit it hard. You can smash that snare drum a little and get a sound that you just don’t get with digital, because digital’s so clean and perfect. Sometimes if you turn up that snare a little to where it smashes against the tape, it becomes part of the sound.

You guys also maintain a pretty hectic touring schedule, meaning you play a lot of backline gear. What kind of amps are you playing on the road these days?

I’m playing a Fender Vibro-King from the Fender Custom Shop. It’s a bigger amp with three 10s, and I’ve been playing that for about a year. I stumbled onto one last summer when we were playing a festival in Europe—that’s what they had for me in the backline instead of what I had asked for—but I fell in love with it. I came home and ordered one the day I got back, and that’s been my live amp ever since.

What’s your pedalboard look like?

I don’t have a lot of effects. I’ve got a Boss DS-1 Distortion, which is probably the one I use the most, and a tap tempo delay, which I usually use one to two songs a night. I use a phase shifter one song a night on Cooley’s “Birthday Boy,” although I didn’t use it on the record. I also have an Electro-Harmonix Holy Stain, and I used it on “The Flying Walindas” on The Big To-Do, although I don’t use it live anymore. A lot of times for what I do, it works best to keep things pretty simple.

Patterson Hood's Gear Box

Patterson Hood uses mostly vintage and analog equipment. He uses D’Addario strings. All cables are Rapco Horizon.

(Main) Baxendale Harwood - 12-fret, ebony fretboard, koa back and sides, spruce top
(2nd) Kay Craftsman - 14-fret ebony fretboard, mahogany back and sides, spruce top This has gone through Scott Baxendale’s “Harmony Conversion” process, which consists of resetting and refretting the neck, removing the back and replacing all the braces with Baxendale’s bracing pattern, and finishing with a new bridge saddle nut and tuners.
(Mando) Kay Uku/Mandocello - 14-fret ebony fretboard, maple back and sides, spruce top. This is a parlor guitar converted into a mandolin using the Baxendale “Harmony Conversion” process with a little added twist. Says tech Damon Scott, "As well as the standards of a 'Harmony Conversion,' I rebraced it a little heavier, then cut a bridge and nut for double courses of four and replaced old tuners with new mandolin tuners."

All acoustics use Fishman Acoustic Matrix Natural II through an Ampeg SVTDI tube DI. Patterson plays .013 Phosphor Bronze strings.

(Main) Gibson ’68 Les Paul Deluxe Goldtop with Mini Humbuckers
(Main) Gibson SG Special
Baxendale Archtop semi-hollowbody with Bigsby and Seymour Duncan Antiquitys
Gibson SG Standard
Gibson Les Paul Goldtop Reissue with Seymour Duncan Antiquity II Mini-Humbuckers
Reverend Warhawk with Les Trem
Epiphone Firebird electric mandolin

All electrics use Seymour Duncan pickups when not stock. Patterson plays .011 nickel wound strings.

Gibson Skylark (Mostly used for acoustic solo shows and in studio)
Ampeg Jet (Used for in-stores, solo shows, and as a C amp on stage)
Fender Tube Reverb (This and the ’75 Deluxe are main rig)
’75 Fender Deluxe Reverb (Stock, except for swap of Jensen C12k speakers)
Fender ’64 Deluxe Reverb Reissue (modded to 40-watts, blackface Vibroverb circuit, Class A)
’76 Fender Twin Reverb (moded to class A)
Fender Vibro-King (Patterson’s main backline amp)
Ampeg Gemini I (David Barbe’s amp used in the studio)

All repairs maintenance and mods by Steve Hunter at Thee Electrick Church. Athens, Ga.

PedalTrain 2 pedalboard
Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus
Boss TU-2 Tuner
Boss GE-7 Graphic Equalizer
Boss SD-1 Super OverDrive
Roland RE-20 Space Echo
Seymour Duncan STX-01 Pickup Booster
Electro-Harmonix Holy Stain
Electro-Harmonix Small Stone
RapcoHorizon A-B-Y

All cable looms are made by tech Damon Scott using many supplies from RapcoHorizon.

