Antiques and valuables such as gold, property, art, and even guitars can increase in value over time. Finding the right Fender, Martin, or Washburn guitar can set you up for early retirement, but as you’ll see, not all guitars are created equally.
Certain guitars do increase in value with age, while others do not. Appraisers need to take different factors into account, including the material from which it was made, the country of origin, the amount of skilled handwork that it took to make it, and whether or not a famous person may have once owned it.
In this article, we’ll discuss what contributes to the increased value of a guitar and what you should look out for if your goal is to buy one as an investment.
Quality Material in the Value of Guitars
We all know the difference in quality between the coffee we buy from our favorite little coffee shop and the coffee we buy from a gas station. The same goes for the material used to build a guitar.
Some might say a guitar is just a musical instrument. However, in some cases, it is more a work of art, especially when crafted by hand with mother of pearl inlays or gold-plated parts. In some rare pieces, gemstones are adorned into the wood.
A craftsman selects top-quality exotic hardwoods and then applies his skill to produce an instrument that not only creates a perfect sound when played, but it is also a feast for the eyes.
These woods include Zebrawood, Koa, Lacewood, Rosewood, Redwood, Bubinga, Korina, and Wenge.
The density, thickness, and tension of the wood used to build the guitar all influence the acoustic properties, and the way the wood is shaped causes the response and resonance properties of guitars to differ (source).
In layman’s terms, the “tuning” of the wood gives each instrument its unique “voice.”
Although strings are considered a consumable item on a guitar and need to be replaced from time to time, poor-quality strings will affect the sound of the guitar.
Most investors, musicians, and collectors will not pay top dollar for an instrument with a dull sound. Therefore, high-quality strings could also indirectly affect the value of a guitar.
If you would like to learn more about strings for Yamaha, you can read “Best Strings for Yamaha NTX” to get an in-depth view of the pros and cons of the different varieties.
The Country of Origin
Countries that have a rich cultural history of guitar music produce more sought-after instruments.
Other countries that only make guitars to satisfy the market with affordable, mass-produced instruments for learners and amateurs focus more on quantity than quality.
Just like some countries are well known for wine, art, or design, the country of origin for a particular guitar plays a role in the overall quality and price.
There may be a perception that a guitar made in China is mass-produced and does not have the same qualities as a guitar made in Spain, however, that is not always the case.
In the last decade or two, there are companies like Epiphone, based in China, that create exceptional instruments today.
Countries like Spain, Italy, and the USA have also produced high-quality and well-known brand guitars for centuries. The North American company Fender is one of the largest guitar manufacturers in the world, focusing on both quality and quantity.
How the Condition Influences the Value of a Guitar
“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” is not only a movie title. When looking at a guitar’s condition, there are some key factors to consider. Normal wear and tear damage, including scratches and cracks, can affect the value positively or negatively.
If the guitar was never owned by a famous person or has no historical value, then this type of damage will negatively affect its value.
However, if the guitar was owned by Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, or Elvis Presley yet has damage from being played, it still increases the value, especially if the famous player’s hands caused the wear and tear.
For instance, the soundboard of one of Willie Nelson’s most beloved guitars was played through, creating a hole in the instrument from his fingers.
A collector will pay more for that guitar than a mint-condition guitar still in its original box — even a replica of the same model and brand.
A Skillful Craftsman Adds Value to a Guitar
If a well-known guitar builder made a particular guitar, it becomes more sought after by talented musicians and collectors worldwide.
A client can bring his or her wishlist to the craftsman to get a personalized instrument. If the guitar had been mass-produced in a factory, that wouldn’t be possible.
The value of a factory-made guitar is going to differ significantly from the instrument custom-made by a Luthier. The word Luthier comes from the word lute and describes a craftsperson that builds or repairs string instruments.
One example of a talented craftsman is Jay Lichty. He used to build houses until that market declined. Knowing that he needed to change course, he learned all the ins and outs of guitar making under Wayne Henderson, another famous Luthier.
Today Lichty creates in-demand, beautiful guitars using domestic and exotic hardwoods.
A Previous Owner Could Add Value
A guitar becomes an investment if a celebrity or famous guitarist owned the instrument. Every time such an instrument changes hands, it increases in value.
Additionally, if the guitar is a rare collector’s piece, one of a kind, or custom made, the value of the guitar will likewise increase.
If you can get your hands on “The Fool,” a 1964 guitar that was decoratively painted for and owned by Eric Clapton, over the course of a few years, its value will increase significantly.
The same goes for “The Cloud,” which was built by Dave Rusen for Prince in the 1980s. Also very high on the investors’ list is “Lenny,” the guitar played by Stevie Ray Vaughan and named after his wife. It was sold in 1980 for $623,500 US.
The Age of the Guitar
Age is not just a number when it comes to the value of guitars. Like a good wine, most guitars increase in value with time.
The older the guitar, the more likely it will have historical significance, thus adding to its worth. Some earlier models became discontinued, making those guitars more scarce and more sought after.
If a guitar is extremely old and survived world wars, famines, and depression eras, for example, you know it was cherished and conserved. These guitars end up in museums due both to their value and historical significance.
If you want to know how old a guitar is, you can look at the date on the neck and the date on the body of your guitar. If they match, that is the date the guitar was made.
How Rare Is Your Guitar?
Collectors of guitars and other instruments often seek rare items to add to their collection. Both the rarity and uniqueness of a guitar play a role here. If the guitar is authenticated, documented, and comes with a history and paperwork, it increases in value.
There are scammers and fraudsters out there, just like in the world of art, and it becomes more important to have as much additional documentation as possible to help to confirm the authenticity of a rare instrument.
This list includes electric guitars that are scarce because few were sold during their original manufacturing run.
There may have been many reasons why a particular guitar didn’t sell during its first run, including those that were simply ahead of their time in design.
Some were found too ugly by the public, and others may not have sold because they were prototypes.
Today, these guitars are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the figures below are based on the highest price paid at auction.
Luthier James D’Aquisto built the D’Aquisto archtop. Clients had to custom-order them, and because of his untimely death, he only crafted 370 guitars. The archtop can sell for up to $100,000 US each.
The first Fender Stratocaster with serial number 0100 wasn’t owned by someone famous, but it was for sale for $250,000 US because of its age and rarity (source).
You can pick up a 1959 Gibson Flying V for under a couple hundred thousand today. In the 1950s, people considered the design too radical for their taste.
The 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard (Original Series) was made popular by Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Keith Richards. The price for these guitars can range upwards of $237,000 US.
The Black Beauty is a 1954 Gibson Les Paul Custom. It was aptly named, as it is a beauty. It sold for $335,500 US in 2015.
Only nineteen Gibson Explorers were made in 1959. This is excellent news for owners today as one was sold at auction for more than half a million dollars — $611,000 US to be exact (source).
Whether you buy a guitar for an investment or simply to strum it every now and again, get the guitar that you like and that suits you.
If it’s for an investment, make sure you have a safe place to keep it. If it’s for playing, make sure you play it before you buy it. Feel the neck in your hand. Does it fit your hold? Do you get that “I-want-to-play-this-guitar” feeling? If yes, then go for it.
Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page would be proud.