As the vintage market bloomed in the 1980s, American guitar builders began to offer collectable series guitars in an attempt to capitalize on the guitar collecting craze. In this first of a series article, I would like to categorize these instruments which have been made since 1980 as modern collectables. We will explore guitars from American builders that are now highly collectable and will include guitars that were intended to be so, as well as others that have achieved that status on their own merit.
It can be argued that much of the modern collectable market has been spurred on by the vintage market. Some of the first guitars that were made for collectors were the recreations of the vintage Gibson Les Paul's of the late 1960s. These were guitars that were built to vintage specifications at the request of dealers such as Guitar Trader of Red Bank, New Jersey. My first experience with guitar collecting grew from days of pouring over Guitar Trade monthly magazines and viewing their amazing selection of vintage guitars. It was in those pages that Guitar Trader introduced what was the first Modern Collectable guitar; the Guitar Trader Gibson 1959 Reissue Les Paul. We will discuss the Guitar Trader, Leos Les Pauls and Strings and Things Reissue Les Pauls in later articles. At about this same time period, Paul Reed Smith was building guitars in a small shop in Annapolis, Maryland. It is very easy to see that PRS guitars have had a tremendous influence on several segments of the guitar building art, but as collectables they have consistently led the market. The very first guitars that Paul made are now highly sought after. Many of these guitars are back in the PRS archives as PRS has reacquired many of these from original and subsequent owners. The actual numbers of guitars that were made prior to the opening of the PRS factory in 1985 is not exactly known. Paul has told me that he made about 100 guitars and that about 20 percent of these had maple tops. In my opinion, the most valuable PRS in the world would be the first guitar that Paul made for Carlos Santana. This is certainly one of the most valuable of all Modern Collectable Guitars in existence and if ever sold could demand numbers that compete with guitars that were owned by Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.
There are other guitars built in the period that command incredible prices when they surface. These are the real pre-factory guitars, ones built prior to PRS opening its factory in 1985. These guitars fall roughly in the group of solid mahogany guitars and mahogany guitars with maple tops. Of these the maple top guitars are the most valuable. The guitars in the maple top category fall into three distinct groups, the Santana style guitar, the Sorcerer's Apprentice and what we now know as the Custom. Most of these guitars are still intact and are all exceptional instruments. Some have sold for sums in the $40,000 price range. These instruments were, for the most part, special orders built for individual customers who learned of Paul from an article in Guitar Player in the early 1980s. Still others saw Carlos Santana, Peter Frampton, Neil Schon or Howard Leese and contacted Paul through those channels.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice was a model name that Paul came up with to describe what now appears to be a grouping of only about five or six guitars. There were two in blue, one with a tremolo, one with a stop tail piece.
Until next time, Take care and God Bless.