Helping you find the value of your vintage guitar

Vintage guitar 'values'

What is the value of my vintage guitar? It is a question that is often asked, but rarely answered definitively, and with good reason. People say that an item's worth is the amount you can get somebody to pay for it. Whilst this is true, especially in the realm of vintage guitar prices, it is not a particularly satisfactory answer when trying to set a reserve on ebay. Or when considering or making offers to vintage guitar dealers. The fact is there is a large degree of subjectivity in any vintage guitar value quoted, but there are certain absolutes. A 1950s Fender or Gibson will always be valuable, for example.

Where can you find vintage guitar values?Vintage Gretsch guitar - photo Freebird

Sale prices can vary hugely depending on where, how and by whom they are sold. Big city guitar shop prices are regularly more expensive than private sales on auction sites and classifieds listings, or private deals between friends. Guitars rare in one place may be very common somewhere else. There are bargains to be had, but also people paying crazy prices. Book values have their place, but if you stick slavishly to these you may well find yourself overpaying for instruments, or unable to sell your own in a convenient time frame. Vintage guitar price guides should only be considered as one opinion.

We all know that some guitars can sell for huge amounts. Vintage Gibson guitar values can run into five or six figure sums. Likewise Fender and Martin. But then there are many lower value vintage guitars, including by the aforementioned big brands that don't seem to fetch more than a few hundred dollars. It can be very hard to estimate a value for a guitar when there are so many subtle variations. Specific identification, knowledge of how old, and of any repairs or replaced parts is essential. With vintage guitar pricing seemingly so unpredictable to the untrained eye, how does one go about finding guitar values?

There are several standard methods to find vintage guitar prices, not all are suitable for everybody, and not all are worthwhile for every guitar. You can find vintage guitar values free of charge if you are prepared to do a little research. But before you decide how you will find the value, here are a few generalisations that can give you a suggestion as to whether your guitar is even worth researching, let alone spending any money on getting appraised.

Is it valuable?

Helpful generalisations for determining vintage guitar values

Any guitar (I mean any) is worth $50 as a wall ornament. But whether it is worth more than that depends, largely, on how collectable it is, and how good an instrument it is.

If you really have no clue of whether a guitar has value, consider the following facts

  • Quality High quality instruments are always more desirable than budget ones, whether vintage or not.
  • Age Electric guitars with the highest value tend to be from the 1950s and 1960s, and to some extent the 1970-80s. Acoustic guitars from the 1930s to the 1960s generally hold the most valuable. One of the reasons people value old guitars is because they were often hand-built to a very high standard. Really old or antique guitars should probably be examined by a specialist.
  • Brand If the guitar is by Gibson, Fender, Harmony, Guild, Gretsch, Rickenbacker, Epiphone, Martin or another very well known brand, it is likely to be of interest to players and collectors. The lack of any branding is a strong indicator of a less-valuable budget guitar.
  • Condition Condition and originality can have a huge effect on vintage guitar sales prices. Replaced pickups and non-original finishes have the biggest impact on a vintage guitars value. Read our article condition is paramount to help gauge the condition of your guitar.
  • Playability A great playing guitar will always be more desirable than one that is, frankly, hard work. In many ways this is linked to quality and brand above.
  • Origin Generally, vintage American guitars are more valuable than Japanese or European models.
  • Rarity Rare guitars can be valuable. If the guitar is branded, yet you can find little or no reference to it online, it might be a prototype or limited edition, and certainly requires further exploration.
  • Autographs Autographed guitars are not especially more valuable than non-autographed versions, unless autographed by a dead icon.. Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly etc. As you can imagine, BB King and Les Paul autographed a LOT of pickguards in their long lives.

How to find a used guitar value

  • Do your own research An awful lot can be gleaned from looking at images and websites online and in books. You can effectively get a free guitar appraisal online, just by posting photos to forums, specialised websites and social media groups. You will get contradictory advice, for sure, but if you ask the same questions in a few different places, a clearer picture will come into focus. There are a lot of guitar experts out there giving out usually accurate information. You probably already have a figure in mind, and merely want a second or third opinion. There are some clever tips you can use based on previous sales data described here: finding free guitar values online, which are enormously helpful for any research.
  • Look up the value in a vintage guitar price guide There are some great vintage guitar pricing books available, generally well-researched and quite exhaustive. If you are just selling one guitar it may not be worth purchasing a copy, but if you are a guitar buyer, such books can be an invaluable source of vintage guitar price information. Naturally the value quoted is only accurate if the guitar in question is genuine, and has been correctly identified and dated.
  • Take it to a vintage guitar expert There are quite a few guitar dealers who can offer an in depth vintage guitar appraisal. You can take the instrument to the appraiser, who will examine the guitar, confirm it's model, age and authenticity. This gives the best chance of an accurate valuation, and you will typically receive some form of paperwork that can be added into any future sale, increasing buyer confidence. Obviously this approach can not help you find values of vintage guitars you do not already own, and it can be expensive, firstly to get the instrument to the appraiser, and secondly to pay for the appraisal itself - in the region of $100 or more. Local guitar stores generally do not have the expertise to offer such a service. Vintage guitar appraisals online are similarly expensive ($50-75), but may be worth exploring. Ultimately, paying for a vintage guitar appraisal is only worth doing if you feel an instrument is rare, or valuable enough to warrant the expense.

Photo Christian Mesiano

How subjective are vintage guitar values?

Vintage guitar dealers usually value guitars more highly than private sellers, but these dealers have a clientele of rock stars, bankers and lawyers, and can wait for a sale to turn up. Private sellers generally sell because they would rather have the money for some other purpose, and perhaps they like to see a great guitar go to a good home. There can easily be 30-40% difference in the two prices.

You may, by now, have a value estimate from an appraiser, a vintage price guide or from your own online research. Remember the adage on an item's worth? - defined by the amount you can get somebody to pay for it.. The challenge for any seller is to actually achieve the price you now attach to your guitar. Just because a guitar has a nominal value of $5000, doesn't mean there will be a queue of buyers waving money at you. A similar guitar may well have sold for a similar price in the past, but unless there is another buyer, this fact is to some extent irrelevant.