CAN A NEW GUITAR REALLY BE CONSIDERED A VINTAGE COLLECTIBLE?
Welcome back to the second installment of our continuing series on the state of the collectable guitar market. The first article covered the birth and development of the vintage guitar market. We continue our story as a mature vintage market now runs into the economics of supply and demand. The demand for vintage instruments is still high, but the supply has dwindled down. The quality vintage pieces are now in private collections locked away. What vintage pieces are still in circulation are of lesser quality, but still command high resale prices. So who sees an opportunity to fill the public's need for vintage instruments. Why, the companies manufacturing new guitars, of course! HUH...WHAT? Let me explain...
The growth and appeal of the vintage market was not lost on companies like Gibson and Fender. They were seeing people paying lots of money for models that had originally failed for them in the market place. Collectors were paying three times more for a used Les Paul than they can purchase a brand new one for. Needless to say, they wanted a piece of this action too! Gibson started by reintroducing the Les Paul in 1968. Fender would follow suit in the 1980's by replacing the large 1970's style head stock shape with a smaller "lite" version which would mimic the original models of the 1950's and 1960's. Fender also reintroduced the "blackface" control panel on their line of amplifiers, replacing the now infamous "silver face" panels. The consumer reaction was, while it was a start in the right direction, just having a guitar or amp kind of look like an older model wasn't enough. The new instruments still did not feel, play, or sound like the original models.
Okay, it's the 1980's and it's back to the drawing board for Gibson and Fender. The corporate brain trust looked at the market place and said, "let's go back to the original blue prints and recreate the guitars of the past!" So Gibson created the first official reissue of the '59 Les Paul Standard, the Heritage series. Fender followed by introducing their Reissue series with the release of the '52 Telecaster Reissue. Well, the new models went over better this time with the general public. But the collectors were still saying, "...not good enough...the reissues are still not accurate!" Well, by this time the corporate parent companies of Gibson and Fender, Norlin and CBS, wanted out of the musical instrument business. Both were sold back to groups of individuals who wanted to get back to building instruments for the players. To this day, they have largely succeeded, due mainly to the concept of the "custom shop". The "custom shop" is a separate entity in a separate building, away from the main production lines. The most experienced craftsmen and the best materials available are employed here, without the usual restrictions of time and money. The main objective is simple...to produce the best instruments money can buy regardless of time or cost. The quality of the craftsmanship is so high here that now it is possible to make a guitar look 30 years old, by inducing finish checking, tarnish, dings and dents on purpose.
From these custom shops, a new category of collectible instruments were born....the limited edition/signature models. These instruments can be totally accurate reproductions of certain vintage guitars, a guitar designed for the needs of a certain recording artist, a commemorative edition of a guitar to honor a person/event in history, or even a totally off-the-wall-one-of-a-kind creation. By marketing these instruments as collectible investments, due to their limited numbers, the manufacturer can basically "invent" and "create" a new collectible item every month. The one company that has done this concept better than anybody else is Paul Reed Smith and PRS Guitars. They have a fierce following due to the quality of their instruments, but also the belief that PRS guitars has the makings of being the next great vintage guitar.
Why would anyone buy these limited editions? Well, when you consider the cost and availability of original vintage instruments nowadays, the appeal of these new future collectibles are not surprising. Whether the value of these instruments will appreciate with time remains to be seen. Our next article will deal with the Internet... how it has changed the rules of purchasing instruments through traditional outlets and most importantly, how it will affect the future values on vintage instruments.
ON THE CUTTING EDGE OF FASHION...
You've probably seen them in your town. They've extended their reach beyond the Hawaiian Islands, across the United States, Canada, Japan, and the world! People have traveled great distances to acquire them. Tourists buy them by the dozen to take home a little Hawaii with them.
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