“You’re always learning about this thing every time you pick it up…”- Keith Richards
When people view investment through a traditional lens, they think of the stock market, buying property to sell or rent, or even investing in a business. They generally don’t consider investing in guitars. For the particularly passionate investor, rare and vintage guitars can be a viable (and potentially lucrative) investment.
Stuart Goodwin, Marshall Music’s resident guitar expert, says a guitar makes a good investment because it’s more than just a tool – it’s a work of art. “The best ones have history and a story to tell.” Those owned or played by the masters also have a special attraction to investors, collectors and players alike.
Abroad, Eric Clapton’s “Blackie” Fender Stratocaster fetched $959 000 in 2004, and the 1968 Fender Stratocaster Hendrix played at Woodstock sold for $2 000 000. But a guitar doesn’t have to have been in famous hands to be valuable.
Goodwin himself has just purchased a 1962 Fender Stratocaster to add to his collection, which has been a dream of his for over twenty years. “I bought it as an investment, but will play it every day.”
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Like any other investment, you want to buy something that will appreciate in value over time.
“In an investor’s mind, the originality of the instrument is the most important.” says Goodwin. “A guitar that is beat up and shoddy, but all-original with no retro-fitted parts is more valuable than a pristine guitar with some hardware that’s been changed.”
While certain guitarists argue that the so-called “vintage boom” has ended, Goodwin says that there are many prolific collectors in the country.
“Certain guitars come and go in terms of desirability, so one needs to be careful.” Goodwin also says that there are many guitars out there which are highly collectible, but not necessary valuable, and it takes a certain amount of skill to learn which is which.
“Investors should stick to the big American brands, like Gibson (up to 1970), Fenders (up to the late ‘60s), Gretsch (up to the late ‘60s) and Martin (up to the ‘50s).” Those, he says, are the sure-fire winners for return on investment.
His advice for those new to guitar collecting is to start small and build up, so that you won’t lose too much if you make some mistakes starting out. “Do your homework, ask the experts, spend lots of time on the internet and be passionate about it.”
One South African guitar enthusiast, who asked to remain anonymous, advises prospective investors to start by looking into a guitar forum and asking questions – especially preceding a buy. “You have to know what you are buying and what the demand is. It takes skill, risk and a little bit of luck to make a return on guitars.”
There is some dispute on what exactly constitutes vintage, and guitars are often worth what the market thinks they are – so watching the market with a keen eye and knowing what’s out there is essential.
He notes that more expensive guitars will fetch better prices abroad, and cautions that honesty is always the best policy for both buyers and sellers. “In SA the guitar world is small, and reputation is everything.”
Gregory Wall, owner of the Facebook-group Gregory’s Garage and a collector with “somewhere around 40” guitars in his collection, emphasises the importance of insuring your pieces against damage or theft, particularly if your gear ends up travelling or being played. “Take photographs of the exact gear you insure and make sure your policy covers your items both at home and at a venue.”
When it comes to what makes a guitar valuable, Wall says it comes down to a combination of rarity and age.
“Classic shapes and those that appeal to the general public (like Stratocasters, Les Pauls and Telecasters) will always be desirable and easier to sell than more extreme, pointy guitars – although I love those too!”
As a last bit of advice, Wall says: “Always source bargains with cash in hand and keep an eye out for the good deals. Be thorough, as fakes and imitations unfortunately do the rounds.”
Investing in art requires a fair amount of the investor’s soul to be invested along with the money. Those who do it carefully can look forward to cashing out their gear for a great return.
Guitars played and signed by notable guitarists have fetched record-breaking prices abroad. Here are the top five guitar sales:
“Reach Out to Asia” Stratocaster – $2 700 000
Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Fender Stratocaster – $2 000 000
Bob Marley’s Custom Washburn – $1 200 000
Eric Clapton’s “Blackie” Fender Stratocaster – $959 500
Eric Clapton’s 1964 Gibson ES-335 – $847 500
GOODWIN’S TOP FIVE
Stuart lists these guitars as the investment top five, which he says can fetch upwards of a R1 million in the right condition:
1958-1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard
1958-1959 Gibson Explorer
1954-1964 Fender Stratocaster
1934-1939 Martin D-28
1956-1959 Gretsch White Penguin
Always authenticate. Check the serial number and cross-reference it with what was being sold that year.
You don’t have to visit the crossroads to find a good deal. Guitar forums and Facebook groups are great sources of information, and you’re sure to find something if you ask around.
Document your collection individually. Take detailed pictures and record the serial numbers for in case they are stolen or damaged.
If you’re going to keep a guitar in storage for a long time, loosen the strings (or remove them) before putting it away.