At the vintage market’s peak, guitars were one of the sexiest investments around. Now, two years later and 30 percent lower, what’s in store for the vintage market?

A forest of guitars on the floor of the Chicago Guitar Show.
At the vintage market’s peak, guitars were one of the sexiest investments around. Now, two years later and 30 percent lower, what’s in store for the vintage market? We head to the Chicago Guitar Show to find out. Sitting with Dave Crocker and John Brinkmann, two parts of the prominent 4 Amigos show organization, on the second day of the Chicago Guitar Show, things were both looking and sounding better than they expected. I’d made the four-hour drive to St. Charles, IL, to spend a day finding out what state the vintage guitar market was in, and the first impressions were promising.

There was a steady, robust stream of players coming through the doors of the 23,000 square foot DuPage Expo Center, even on one of the first truly beautiful weekend afternoons of the summer season. The tabletops stretched from corner to corner without leaving any significant holes in the floor plan, and all were well stocked with beautiful pieces. Abbreviated guitar and amp demos bounced off the walls and floated around the room—thanks to flyers littered around the hall requesting that players limit their testing to one minute, for the sake of the acoustic dealers in attendance. Dealers eyed the front entrance for walk-ins. You might not call it a smash success, but for all intents and purposes, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. I asked the two amigos about their impressions of the show thus far.

Dave Crocker (left) and John Brinkman (right).
“Saturday was a good day. Traffic was about what it was last year, maybe down a little bit,” says Crocker, a 30-year veteran of the vintage world and owner of Fly-By-Night Music in Neosho, MO. I got the feeling that he keeps a very precise pulse on the show’s comings and goings, and that he’s been pleasantly surprised by the outcome. “We’re not seeing as much stuff walk in as we did last year, but there have been a few pieces—a ’58 EB2 [Gibson electric bass] just walked in with an original owner.”

Although it may seem a bit odd for a longtime show organizer and savvy vintage player to be pleased with flat traffic numbers, it’s a sharp reflection of the odd place the vintage market has found itself in. Recently one of the hottest investment opportunities available to people with nostalgic memories and cash to burn, the vintage market is now down 20 to 30 percent from its 2007 peak, with oversaturated pockets of the market down even further. It has been battered by the same economic forces that have plagued every other collectible market in the US, from muscle cars to guns. An accelerating foreclosure rate, pervasive consumer uncertainty and a drastic contraction of the credit markets brought the emphasis from high-end investments and “pleasure” purchases back to the essentials.

But, interestingly enough, even as the general economic news continues to look unimpressive at best, most of the dealers gathered for the third show of the 4 Amigos 2009 calendar seemed to be optimistic, albeit cautiously so. Perhaps it’s because any investment market is, at its core, a confidence game. If you can first sell yourself on a turnaround, you can sell others on it, too. Or perhaps it’s because it is difficult to extinguish people’s deeply-held excitement in a “passion” market like the guitar. Whatever the reason, it seemed that even the most buffeted dealers were looking forward to the coming months with high hopes instead of high anxiety.

“After Dallas [in April], even the other dealers I talked to there said they had seen an increasein sales before Dallas, and it’s been brisk ever since. I think we’ve turned a corner,” says Jim Singleton, owner of Jim’s Guitars, as we sat in his compact, U-shaped booth. “Things are starting to pick up.”

Jim Singleton (left) and George Tsantis (right).
The Fall
But before we explore that optimism, we should take a quick, cursory step back, if only to truly appreciate how the vintage market got to its current point. Although vintage guitars have been generally considered a good investment vehicle since the mid-1980s, when baby boomers re-entered the market after some time away, the last eight years of the market turned into a frenzy. With the advent of truly easy money in real estate, stock markets that seemed impervious to gravity, and low-interest home equity lines of credit that never seemed to dry up, the vintage guitar market represented a prime opportunity to increase returns and diversify portfolios with similarly little risk. A market long dominated by players and aficionados of great craftsmanship, the vintage world quickly went mainstream.

