Monday, May 12, 2008

My Personal Take on Vintage

Dad had three T-Birds when I was growing up. Four, really.

I'm not talking Gibson basses. I'm talking Ford cars.

There was Big Bird, a mid-60s T-Bird which was the family car. It could fit a neighborhood of kids for a trip to school comfortably. Huge thing. If you recall Prince's "Alphabet Street" video, it was like that, except a metallic green and a two-door. The other three were the old 50s style with the fins. I've recently had my memory corrected, so I'll say they were a black '55 with a black top, a canary yellow '57 and the beauty, a sky-blue '57 which I have strong memories of dad fixing up in a tarped-off carport in Virginia.

(Not surprisingly, he had sold all of these off by the time my older sister learned to drive.)

I know there were issues. He wouldn't leave 'em under a tarp in a locked garage. He couldn't leave 'em under a tarp in a locked garage, because at the time, he had a one-car carport. And the times we took 'em out and put the Beach Boys in the in-dash 45RPM record player, those were great.

I know a guy online who plays a 1930s archtop. It has pickups, including a piezo in the trapeze bridge, but he has been asked to turn it down when wasn't even plugged. Imagine having a wonder like that. Now imagine never taking it out because you were afraid for it. Or because your insurance said no.

And imagine wanting to put in a CD/MP3 player, so you can put in a disc full of everything good from Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Bill Haley. Wolfman Jack's not on the radio anymore and you need something to keep the party rolling all night, right? But you can't, because that wrecks the resale. At the time, it was 8-track. My Dad was like that. I got a good education on 50s rock'n'roll in the 70s because I rode with my parents and their 8-tracks. Plus a more than passing familiarity with Olivia Newton-John, which I am significantly less thankful for.

But my point is, I'd love to have vintage gear. I have a vintage lap steel, a Supro. Lap steels are kinda making a comeback, thanks to folks like Ben Harper, but a 1950s Fender lap steel runs around $500 and a 1950s Fender Telecaster runs around $50,000. I'm not in fear that it'll get stolen, and I'm not at all curious about what other investments I could make if I got rid of it. It's under my homeowner's insurance with the rest of my crap, and I'm not too concerned about my kids wanting to drive my steel.

I've just switched my 80s MIJ Tele to (almost) all-black hardware. I'd have to get black Gotohs, a new bridge and a neck pickup cover to really do it right. Plus new straplocks and a jack plate, but that might be going overboard. I'm considering getting some Stuart Duncan stacked humbuckers for this thing and having a good time with the electronics. Pribek sung the praises of a 1meg tone pot, so I'm considering that. But like adding an 8-track to a 57 T-Bird, playing with the electronics of a $50,000 '52 blackguard Tele would be horrible, even if Jeff Beck, Keith Richards and Danny Gatton did similarly horrible things to their '50s Teles back when vintage Teles were 3 for $100.

To switch slightly, my first good guitar, the first guitar good enough for me to improve on, was my Ibanez acoustic. It had a pointy headstock like the electrics, a skinny neck like the electrics, and was made of plywood, or as they say in the business, "laminated top and sides". It was not and is not a great instrument, but it was a perfectly good guitar. There are lots of perfectly good guitars out there. There are great and cool guitars, too. I'd love to have a 1957 Strat, like I'd like to have a 1957 Thunderbird. And if I could say "I make money playing guitar, so it's a tax writeoff", that'd be great, too. (I don't so I couldn't, even if it were true.)

The black 55 went to a guy in Georgia who lived on the swamp where they filmed Gator. The yellow 57 and the 66 were sold in Hawaii, along with a 65 Mustang that got traded for my parents' living room furniture. Another Mustang, a 66, got traded for an EXP, and the blue 57 went, as mentioned, when my sister started taking drivers training. The old stuff is cool and has value, but there's also a price.

Right now, I drive a Toyota Yaris. Inexpensive car, but it gets about 40MPG on the highway, and while I can't tell you that it can get to the 130 on the speedometer, I can tell you it'll get to 110 fairly quickly. And I can play that CD full of Chuck and Elvis on it, and that's pretty fun, too.


Pribek said...

