WHERE HAVE ALL THE GOOD DEALS GONE?
I constantly get asked this question or something like it every day. Those of us who have been around a while look at the prices of today's instruments, shake our heads, and reminisce about the "good ole' days" when you didn't have to sell your house to buy a vintage guitar. Even in the age of the Internet, people are finding less and less things of interest to buy, and good deals are getting harder to find. Auction services like E-bay bring many buyers and sellers together, but nowadays, the best you can hope for is "a fair price". I hear some disappointing reports from vintage guitar shows across the country. Lots of "junk" being sold at really high prices, both by dealers and the public alike. So in these next series of articles, I'll be covering three parts. The first part will deal with the used and vintage guitar market. The second part will examine the new guitar market and it's pricing schemes. The third part will look at the effect of the Internet on the pricing of both the new and used/vintage markets.
A long time ago, in a galaxy that seems so far away...there was no vintage guitar market and no vintage guitar shows....just used guitars. In the mid-sixties, the demand for musical instruments began to grow and continued to grow through the early seventies. The music scene was blooming with everything from psychedelic to the British Invasion. Established companies like Fender and Gibson were sold to large corporations, who quickly tried to modernize the existing facilities in order to increase production. Unfortunately, since these large corporations were only interested in the bottom line, the quality of the guitars of this era were less than spectacular. Pick up one of those 15 pound Strats that were coming out of the Fender factory back then (anybody ever notice that they were all dated 1979?) and you get the idea.
So, the musicians noticed that the new guitars and amplifiers were not as good as their older instruments. They started to look for the older gear. Soon, small stores started to pop up across the country, specializing in selling used gear. Then, the "star guitar" factor kicked in. Blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield would influence the sales of Les Pauls and Telecasters throughout his career. Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Peter Green, etc. contributed mightily to the legend of the late 50s cherry sunburst Les Paul. Jimi Hendrix probably single handedly kept the Fender company from nearly discontinuing the Stratocaster.
As we start getting into the Eighties, we see the rise of Strat Mania, "big hair" heavy rock guitar music, and the Floyd Rose tremolo system. The vintage market was pushed to all time highs. Now the international market, fueled by the Japanese, was now demanding the older vintage instruments. Swarms of Japanese buyers were descending upon the major vintage guitar shows across the country. Prices skyrocketed and vintage dealers at the shows were almost laughing at the prices that the Japanese were willing to pay for vintage gear. And it was great while it lasted. Then we headed toward the end of the Eighties and started the Nineties, where the basic axiom of economics started to take hold: supply and demand.
The demand for vintage gear still remains quite high, but the supply has dwindled considerably. All those instruments that were being sold overseas by those "laughing" vintage dealers were now gone from domestic consumption. Those dealers were now finding it harder to replace the items they used to find regularly. Ironically, those dealers have been known to buy back those same instruments they sold overseas. Through the next decade, the number of fine, clean instruments were slowly being taken out of circulation. The number of players in the vintage market has also dwindled. Not only dealers, but the customer base has gotten smaller because only the most well financed collector can afford to collect instruments due to the extreme rise in prices. "Hobbyist" collectors were pushed out because the high dollar stakes took the "fun" out of collecting.
So, now the market was primed for the next phase. A phase that ironically would be started and nurtured by the very companies whose inferior products in the seventies started the vintage market revolution. So the next article will cover the emerging new guitar market and how it has picked up the slack with reissues, limited editions, and signature series.
ON THE CUTTING EDGE OF FASHION...
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