Why Are Older Guitars More Expensive?

An old guitar hanging on a rusty wire mesh fence inside a storage room

Brand new guitars come in different price ranges. Older guitars and vintage guitars are more expensive than brand new guitars and can sometimes be ten times the price. Today, I will explain why older guitars are more expensive.

Overall, it’s because it’s a collector’s item. Older guitars are rare and can have very sought-after characteristics, such as being used to record a specific song by a specific band. Older guitars also weren’t mass-produced which means the build quality and craftsmanship is better.

Certain eras of guitars are very sought after. This is because they are known by collectors to be particularly good. The thrill of finding something rare and unique also drives people to spend more on older guitars. 

Do Guitars Get More Expensive With Age?

A wall with vintage guitars hanging on display

When buying a guitar there are a range of prices you could pay. But, as a more experienced guitarist, you may be looking at getting a more expensive guitar and be curious whether it will go up, down, or stay the same in price. Here’s what I found.

As a general rule, guitars get more expensive with age. But, lesser-known or unknown brands generally don’t get more expensive with age. Expensive guitars from the top brands will generally get more expensive with age. This is because the brand is known to be high quality, and is sought after. 

Also, if a guitar was used in a special way such as for a concert from a really popular brand, it will get more expensive with age. For example, a guitar played by the band the Beatles or Jimmi Hendrix will get more expensive with age.

Whereas, a standard guitar that is a brand that no one has heard of, won’t get more expensive with age. The reason is that no one is looking for these, or thinks they’re worth having.

As you may know, the biggest and most popular guitar companies are Fender, Ibanez, Gibson, and Martin. These brands are so well known that high-end guitars from these companies will be worth more over time. 

The specific year, brand, and model is super important

Certain periods in the history of a company are known by collectors to be particularly good. As an example, it’s general knowledge among people who collect guitars that the 1974 to 1980 Gibson Les Pauls were amazing and far superior to other Gibson Les Pauls

This is just an example, and the exact years do differ. But, collectors and people who have played a lot of guitars are aware of the difference. And that certain years, makes, and models are MUCH better. Therefore, they are on the lookout for these specific guitars and know what to look for.  

For example, how to tell the difference between a 1974 Les Paul and a 1984 Les Paul. To the untrained eye, they can look the same, and to the untrained ear, they can sound the same. 

But, for someone who has been playing guitar since the 1970s or later, and knows the history of a guitar company, and why certain guitars were made a certain way, certain guitars from certain years are very sought after.

The way the guitars were made, the materials used, and the feel of the guitar that comes with age makes them far superior to other guitars from the same brand. The age and the circumstances that are aged guitar were made, give it a ‘vibe’, and feel that can’t be replicated in a new guitar.

For these reasons, some lines of guitars, and guitars made in particular years are much more sought after than others. And people are willing to spend much more for them.

Collector’s items – those used by famous guitarists

Much like other collector’s items such as shoes, and basketball cards certain guitars can be extremely valuable because of who used them. For example, a Les Paul used by Jimmi Hendrix can fetch north of $50,000.

There are many famous guitarists such as Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd, and Kirk Hammett from Metallica. They can use a certain guitar or a few guitars on an album or a concert. These types of guitars are incredibly popular for collectors, and fans of these bands/guitarists.

Are Older Guitars Better Than New?

A young female and male are comparing and deciding between an old and new guitar in a music store

Every guitar is made in a particular year, and without doing anything guitars will get older and older as the years pass by. Not all things get better with age, and many things can get worse. So, here’s a summary of whether older guitars are better than new ones.

Older guitars are not better than new. Some older guitars are worth more because they are collector’s items. The sound quality of an old guitar is not necessarily better than a new guitar. But, older guitars also weren’t mass-produced which means the craftsmanship is better. 

Guitar makers would generally put a lot of care and attention into guitars made 50 years ago or so. The reason is when the famous guitar companies were smaller. Guitar makers would make fewer guitars but would make higher quality guitars. You can also identify a guitar made by a particular guitar maker who made particularly good guitars.

But, many guitars these days are mass-produced. This means the individual care and attention put into each guitar is less. And this is reflected in the character of the guitar, and in many cases the sound.

The sound of a guitar doesn’t necessarily get better with age

The sound of a guitar changes over time. Over time the wood ages, and dries out. This produces a different sound but not necessarily a better sound. In a video two guitarists compared a Martin guitar that is 50 years old to a brand new guitar:

They found that the sound was different but not necessarily better. The tone of a guitar can be subjective. Some guitars can sound bad and have poor quality sound. For example, the notes can not ring out for a long time. Or, it can produce a flat tone that is unappealing. 

Many people wonder whether the cheapest guitars still sound OK relative to the different price options for a guitar. I explained the answer to this question in this article about whether cheap guitars sound bad.

But, provided a guitar is mid-range to high end, whether a guitar sound good to you or not is a matter of personal preference. The reason is that the sound of a guitar is relative to the sound of other guitars. And there is no objective measure of what is a good tone for a guitar.

Why Do People Love Vintage Guitars?

Brand new guitars sound perfectly fine, and in some cases can sound better than older guitars. Therefore, it can be a bit confusing why vintage guitars and older guitars can be more expensive. Here are the reasons why vintage guitars are sought after.

Guitars from popular brands made during certain time periods were exceptionally good because they had superior craftsmanship. Vintage guitars are also rare as there were only so many of them made. Not all vintage guitars are sought after equally, it very much depends on the brand and model.

Just because a guitar is vintage – meaning it is old, does not necessarily make it valuable on its own. Generally, if a guitar is made by one of the most well-known brands like Fender AND it is old, people will really like it. And it can be really sought after. 

However, the condition of the guitar also matters, and a vintage guitar in good condition will be more popular than one that needs a few repairs, has diminished sound, or is unplayable.

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