“The people buying guitars were no longer musicians. They were doctors and lawyers and brokers. The guitars got too expensive for real players to buy,” recalls Kevin Borden, resident PG vintage expert and long-time dealer. “It got insane. There were certain areas of the market that were, quite frankly, 100 percent overvalued.”

The passion part of this passion market was replaced with excessive speculation, done on behalf of more and more outside investors. Musicians had long evacuated for safer, more reasonable territory. Prices lost their footing in logic, and were increasing almost daily. George Gruhn wrote in a 2005 newsletter: “While many dealers and collectors seem to be of the opinion that prices can only go up, it is my opinion that feeding frenzies do not necessarily result in either the best decisions or long term stability.” And even though trusted sages like Gruhn were sounding the warning bells, they were unable to sway a market captivated by $50,000 Strats, $200,000 Les Pauls and no end in sight. It was a party, and the party was good.

Of course, all good speculative bubbles have to come to an end, but the vintage market crash, along with almost every other collectible market, received a great deal of help from a faltering US economy. As the housing market began its painful cratering in mid-2007 and accelerated into the fall, the vintage market quickly followed. It was a logical, expected reaction, according to Jim Singleton.

“A large segment of [vintage] buyers held real estate,” Singleton explained, “so when the real estate market was strong, the money was there and they were investing in guitars and antique cars and baby boomer stuff. When that money dried up, it affected this market and every other market. Just about every nonessential luxury market has gone down.”

1964 Fender Jazzmaster, $9500
Looking back through sales records from 2007 and 2008, Borden is blunt in his analysis of how sharp and how quick the ensuing correction was: “The market started to turn to crap in fourth quarter of 2007. It was an odd market, a soft market in the first half of 2008, and it just became horrendous around September of last year. Take [’59 Les Paul] bursts—a good friend of mine had one at the 2008 Dallas show that he couldn’t sell for $190,000, when he had it marked the year before for $350,000. The entire Les Paul market took a hit because players don’t have $200,000 to spend on a guitar. Another case in point would be pre-CBS Strats. You had clay-dot, spaghetti-logo Strats previously selling for $30k; you can’t give those away at $16k right now. The more common stuff is taking a beating.”

Granted, this is fairly rarified territory we’re discussing, examples of golden-era guitars that have spent lifetimes under beds and inside collections. It would be unfair to use adjectives like collapse or implode to describe the vintage market’s last years. “When I think of those words, I think of 1990, when the vintage car market dropped by 90 percent,” says Borden. The truth is that there have been plenty of bright spots in the interim. Flat tops and archtops have remained fairly steady investments, increasing modestly year over year, and sales of guitars up to the $3000 price point have remained healthy through the entire debacle. Likewise, on the extreme top end of the market, owners of original korina Explorers or pristine 1959 bursts are still receiving top dollar for their instruments. But for anything else in between, even tangentially related to modern rock n’ roll—beautiful, vintage electric guitars that were once within reach of musicians but became the province of investors—the downward correction was very real.

A pair of Gibson Firebirds.
The Bottom
But if the guitar market finds itself 30 percent down from two years ago, and our own economy has yet to show firm signs of stability, let alone a recovery, what explains the optimism of a professional like Jim Singleton? Perhaps it’s because the market finally seems to be shaking it all out. Dealers have weathered the worst of it, and buyers are slowly but surely returning to the floors and shops, buoyed by several months of decent economic news (or at the very least, not terrible news) and low prices. The recent correction has generally been viewed by dealers as a good thing for the market, allowing some fresh blood to get into the vintage game and lowering the capital outlay required by dealers.

But considering how overheated the market became at its peak, it’s also fair to wonder if that market correction has completely run its course. Even Singleton will tell you he has no crystal ball. Although the signs are beginning to point upwards, no one can really say whether the market has hit its bottom, or if it’s yet to come. There’s no strong consensus on either side, and what you’ll hear from a dealer is highly dependent on how he reads the data. Even among Dave Crocker and John Brinkmann, two people with a vested interest in seeing things go upward and quickly, opinions seemed to differ on the state of the vintage market.“It looks good to me,” Brinkmann says, with very little hesitation. “I’m up.”