I've got mixed feelings about all of this.
One of the best sounding, best playing guitars I've ever run across was a '57 Tele that had the finish stripped off of it. I had the chance to buy it for $850 about 15 years ago. I'm sure it would be worth way more today (even with the finish issue) but; would it if I had subjected it these club gigs?
I wouldn't feel right about having a guitar that I would worry about.
BTW, you got me to thinking back about the '58 Ford Hardtop Convertible that the old man had when I was a kid.

Unknown said...

That's just it, isn't it? You want something good, you want something cheap, you want something perfect, you want something expendable. I do get it all.

What I don't get is how Eddie made Frankenstein with a mail-order body and a factory second neck and you have to pay $50,000 for the Fender Custom Shop copy of it.

I've seen a hardtop convertable. The idea is just so odd, though. Dad's T-Birds had removable hardtops. Lift 'em off and lay 'em (gently!) on the grass before you roll. And pray for no rain!

Pribek said...

"What I don't get is how Eddie made Frankenstein with a mail-order body and a factory second neck and you have to pay $50,000 for the Fender Custom Shop copy of it."
I was down in Fla. and got to know one of the guys that made a big chunk off of vintage guitars. When Fender started the Custom Shop/Signature Models, this guy bought ten of each. He would sell five and keep the other five, untouched.
In perspective, this guy has 5 SRV's, 5 Clapton's, 5 Gatton's etc. all in ultra mint condition, all from the first day of production.
I was in his shop one day and he was all excited because he had the first left-handed Bill Carson Strat that came out of the shop. I didn't even know who Bill Carson was. While he was showing me the guitar, a guy from Sweden called and offered 30 Grand for it.
So, as soon as these guitars started hitting the streets, there was a secondary market. Which, I'm sure, in turn, helps drive the primary market.

Stratoblogster said...

Dave: You need a tailfins mod for that Yaris. Then, 110 will feel like 130.

Unknown said...

Strat: In my wild youth, I had a 1986 Ford Tempo. From 80 to 85 MPH, it had this terrifying shimmy, but once you got above 90, that evened out. How fast was the top speed? Dunno, but the arresting officer told me he clocked me at 105. He gave me a break and put 98 on the ticket. The Yaris feels at 90MPH what the Tempo felt like at 65.

But I can't help but think that fins might look good on it.

Pribek: I get the crazy market, in a way. If I had money and any confidence that a new signature guitar could sit unplayed in my house for any length of time, I'd look into it. But there's something to the Gatton guitar besides the name. There's something to the Clapton guitar besides the name. A mail-order body, some Krylon paint and a gaggle of reflectors from Auto Zone and you've got yourself a Frankenstein. It's the ultimate FU to the vintage guys, and it's getting the vintage treatment? OMG!

Stratoblogster said...

At this point in time, the guitar buying public as gotten pretty diverse. There have been enough artists down the pike by now, with different guitar mock-ups to create this broad market. People aren't crazy about guitar because guitar manufacturers exist. It's the opposite.

The manufacturers having recognized the present market diversity, are creating products for every niche. To some of us, some of the products seem like contradictions. But they merely reflect the differences between the various niche publics. A company like Fender is more interested in making money than making logical sense for people like us. That doesn't mean they make bad products-- they're just trying to hit every niche and every angle possible.

Actual vintage instruments will always have a high value because of their increasing scarcity, and perceptions generated within the guitar community itself. But vintage instruments don't represent direct new sales for the makers.

Aged guitars, relics, artist models, etc., help keep illusions possible and affordable for all buyers-- and keep the manufacturers in business.

The worst case is that some "Hendrix of the Pan Flute" shows up on earth with such a huge metaphysical impact that the entire culture becomes obsessed with the pan flute-- leaving guitars to collect dust, and guitar makers belly up. Maybe that's when vintage values would also tank.

Then a new pan flute industry will appear, and we'll blog about it.

Meanwhile, some "experts" think that the vintage thing is gonna level out soon. That's relative though. And as long as the archetypal icon instruments are mainly Les Pauls and Strats, the vintage models will continue to be admired by further generations.

Until Hip-Hop, Techno or the pan flute totally steal the thunder of the guitar from the culture (unlikely), the culture will assign extrordinary value to guitars for as many odd reasons as there are guitar players.

Ours is not to wonder why-- ours is to be glad people are guitar crazy instead of pan flute crazy. It doesn't have to make sense.