Market Changes

The Folk Boom and the growing popularity of Rock-a-Billy and Rock-n-Roll coming out of the 1950s created a massive demand for acoustic and electric guitars. The 4 largest American instrument manufacturers of the day: Gibson, Fender, C.F. Martin and CMI (Harmony) increased production to meet the surge in demand. Nevertheless, the demand was still too great. Several entrepreneurs looked to foreign companies to make up the difference. Guitars from Europe and the Pacific Rim began to pour into the United States. The cheaper foreign goods pushed the American Big Four to get more competitive by cutting corners to lower prices. The general quality of stringed instruments began to decline rapidly. By the end of the 1960s, the public perception of the quality of a Gibson, Fender or Martin was severely lacking. Players quickly realized that buying a used Gibson, Fender or Martin from the 1950s or earlier was a better deal: they were plentiful, cheaper and better built and better sounding instruments.

The minute it became ‘cool’ to have an older instrument, it hurt the old manufacturers bottom line. It also opened the door to young builders aspiring to become Luthiers. There was terrific demand for instrument repair. In the practice of repairing older instruments, apprentice Luthiers became intimately familiar with how the older instruments were made. Naturally, they began to develop strong opinions as to why the Vintage Instruments were ‘better’. They also began to fashion their own design ideas. Some refined earlier traditional designs and other began experimenting with altogether new designs. A new market for Luthier built instruments was born and began to flourish.

This had a profound impact on the value of used and Vintage Instruments, as well as hand-crafted, custom designed new instruments. The market was changing.

The following exercise is academic: simply to compare the market values of a short list of desirable Vintage Instruments. The term ‘desirable’ here means: instruments that collectors have been willing to pay large sums of money for. The source of information is from The Official Vintage Guitar Price Guide (of several different years) by Alan Greenwood & Gil Hembree, combined with the experience of Vintage Instrument sales at AcousticMusic.Org. All instruments listed reflect examples that are all-original (meaning all the original parts, including original case) and in excellent condition. ‘Excellent Condition’ is defined as: There may be some wear (reflecting age and use) but well maintained with no significant repairs, blemishes or damage.

We have purposely selected a short list of very desirable high-priced items on the assumption that they will better demonstrate market fluctuations over time. This is not, therefore, a good representation of the instrument market as a whole. Please note that this is a very arbitrary selection, purely an academic exercise.

Guitar 2001 2008 2017

1952 Gibson Les Paul – bound neck

Trapeze tailpiece gold top, 5/8″ knobs

$5,500 $35,000 $13,300

1953 Gibson Les Paul

Gold top, Stud tailpiece & 1/2″ knobs

$7,000 $60,000 $23,000

1959 Gibson Les Paul

Standard, sunburst, highly flamed

$55,000 $420,000 $440,000

1961 Gibson SG – PAFs

Cherry translucent finish with Vibrola

$2,800 $10,500 $13,000

1959 Les Paul Jr. – TV

TV yellow, double cut-a-way

$2,400 $8,500 $20,000

1959 Gibson ES-175

175D, PAFs, sunburst

$3,200 $11,000 $9,800

1959 Gibson ES-335 – dot

PAFs, sunburst, no Bigsby

$12,000 $50,000 $41,000

1924 Gibson L-5

Lloyd Loar signed, sunburst

$38,000 $70,000 $53,000

1959 Gibson Flying V

Mahogany, all original

$80,000 $225,000 $340,000

1942 Gibson J-45

Banner logo, Adirondack

$3,500 $7,500 $10,500

1946 Gibson SJ-200


$7,000 $16,000 $12,500

1934 Gibson Jumbo

Sunburst, unbound neck

$12,500 $25,000 $27,000

1957 Gibson L-5C


$12,000 $14,000 $11,000

1924 Gibson F-5 Mandolin

Lloyd Loar signed, no verzi

$42,000 $180,000 $180,000

1954 Fender Stratocaster


$22,000 $105,000 $68,000

1959 Fender Stratocaster

3 tone burst, slab board, trem

$11,000 $52,000 $27,000

1951 Fender Broadcaster

Blonde, black guard

$14,000 $75,000 $39,000

1951 Fender ‘NoCaster’

Blonde, black guard

$18,000? $85,000? $45,000?

1953 Fender Telecaster

Blonde, black guard

$12,000 $60,000 $34,000

1990 D’Aquisto Avant Garde

Blonde natural

None sold $125,000 $100,000

1950 D’Angelico Excel

Sunburst, cut-a-way

$35,000 $45,000 $32,000

1959 Fender Precision Bass

Sunburst with anodized guard

$4,500 $21,000 $16,200

1959 Fender Bassman Amp

Tweed, 4×10″

$3,700 $10,000 $10,000