Crocker hedges his answer a little bit: “I think it’s still healthy, but we’re making some major, major adjustments. A lot of it is due to the economy, but I think part of it is due to the fact that we saw meteoric, explosive growth that wasn’t healthy for the industry.”

Dave Rogers
Dave Rogers of Dave’s Guitar Shop represents another of those dealers cautiously watching for things to turn. While he came to the Chicago Guitar Show with enough guitars to fill a dozen tables (more reissue stuff than true vintage, it should be noted) and his area commands a steady flow of foot traffic, he’s maintaining a sense of caution and patience for the free hand of the market to do what it will.

“The vintage market really peaked about two years ago,” he told me. “It got so crazy and inflated—bursts selling for $400,000; blackguard Teles selling for $60-$70,000—it just had to correct itself. And it is correcting a little bit, but I don’t know if we’ve found the bottom yet. The prices still have yet to really find themselves, and once they do, I think they’ll be a little lower than they are now.”

Jimmy Wallace
“I think it’s leveling out. People are fighters, and once everybody has kind of moved through the stuff that they were pretty deep in, both on the public end and the dealer end, then this thing will level itself out and become healthy again,” says Jimmy Wallace, of Jimmy Wallace Guitars and the Dallas International Guitar Festival, echoing much of the same sentiment. “In the end, if anything,the good out of this is that it will make it easier to do business from an operating capital standpoint, because I don’t have to go spend $50,000 for a maple-necked Strat. It’s hard at first, but once it readjusts itself, I think we’re going to be okay.”

That adjustment has taken longer for some dealers than others. Like homeowners realizing their $400,000 mortgage is now only worth $290,000, some dealers are reluctant to realize a huge drop in the value of their assets. It’s resulted in a kind of pricing paralysis by some retailers, and it has manifested itself into a waiting game between buyers and sellers that has muddled signs of a bottom.

“A lot of the dealers are still asking prices that maybe would have sold two years ago, but nobody’s buying today,” says Zachary Fjestad of Blue Book Publications and PG’s “Trash or Treasure” column. “I think a lot of the dealers got pretty far in. They never thought there was going to be a market correction, and they don’t want to reduce their prices because that shows that everything is negotiable again.”

Options abound on the Chicago floor.

The Future

Of course, the laws of supply and demand, and the dealer mantra of rotating stock, regularly tell us that these reluctant holdouts can’t last long. So, does that mean we’re now looking at an unparalleled buyer’s market in the vintage world? Once again, the answer likely depends on where you sit. If you’re buying vintage guitars as a straight investment (as a money-making proposition), it may be wise to keep an eye on that piece you’ve been waiting for a little longer, until dealers start adjusting prices downward even more to get pieces moving again. “We’ve still got guitars out at prices from a year ago that aren’t selling, so I think we’re going to reduce prices on our vintage stuff to make it happen,” says Rogers. “Everybody is going to do that until they start selling and until we find that happy medium.”

That said, players who have a real love for the instrument but found themselves locked out of the market in the past few years will find this an excellent time to take that step back into the vintage market. Depending on your guitar of choice, bargains abound: good Juniors and SGs are underpriced; Stratocasters and Telecasters are back within reach of players; and refins and repaired guitars are once again viable, affordable options for guitarists needing a “player” they can actually use. “Pricing is down across a lot of sectors of the market, and for the first time in a long time, musicians are buying gear again,” says Kevin Borden.

It’s the fact that musicians are actually returning to market that gives many dealers hope for the future. The passion is returning, and another generation of buyers can now have access to it. “It’s a great time to buy a guitar right now, the best time I’ve seen in 20 years,” says Jim Singleton. “With so many of them on the market, you can pick through them, find the best one and still get a good price.”

“I think it’s great. People are loving it, and we’re having a good time too, because now we can go to a show and buy things at a fair price and sell it at a fair price and everybody walks away happy,” says Rumbleseat’s Eliot Michaels a few days following the Chicago show, when asked about his impressions of the post-correction market. “We used to go to guitar shows with exorbitant amounts of money and walk away with one or two guitars. Now we can go to a show with a small wallet of money and walk away with a lot of guitars, and actually be able to sell them to people. Everybody’s happy.”

