Modern Collector (October 2005)

What Makes Them Go Up?

This month I'd like to explore the various factors that influence what guitars become collectable. Of course, playability and sound quality would certainly be the most important factors. Generally speaking, a guitar is deemed collectable because it's also considered worthwhile as a musical instrument.

The question of who plays a particular model of guitar is the factor that usually the next most important factor. Guitars that are used by a recording artist are collected as a tribute and to emulate that particular artist. The Martin 000-28 and 42 models used by Eric Clapton are prime examples of this dynamic. Another is the late-1960s Fender Stratocaster with the maple-capped fingerboard. There is also the Gretsch 6120 used by Eddie Cochran and later Brain Setzer with the Stray Cats (and the Brian Setzer Orchestra, if you're so inclined). One of the most valuable of all guitars is the '58-'60 Gibson Les Paul Standard, which was made popular through the influential work of the legendary guitarist Mike Bloomfield, and later Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Duane Allman. For many the image of Carlos Santana with a PRS began the fascination and curiosity for that guitar, though it wasn't until 11 years after PRS launched that a Santana model was released.

Many other artists have influenced guitar sales and acquisitions, but there are other factors too. Ibanez made a line of replica guitars that were very nearly exact copies several popular Gibson models. Gibson, in due course, sued to protect its trademarks and eventually prevailed in causing Ibanez to pull these guitars from the market. A lawsuit is now being waged between Gibson and PRS over the PRS Single Cut model. Gibson asserts that the SC infringes on the Les Paul trademark. PRS was forced to cease and desist the production of Single Cut guitars, and overnight they began to be snapped up by collectors who were speculating that Gibson would again prevail in upholding its trademarks.

Many guitar collectors favor instruments with odd colors and/or special features. The reason that any one color of feature should eventually be considered "odd," "special" or in some other way rare is that manufacturers often eliminate options in order to streamline production, thus enhancing productivity and profitability. Colors, special options and even entire lines of models can be eliminated in the process. Many people are quick to seek out these guitars as collectibles, being willing to speculate on their investment potential. The Fender Marauder and Swinger are good examples; certainly rare, but not the best guitars Fender ever made. Another would be the tweed Fender amps of the 1950s and '60s, as well as the brown and single 15" Vibroverbs of 1963 and '64. These amps sounded great, but they were also no longer available new. Gibson produced Les Pauls in the 1980s in sparkle finishes. Those guitars were only in production for a few years, and soon they were being snapped up. Fender followed suit with its "bowling ball" finishes. Each one of these was different, and though they were a tad heavy (think bowling ball), collectors added them to their portfolios.

Other factors cause certain models to go out of vogue with collectors. A classic example of this is the re-release of the Fender Blues DeVille models in tweed. These amps were originally made in the early 1990s but were eventually dropped. This year, however, FMIC came out with the same models, and almost overnight the demand for the old ones dropped. PRS offered a McCarty model with a mahogany body, rosewood neck and P-90s. It could cut through the mix like a switchblade, and though few were made these became sought after when PRS stopped making them. The original guitars were very collectable, and some sold for as much as 30% more than they had as new guitars. The party came to a halt, though, when after just a few years PRS came out with a reissue.

This month's hottest modern collectibles are the mid-80s PRS Customs and Signatures the Fender Eric Johnson Stratocaster and the Fender 50th Anniversary Masterbuilt 1954 Stratocasters (notably by John English and Chris Fleming). Gibson's Duane Allman and Jimmy Page Les Pauls remain hot, as do the new Taylor T5 models. EVH models are always popular, too. Gibson has released an Eric Clapton ES-335 that, in my humble opinion at least, is way overpriced. This is just a few of the guitars that are heating up, but there are tons of other cool guitars out there to collect. Enjoy!

Until next time, Take care and God Bless.

Rick Hogue

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