Nothing says "American" like the electric guitar. For decades, the sculpted lines, illustrious finishes and unique tones of these instruments have inspired a variety of musical styles that have defined our culture around the world.
Ultimately, nothing else truly epitomizes what it means to be "cool" like a sunburst Gibson Les Paul or a double-bound Telecaster Custom.
And, over the past five decades, the finest vintage examples have driven the market upwards, making some of these vintage instruments as good as gold.
With the Dallas International Guitar Festival taking place this past weekend, DC9 went out to investigate the current state of the market in our fledging economy.
"I am really optimistic," said Jimmy Wallace, organizer of the Dallas show. "When people started having inklings of concern about their 401Ks, they started to put their money into things they thought would be collectible. And, when they lost their cash reserves, the guitars were the first things to go. I think we have survived that, but a lot of people bought into the market when a maple neck Stratocaster was $60,000, and now its back down to $30,000."
Around 2006, prices of vintage guitars peaked at all-time highs.
Seeing this upward progression, stunned investors began buying anything they could get their hands on, making even some of the lowest grade instruments valuable like never before.
However, with the economic collapse of 2008 the market softened abruptly changing prices downward.
Wayne Weaver, of Rumble Seat Music, which deals in high-end vintage guitars, agrees that the worst is over.
"It's a fluctuating market, but it tends to maintain on an upswing," he said. "Business is very steady right now at Rumbleseat. When something like the disaster in Japan happens, sales automatically go up. You would think it would be the opposite, but those with money over there are expecting their stock market to go down, so they put their money into hard assets like guitars. Japan has always been ahead of the U.S. as far as investing in these things. They are good people to watch, so buy what they buy."
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But, then again, it might not be that easy.
"The vintage market is complicated," said Paul Reed Smith of PRS Guitars. "The vintage market exists because something magical happened for a period of years from 1923 to 1965 -- because of the belief that this magic can't be redone, [that] these things are not just instruments, but [that] they are pieces of art and they are investments. It's a complicated, but beautiful market. There is a love in this, since we grew up loving this stuff. But we are getting older and the kids don't know as much about it as they should."
From the Dallas show's perspective this weekend, it seemed that, indeed, the market is thriving. Unlike previous years, sales seemed to be showing signs of life, albeit at more reasonable prices.
"From our point of view, things have always been as strong as they always were," Weaver said. "It's just a better time to buy right now. So, instead of selling, I would suggest buying more guitars."