To evaluate the state of the vintage guitar market, Adam interviews the Burst Brothers, experts on the subject.

When we set out to track the peak of the vintage market in 2006 and its subsequent correction in the years since for this month’s cover story, two of the first people we called were Dave Belzer and Andrew Berlin, an enterprising pair of Southern California vintage dealers known by most of the guitar industry simply as the Burst Brothers.

Hidden behind their sunglasses and easy-going nature lie two of the sharpest minds in the vintage world, and they’ve proven a knack for making bold moves at the right times, perhaps best illustrated by orchestrating Guitar Center’s 2004 multi-million dollar acquisition of a trio of iconic guitars at auction, including Clapton’s Blackie and Cream-era 335 and SRV’s Lenny. We sat down with Belzer and Berlin in late May to get their takes on the current state of the vintage market and their predictions for the future.

Where have you seen the vintage market go in the last six months to a year?

DAVE: Within the last year, obviously with the state of the economy, it’s about where most things are at: people’s houses and most collectibles are down 20-30 percent on average.

DREW: There are not people lined up like there were to buy vintage guitars. For a while, it seemed like a lot of people were wanting to buy guitars not just to play and enjoy, but as investments. A lot of people were using their home equity to do it, and we’ve seen a lot of that slow down. However, within the last month we’ve seen it pick up – definitely within the last few weeks.

DAVE: I would say within the last two months it has started to pick up. Two months ago it was the lower end – stuff in that $500 to $3000 range – but within the last month we’ve started to really get people who are inquiring about higher-dollar items, and suddenly we’re starting to move some guitars over the $10,000, $20,000 price range. It’s the people that still have a passion and love for the instrument, and they’re not in it so much from an investment standpoint as they are for the love of the instrument. And I think people are starting to feel a little better about spending money. It’s a good time to buy. The fact that everything is down somewhat means that if you’re a buyer, it’s not a bad time to be in business.

DREW: Additionally, there’s more availability now on things that were harder to get before. Prices got so high that people figured, “it’s time to sell,” while there are other people selling because they have too much money tied up in properties, and they feel that they can still get more out of their vintage guitar than a house or something similar.

Are there any sectors of the market that were particularly hard hit by the market’s correction?

DAVE: I would say Fender across the board – bass-wise, Fenders weren’t hurt too much, but guitar-wise, everything Fender has been a little soft and slow.

DREW: You have to realize that Fender was a mass-producing company that made tens of thousands of sunburst guitars in the sixties; their goal was to get as many out into the public as possible. It took longer to carve a Gibson and to glue the neck in, and Fender was slapping the necks on and turning them out. And they’re great instruments, but I think they got a little heavy there – they needed a little correction as they started to get a little ridiculous. I think they’re adjusting now.

What about the very high end of the market – how were amazing Bursts affected, for example?

DREW: I think at this point a perfect Burst is still going for the same amount of money; there are just so few of them for sale. What we’re seeing is that there are a lot of Bursts on the market, but they are generally plain and not exciting, not flamey or they have issues. I would still think that if you found the right Burst you could get $600,000 for it if it was flamey and in perfect condition – there are still guys who would be willing to spend the right amount of money for the right instrument. The ones that have gone down in value are the ones that are not that exciting or have issues.

DAVE: Even as of six months ago, there were some Bursts that sold for over $500,000, but keep in mind these were the one or two in 1500 that were so phenomenal, so flamey, so light and ‘59s. A ‘58 isn’t going to get it, a ‘60 isn’t going to get it, but if it’s the right ’59, it’s going to get top dollar, and there are buyers lined up for that.

As we move towards vintage shows like Arlington, which are really considered barometers of the market, what are you keeping an eye out for?

