Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Why Vintage Isn't Worth It

These are the bullet points for an essay/rant from Ed Roman's website. Ed is known for having strong opinions strongly expressed, opinions that are by no means universally accepted, but this #1 didn't come from his pen, and #2 makes a whole lot of sense to me.

1. Modern guitars are made exactly the same way that vintage guitars were made in the old days.

I'm not sure I'd go with "exactly", but in many ways, the differences are better: CNC machines make the same pieces over, there's years of research into pickups, and environmental regulations push poly over nitro. To be sure, some raw materials were available to C.F. Martin and Lloyd Loar that are less available now. Especially for electrics, I'm convinced that the electronics are far more important than the woods, and electronics have been the subject of decades of improvements.

2. Anytime you are buying something used (vintage) you have to worry about the provenance.

Did Eric Clapton really play this? This is where distinctive instruments, like Clarence's double-wide Tele and Gretsch-necked D-28 come into play. Any picture can establish that connection, or the deeply-damaged finish of Rory Gallagher's Strat, but a blackguard '52 butterscotch Tele looks like any other.

3. Extreme valuations are causing counterfeiting.

4. There is NO guarantee that vintage guitars will hold their value.

I'm torn by this. There'll be fashions in guitars, like the Stratocaster becoming bigger in the 70s after Eric Clapton made Layla or the Les Paul returning after Slash. I think there will always be a value for the older instruments, but I don't think that this value will always be in the tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.

5. How do you protect and insure a valuable vintage guitar collection?

Pribek linked to a story recently where a classical violinist forgot his (but actually not his) Stradivarius violin in a taxi. Strads are crazy valuable, far more than even the most valuable guitars, but the extremes are good for discussion. In a related concept, my dad used to have a sky-blue 1957 Thunderbird, and he couldn't get more than liability on it because otherwise he couldn't drive it or keep it in an unpadlocked garage.

I read that James Burton keeps his paisley Tele in a locked vault because it's too valuable to keep at home. This saddens me somehow.

6. Nobody Cares But YOU and a few other guys that haven’t discovered girls yet!

The value of a thing is determined by how much someone would pay for it. It's pretty much a shared hallucination. That's pretty unstable, eh?

7. There is too much of a disparity between wholesale and retail value in the vintage guitar market.

8. Is a guitar more valuable because a celebrity owned it?

Consider how many people didn't go to the last Police Squad movie because O.J. Simpson somebody killed Nicole Brown Simpson. Then consider how many of your favorite players are people your mom, wife, best friend, brother, roommate, etc. would never have heard about if they didn't share your life.

9. Guitars are just tools.

If you had a wonderful golden-era flathead screwdriver with special alloy tip and rare rainforest handle, you might be so careful with it that you'd never tighten screws.

Anyway, read the article and consider. And I'll hold onto that sixties double-bound sparkle Tele you have while you're considering it.


jesse said...

Interesting rant. I guess it all comes down to guitars sell for what people will pay for them. If everyone thought like Ed, vintage guitars would be cheaper than new ones. I guess a lot of people like the nostalgia that comes from a vintage guitar, and the story it has to tell.

Dave Jacoby said...

The key is that there are people who are making big money investments, believing that vintage guitars will appreciate. "If I hold onto it, it'll be worth money money money!" is a bigger issue than the nostalgia and the story of the vintage. I get it. Ed gets it. We think it's kinda poisonous and very likely to keep good instruments out of the hands of people who appreciate the nostalgia and the people who can make 'em sing.

Thanks for the comment!

Stratocat said...

You really gotta keep your guitarist hat separate from your collector/investor hat. As for investing, this isn't a onesy-twosy game. If you're gonna do that, ya have to do some big numbers and lots of instruments. AND you have to be able to totally detach from your musician side. Don't use the product, or you'll become a junkie too, with the impaired judgement that accompanies being a junkie.

Otherwise, you gotta go for tone alone, which can show up in the most status-less guitars. It's probably best to wear a blindfold in the music store and buy with your ears alone. Of course that's no guarantee of a bargain, but at least you are focusing on sound and feel only.

There's lots said about the right wood, resonance, set-up and the integrity of all the right elements into one instrument. And I appreciate those who build fine instruments. But rarely discussed is how the musician resonates with and through his instrument. Plenty of those old Blues cats blew us away on some real cheesy guitars.

When a guy steps up from a cigar box with a broom handle neck and screen door wire strings-- to an actual guitar, he's on cloud 9. A musician on cloud 9 will transcend considerations about reality.

And some white Harvard MBA investor with a geetar hobby will pay any amount for the cigar box that Muddy made as a teen, just for a virtual pretense of how cloud 9 might possibly feel.

"Reality" is what people agree upon. "Actuality" is another thing altogether. Actually, we're only talking about a few pounds of wood, metal and plastic that can be spun in various ways to various results and effects.

Whatever object humans might create which allows them to express a way to attract the most favorable attention and agreement, will acquire the highest relative value. Otherwise-- a few pounds of wood, metal and plastic...

He who can express, creates the value-- and IS the value, although some are only able to perceive the object.

I hated my Strat because it didn't weigh 7 lbs, didn't have this mojo, that feature or some of the other stuff that fits the super Strat standard. It didn't sound as good as Strats I couldn't own. But then I picked it back up and after some time discovered its sweet spots and how to work it. Lo and behold I found a good Strat was there all along. It was me who lacked the tone and presence.

Everyone wants a guitar that seems to play itself in your hands. I had one of those once too, but it made me lazy, and I had to get rid of it because it wouldn't learn for me.

Trophys are best kept on the mantle.

Sammy said...

I really am starting to dislike the whole guitar "snobbery" of vintage vs. new or "this" brand vs. "that" brand. I listen to dozens of bands and when reading about their gear, there are often "same" sounding bands who use vastly different gear. And vastly different sounding bands who use identical gear.

I like Avenged Sevenfold's latest and they use $650 Schecters straight from the factory. Judas Priest changed from Gibsons to their own signature Hamers. I'm betting that their old songs sound just the same live. Eddie VH changes guitar specs more often than he does booze bottles. Still the same Eddie.

Great guitar players make my shitty guitars sound good and I make my good guitar sound like shit.

Bibi said...

I have always thought about this, to be honest. I won't pay for a vintage guitar, I rather buy one that is high tech because it has all the bells and whistles of modern research results. It can only go better, not worse. The fact a vintage model sounds in a particular way is subject to our own appreciation, it is subjective. We like the sound because somebody played it. You take your new guitar, play it, become a celebrity (!!) and people will fight for your great guitar! Damn!