Story time! A classical guitarist walks into an instrument shop looking to purchase his next practice instrument; no, this isn’t a setup for a joke! He tries out many models and brands, when all of a sudden, an old classical guitar in a protected glass case catches his attention.
The guitarist notices the condition of the instrument is clearly used and has seen lots of wear over the years. The musician decides that this instrument would be perfect for him to practice technique on, since it does not appear to be a new instrument. The guitarist asks the store representative “how much for that old thing? I’ll give you $200 for it!”. The representative laughs and says “That is an 1883 Antonio Torres guitar! That “thing” is worth over $200,000!”.
How can a single guitar be worth as much, or more, than a house? Many musicians have heard about vintage instruments before, but what makes them so unique and valuable? Are all vintage guitars worth so much? Are they better than modern guitars? In this article we will explore these antique instruments and what makes certain instruments so collectable.
Possible Historical Connections and Nostalgia
The story at the beginning of this article was from a friend of mine who did not know better about the instruments he was looking at! One of the reasons why vintage guitars might be so valuable is because of a historical connection. In the example of this story, Antonio Torres was the man who invented the modern classical guitar, whose design would then influence every single acoustic guitar on the market today.
Besides the obvious age, these instruments are highly sought after because of their lineage and societal importance. Also, you may find vintage guitars on the market that were owned by a prominent player. For example, David Gilmour’s black Stratocaster was sold for a monstrous $3.9 million in a 2019 auction!
Another reason vintage guitars can be pricey is due to a player’s nostalgia. Many musicians and collectors want to play an instrument similar to their idols! If you play electric guitar, I’m sure you would love to play an old Les Paul like many great guitarists of the 1950’s. If you can find one of those original guitars, there will be competition between players and collectors who grew up seeing those instruments. Many collectors these days are buying the vintage instruments they saw growing up now that they can afford them, and that creates scarcity in the marketplace.
One of the most important reasons vintage guitars can be expensive is due to the materials the instrument is made of. Especially in older classical/flamenco and acoustic guitars, you might see some exotic woods that are not commonly harvested these days. For example, many old classical guitars used Brazilian Rosewood, which for a long time was outlawed due to its rarity and endangerment. Also, you will know a guitar is good quality if the wood has survived for so many years and is still intact!
If you play ukulele, you might also be familiar with Koa wood being used on older ukuleles. Koa wood was also almost driven to extinction in Hawaii, so for a long time it was illegal to create instruments out of this beautiful wood. These days the restrictions are a lot less, but it is the rarity of materials that can dramatically impact the price of the guitar.
Of course, some woods are better for instruments than others. Some woods create more sustain, volume, or sweetness; this will obviously drive the price up and will be desired in concert performers!
Supply and Demand
With instruments like this, supply and demand drives the market price up as well! Some guitar luthiers and builders will only create a certain number of instruments, and once they sell all of them, they are no longer available. Going back to the Torres guitar story from the beginning of the article, Torres only built around 150 guitars in his lifetime! Think of vintage guitars like real estate; they aren’t making any more of it, so each one is unique and special.
Are Vintage Guitars Worth It?
So, should you purchase a vintage instrument? I am not one to tell you how to spend your own money, but my answer is: IT DEPENDS! If you are an absolute beginner on the guitar, do not go spending thousands on an instrument you don’t know how to play. However, if you are passionate about guitars and can afford it, vintage guitars can be great investments if you know how to care for them. Also, not all vintage guitars are in playable shape due to their age. Many of them might be beaten up, or they might be in perfect shape but not sound very good because they were never played by their previous owners.
The beauty and uniqueness of these instruments are what drives the market, and if you own one of these instruments you will not see another guitar exactly like it!