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Vintage or Custom: Guitars That Sound and Look Beautiful

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February 26, 2016
Getting that guitar: Invest in custom or vintage strumming

Guitars may be one of the most popular musical instruments. Who hasn’t tried playing a few chords? Now the market for guitars is growing.

Strummers don’t have to settle for any basic guitar at the music shop down the street. Custom-made guitars and vintage guitars offer musicians a wide variety of choices.

“Right now there’s probably a builder for every buyer nowadays, and with the advent of the Internet, you can find them easily,” says John Tuttle, owner of Huntington Guitars, which hand-makes custom guitars in Minnesota.

“People who want a custom guitar are usually looking for a type of sound or a kind of fit,” he adds.

Keith Roscoe, owner of Roscoe Guitars in Greensboro, NC, said the customization of new guitars has grown in popularity.

“It’s not just the one or two standard shapes with the hole in the middle. That [hole] can be offset now, made bigger or smaller. The variations are endless,” he says, adding that all those variations can affect a guitar’s sound.

Custom Takes Time

Building a guitar takes time. Handmade guitars can take anywhere from 50 to 80 hours of work, depending on the level of intricacy, both Tuttle and Roscoe said. But that doesn’t mean a guitar goes from start to finish in two weeks. The wood must be shaped, a process that can take from three to six months.

“You’re going from wood that was a bunch of sticks and slabs to this instrument that’s been glued together and all of a sudden it has 200 or 300 pounds of force subjected to it from all parts of it ... The guitar needs to become comfortable with itself,” Tuttle said.

New, high-end guitars sold at music shops can start around $1,500 and go up to $10,000, Roscoe said, while custom guitars can start around $3,000, Tuttle said.

Oldies Are Goodies

The market for vintage guitars is also wide, says Dan Orkin, director of content and engagement at Reverb, an online guitar marketplace.

Inspect a vintage guitar carefully before buying. There will inevitably be some play wear—marks and scratches that don’t impact the sound or the structural integrity of the instrument. Some people like that aesthetic, according to Orkin.

However, be wary of issues such as a broken neck, he said, which can diminish the value by half.

Before buying a vintage guitar—or any guitar—Roscoe recommended playing it to get the feel and hear the sound.

Guitars from manufacturers like Gibson or Fender have become collectors’ items. A late 1950s or early 1960s Gibson Les Paul Sunburst Flametop can go from a few thousand dollars to $200,000, for instance.

Although guitars generally don’t lose value, Roscoe and Orkin aren’t keen on the idea of the instrument as a collectible investment. 

“Guitars are living specimens, and they need to be played,” Roscoe says.

Orkin agrees. “You shouldn’t be collecting guitars unless you want to play. There are definitely better assets you can buy if you’re looking for financial gain.”

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