DAVE: You’re hoping to see the public bring some instruments out for sale. I’m hoping that dealers become a little more realistic to what pricing is today – it seems that you’re still going to guitar shows and seeing the same price on instruments that was there two years ago at the height of the market. I haven’t quite seen that adjustment yet. Also, I’m expecting to see less high-end stuff, because the high-end is so soft right now that dealers aren’t even bringing that stuff to shows right now. We’re all trying to buy that lower end stuff.

Is this a buyer’s market for the players who have been sitting on the sidelines, or do you believe that people should wait longer, that there’s more to fall?

DAVE: My recommendation would be that yes, if you have the money, this is a buyer’s market, especially for Fender stuff. It’s a good time to buy; try to buy the best, cleanest, original piece you can.

DREW: There are still pieces that I don’t think have completely matured in terms of being collectible, that haven’t been completely collected up where you can’t buy any more of them and the price gets higher. I won’t say exactly what all of those pieces are [laughs], but there are still some pieces that you can buy that are a good value in terms of how they will appreciate, because there just weren’t that many made, and people are starting to become hip to them.

A good example would be amps. Amps have been doing very well, and we’re selling a lot of amps, especially smaller amps. The appreciation for amps is growing and it’s one of those markets that we’re doing very well in.

As older vintage pieces become rarer, does that mean some of the newer pieces from the ‘70s and ‘80s are going to see a corresponding rise in value?

DREW: Guitars from the ‘70s were not considered vintage when I was doing shows in the early and mid-‘80s. If you had ‘70s guitars in your booth, that was kind of a no-no. You weren’t taken seriously if a [Fender] guitar had three bolts in those days. Now we can’t find enough good early ‘70s stuff to keep in stock. There’s a very big market for those guitars that’s growing.

I don’t know if it’s going to bleed over into the ‘80s – I don’t think so [laughs], just because there’s gotta be some cutoff there. In my opinion, some ‘70s Strats were decent, but they weren’t of the quality that four-bolts from the ‘50s and ‘60s were; yet, to some musicians, that era in the ‘70s was my ‘50s, and so they still see them as vintage instruments.

DAVE: Believe or not, there is a little buzz about ‘80s Fender reissue stuff right now. The early Tele reissues, the ‘57 Strat reissues – they’ve really jumped in price within the last year and there’s a lot of desirability. ‘80s Gibson dot 335 reissues also seem to be hot. That stuff falls into a certain price point, and they’re good, quality instruments.

DREW: The early ‘70s dot necks were made by the archtop luthiers that were making Gibson’s archtops in the ‘50s and ‘60s; if you can get one of these, they can make for a great workhorse, and you won’t have to spend $20,000 on a vintage 335.

Are vintage guitars going to remain a good investment moving forward?

DREW: It’s hard for us to predict – I never thought they’d be close to what they are. In this business and doing it for so long, I never thought I’d see a burst hit over $100,000, or over $500,000. But I would assume that vintage is what’s hip for young people to use, and even if vintage for them is seventies, it’s still vintage. There are a lot of good guitars being made now by Gibson, Martin and Fender, but there’s something about the mystique of the vintage piece – its sex appeal, what it does, the mojo, the inspiration that you get from a piece that’s been around for years and continues to get better and better. I seriously doubt that that feeling you get from picking up a really cool, old piece made in the ‘50s or ‘60s will go away.

DAVE: And people are still going to want a ‘52 Telecaster; they’re still going to want to want a ‘50s Les Paul, because that’s what Jimmy Page and Duane Allman played. Those artists are always going to be icons, and guitar players are always going to want those instruments and the sound they created.

DREW: I do want to say that some of the people that Dave and I have built collections for throughout the years, there have unfortunately been a couple of people that needed to sell their instruments because they came up against hard times, but generally, I think that people appreciate that they took the chance 10, 15 years ago when these prices were way lower, but were very high prices at the time. They bought instruments thinking they were paying a lot, and a lot of those people are just really grateful now because the money they allocated for those instruments they would have just played the stock market with. A lot of people have called us and thanked us for recommending vintage guitars – they still have them, they still love them, and they’re still incredibly valuable.

