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28Sep/092

A Wealthy Player’s Guide To Collecting Vintage Guitars

fender-strat-54-title

I'm sure you've seen on eBay, or Craiglist:

"All original 1954 Fender Stratocaster. Nothing changed, the guitar has not been refinished, the pots have not been switched out. Everything on the guitar including the 3-way switch knob is bake-lite. It has been in the closet for all these years and you can now own a piece of Fender history. Found it in the attic, after my dad passed away, never played, still has receipt." Etc. Etc. Etc.

In case you missed it, the ad doesn't mention anything about how the guitar sounds, and it doesn't need to. More than likely, it stayed in its case all those years because it never sounded very good. How can I tell just by looking at the pictures or reading the description?

It's the universal law of music instruments: If they sound good, they're played, if they don't sound good, they stay in their case. And with guitars, if they sound good, they'll be played, and if they sound really good, they'll be played a lot. Fender's custom shop guitars and relic series offer the appearance of a vintage guitar, because the idea is, if a guitar looks old it sounds better. But a new guitar made to look old, still sounds new. A guitar is broken in over time, after years of playing, and there's no way to replicate that without a time machine.

Guitars in pristine condition are either brand new and sound good or old and sound awful (OK, at best). That being said, if you're looking for a piece to hang on the wall, then by all means pick up the all original Strat, because more than likely you won't feel bad letting it hang on the wall for another sixty years or so.

But if you're a wealthy guitar player, looking for an electric guitar that's going to give you a definitive tone--you can't get anywhere else--look for the most beat up piece of junk from 1950-1964, have a professional repairman fix what's absolutely necessary for sound production, no aesthetic repairs, and plug it in to any amp. I promise, you won't be disappointed. I know I never have.

When we look back at some of the most prized guitars, they are the most worn down, beat, and battered instruments around. Whether it's Eric Clapton's "Blackie", Stevie Ray Vaughn's "#1", Rory Gallagher's Strat, Jimi Hendrix's custom painted guitar from the Monterey Pop Festival, or even Jimmy Page's telecaster from his days with The Yardbirds, guitars that look pretty on the wall are easy to find, but a guitar that produces a sound like none other, is a rare find. And when you're a guitar player you're not looking for a good guitar, or even a great guitar, you're looking for the guitar.

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  1. but when you are a collector, you want to buy a piece of history and not necessarily the sound because you are not necessarily guitarist.

  2. Old guitars are played a lot, because they were good guitars when new already.

    It’s quite o.k. to warn not to be taken in by age alone, and beware of closet beauties.
    But it’s rather strange to suggest that “the most prized guitars” are “the most worn down, beat and battered instruments around”. Nonsense, that.

    Get yourself a nice new guitar. And play it.
    That’s what those people you mention also did.

    And play enough of them, and you’ll soon know that a guitar is just a guitar. There is no such thing as “the” guitar.


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