Peavey''s Vypyr boldly goes where no modeling amp has gone before

Download Example 1
Dlx model, green channel (clean); Pregain 2:00; Bass 12;30; Mid 12:30; High 1:00; Post Gain 12:30; no reverb or delay. Guitar Vol at 10, Tone at 8.
Download Example 2
Plx model, red channel (dirty); Pre Gain 3:00; Bass 1:30; Mid 12:00; High 12:00; Post Gain 2:00; no reverb or delay. Guitar Vol at 10, Tone at 8
UNK Standard in bridge position into Peavey Vypyr 60, close mic’ed with SM57 and run into a ProSonus Audiobox and Cubase 4. Guitar by Randall Davis.
Click here to listen to our latest Amp Room podcast interview with Peavey's General Manager of Product Development, Fred Poole
Although Peavey has been working diligently for decades to make solid state amps sound like tube amps, last year’s release of the company’s ReValver modeling software seemed to signal a real technological breakthrough—the modeled sounds were so good, and recreated in such technical depth, that it seemed like one company had finally cracked the code to realistic, three-dimensional amp models.

It should be no surprise then that Peavey’s latest generation of combos are packed with the company’s slickest modeling technology yet—the Vypyr line features Peavey’s now mature TransTube technology and a blazing 32-bit floating point processor—but it may be surprising that the Vypyr has not managed to completely slay the valve. The Vypyr 60 and 120 models include a full complement of preamp and power tubes to provide the “feel” that’s been missing from so many other attempts at modeling. And while that hybrid approach isn’t completely new, Peavey’s execution is, meaning the Vypyr may very well be the first modeling amp to win a spot in your gear room.

Welcome to Your Spaceship
From the very start, it’s obvious that Peavey wants us to think of the Vypyr not as just another modeling amp (yawn), but a technological step forward (yeah!). The Vypyr Tube 60 is packed with a lot of powerful technology, but it’s the amp’s face that really delivers that futuristic message. Turning on the amp triggers an epilepsy-inducing lightshow on the front panel (this can be disabled), with the red and green LEDs surrounding each “encoder” (not knobs) dancing wildly until you plug into the input jack. I felt like I was on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, which, depending on your particular sensibilities, is either a very cool or entirely unnecessary thing.

And while having LEDs instead of numbers and lightweight encoders instead of beefy knobs initially felt a little alien, it’s a quick adjustment once you see how it all works together. Because the Vypyr includes so many tonal options the front face needs to be flexible. It works like this: your first three knobs from the right of the input— Stompboxes, Amp and Effects—control the main functions of the amplifier, and are ordered to simulate the order in which you would run a regular rig. Pressing either the Stompbox or Effects encoder will bring you into edit mode, and you’ll see the LEDs encircling the next group of encoders—Pre Gain, Low, Mid, High, Post Gain—switch instantly to represent the parameters of the effect you are editing, along with the amp’s Delay and Reverb settings. Press it again to return to your amp’s controls, or hold it down to bring up the Vypyr’s built-in tuner. Press the Amp encoder to switch between “channels,” and you’ll similarly see your LEDs change to reflect the different settings.

All in all, it’s a pretty slick and surprisingly easy to use interface, and the stompbox/effect editing process is as straightforward as it can be. A line of Bank and Preset selection buttons are positioned underneath the three main encoders and allow you to quickly store any of your settings with just a touch of the button, much like a car stereo. And while this should do the trick for the average user who will just fiddle with the thing each time they play, power users will definitely want to upgrade to the Sanpera I or Sanpera II foot controller, which makes all of the patch business a lot easier (more on this momentarily).

Future Rock
All the flashing lights in the world mean nothing if the tone’s not there, and I’m proud to report that the Vypyr 60 does not disappoint on this front. Backed by 60 watts, the 12 included amp models are all generally solid and include two channels; amps that don’t normally include a second channel have been given an additional “hot-rodded” circuit to choose from. Peavey has also painstakingly recreated the EQ sections of each amp model so that that they react as they would in real life, giving the Vypyr some definite tweaker cred.

It should be no surprise that the Peavey amp models, including the 6505, the JSX and the Classic take the awards for best recreations, but there are some other nice surprises to be found in the Vypyr as well. Thanks to the inclusion of a 12AX7 and two 6L6GCs in the power section, in addition to the Vypyr's ample processing power, the clean Twin and Deluxe models have a depth and sweetness that will surprise a lot of tweed aficionados, while both of the Plexi’s channels mustered up plenty of thick, organic crunch. The Dzl and B-Kat models also deserve some kudos for their nuanced tone and versatility—it’s not often you can find boutique tones like these in a compact package and at a bargain price.

Of course, even with the inclusion of valves these are still only models of classic amps, so you might find yourself wanting more at times. The Vypyr Tube 60 definitely makes a big step forward in terms of sensitivity and depth, but some of the models still lack the dimensionality of an honest-to-goodness tube amp. The high-gain stuff sounds good at medium levels, but the models tend to tonally run together a bit under the weight of multiple gain stages. With the volume cranked on those same models, the single 12" speaker woofs out and the sparse open back design prevents things from being as tight as they could be—that’s certainly not a dealbreaker, nor much of a surprise, but it’s something to consider if you’re planning on chunking out metal rhythms with the Vypyr’s Recto or Triple XXX models on 13 (which the Master knob goes to, oddly enough). There is an Extension Speaker jack, in case you’d like to run the Vypyr into a loaded, closed up 4x12 for more thump.

The Vypyr’s Stompbox models all sound good enough to be entertaining and usable for impromptu jam sessions, but out of the 11 available, I found the drive effects such as the X Boost and the TS model to be the most impressive and usable—they were great at fattening up the Vypyr’s clean channel amps, and it strikes me that no one expected digital effects and amps to sound this good, let alone work well together, a decade ago. If you’re not keen on replacing that boutique board with the Vypyr, no fear; although there’s no effects loop onboard, the Vypyr plays well with pedals, and enjoyed having a boost or OD in front of it. The Effects section really exists in the same category as the Stompboxes—they add enough variance to the Stompboxes to justify their existence, but remain somewhat pedestrian, with the exceptions being the 8-stage phaser which is pleasantly lush and the Rotary Effect, which is always a fun bonus.

With so much to navigate, the Sanpera II foot controller comes highly recommended. It’s a little bulky on the floor, but if you plan on using the amp as a complete rig, from pedals to amp to rack, you’ll be glad you have it. The Sanpera II opens up the Vypyr, bumping the number of presets allowed from 12 to 400, and allows you to use both the amp’s onboard looper and wah/volume effects. It also allows you the option of surfing through banks of patches via the four footswitches, or to operate in Manual Mode, where you have on/off control of each part of the Vypyr’s signal chain—except your amp’s channel, which feels like a major oversight. The only way to switch channels is to do it from the amp’s face or to program two patches into the amp and flip between them. It should also be noted that although the Vypyr is billed as being able to use five effects simultaneously, these include the Stompbox, Effect, onboard Delay and Reverb, plus the Sanpera II’s wah treadle, limiting the available combinations somewhat.

One final parting thought: the Vypyr’s build says “pricepoint” a little too loudly in spots; the plastic on the front resembles Batman’s chest plate, and the lightweight cab construction and lack of a back brace feel too precious for such a serious amp. To be fair, the Vypyr held up fine during our tests, but we had lingering questions about the amp's eventual durability in touring or otherwise rough applications.

The Final Mojo
As processing power continues its freefall in price and electrical engineers drill down on what makes tube amps do that voodoo they do, you can expect modeling amps to get better and better. The Vypyr Tube 60 proves that Peavey means business—they’ve packed a ton of tones and features, including some we didn’t even get a chance to mention, like the USB recording feature and a studio-quality headphone jack, into a combo available on the street for under $500. If you’ve been searching for a wide-ranging, powerful practice or backup companion, you cannot go wrong here.
Buy if...
you want a lot of amp for very little money
Skip if...
you don’t have the space or the money for the optional foot controller

Street $450 Foot Controller Street $199 - Peavey -