WHY VINTAGE INSTRUMENTS…..by our Vintage Guitar Maestro Robert of Freya Guitars
Why do people treasure vintage instruments? In this article, we will focus on guitars, as the guitar is easily the most popular instrument in the world.
Many people love to have a vintage instrument because of the sound and craftsmanship – vintage instruments are generally made and finished by hand, meaning no two similar instruments are exactly alike. Not only can the instrument differ in “feel” from others, but factors such as the wood used, variances in the electrical components and production variances can mean that two instruments with similar serial numbers made on the same day can be very different instruments. This doesn’t mean that one is “bad” and the other “good”, just that they might be different in sound and feel to each other. Most of the time, it is very hard to define what’s “different”, but an experienced guitarist will prefer one over the other, the “feel” of the guitar and the “nuances” in tone will be different. In contrast, most newer guitars are very consistent from one to the other. Modern manufacturing is very precise, though sometimes at the expense of individuality.
In general, guitars older than 30 years from major US manufacturers (& made in the USA, as opposed to overseas) are considered “vintage”, and are the most desirable.
There are plenty of top-quality guitars from other European & Japanese manufacturers that have achieved this status, but so far none from the Far East, no matter how some larger manufacturers label them.
In most cases, individuals associated with the music industry consider guitars designed before the 1970’s as “vintage”. So, if you want to get an old-fashioned acoustic guitar, you have to search for one designed before the 1930’s, or in the case of electric guitars, generally speaking, designed before the 1970’s.
However, there are lots of exceptions to this, so assess each guitar on its own merits.
A vintage guitar will feature an aged tone, which every guitar aficionado appreciates. There is no doubt that the wood used in older guitars is different than is used in the modern guitars, but is it really “better”?
Leo Fender chose Pine, Maple, Ash & Alder for his early instruments as they were readily available, cheap and easily worked. These woods have now become standard in a lot of instruments, but at the time they were not considered to be “classic” tonewoods. In contrast, woods used by Gibson, Martin, Gretsch, Epiphone and other manufacturers tended to be mahogany, spruce, rosewood and a few different wood types.
But “better”…….? The jury is still out on that one, though nobody will disagree that woods like Brazilian Rosewood have a very special tone of their own.
There is no doubt that as the wood ages and dries out, the tone changes – anybody that has compared a newer and older Fender guitar side-by-side, all other things being equal, will find that there is a huge difference in sound. Will today’s guitars sound like this in 30-40 years? Only time will tell, but it’s becoming apparent that CBS-era Fenders (1965-1985) are aging in a similar way to the earlier pre-CBS guitars, and the tone from these oft-maligned CBS guitars & basses is now sought-after by many of today’s musicians & studios. While not priced at the same level as the pre-CBS Fender instruments, the values of CBS-era Fenders has shot up dramatically in the last few years, as an almost-affordable alternative to the pre-CBS guitars, whose prices are out of reach to all but the wealthy.
This also applies to Gibson and other USA manufacturers, though some of these have not been in business long enough to have their own “vintage” instruments.
Today’s thermo-treated woods seek to emulate this drying-out process, but is only partly successful.
Nowadays, pickups are wound to a very precise number of turns, but in the old days the amount of winds could vary, as winding the bobbins was done by hand, and of course humans will vary, whereas computers don’t (usually). Also, in the “old” hand-winding days, if the roll of wire ran out a little bit before the optimum number of winds, sometimes the operator just finished the winding at that point…. What was the difference, eh? Viola! Now we have variances in the pickups……not much chance of that happening in today’s computer-controlled facilities.
Where do you buy vintage guitars…..? Guitar Shows & Dealers, Private Sellers, Online
Guitar Shows & Dealers
There are lots of vintage guitar shows held in different regions of the world. Here, dealers come to trade, buy, and sell their wares to other players, enthusiasts & dealers. People associated with the music industry consider guitar shows the best place to buy, sell & trade vintage guitars, as the best selection can be found here. There are High St. dealers out there too, most are very good.
Buying from a respected dealer is usually a safe bet, as instruments will generally be described accurately, and if anything is amiss or has been modified over the life of the guitar it will be mentioned. This is usually the most expensive way to buy, but you usually get the best quality (and you usually do get what you pay for). Dealers will have reputations to uphold, and generally will not want that reputation tarnished.
Generally priced cheaper than from a dealer, buying privately can be a minefield. There are lots of fakes, cobbled-together and misrepresented guitars in privately-advertised ads. If in doubt, bring a properly-qualified person with you, not a “friend who knows something about guitars”. Even the experts can be fooled, so tread carefully.
Having said that, resist the temptation to believe that every private seller is “out to get you”, and treat them with respect. Buyers trying to prove they know everything, nit-picking every little detail and then making an insulting offer will soon be shown the door. Most people that have vintage guitar collections are usually very well-informed and know their stuff.
Of course, if the seller seems “off”, walk away.
Same guidelines as above apply here, though a dealer is always best (& more expensive) to buy from if you can’t try it out. Tread carefully, buy from a respected dealer, or a private seller who has very good feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask for more photos, and ask any questions you like. As these are usually high-priced items, most people/dealers are happy to oblige.
What to watch out for:
With vintage guitars, originality is of prime importance.
Yes, wearing parts like frets do have to be replaced, and worn out machine heads likewise (but do look to see that they have been replaced with exactly the same ones, and ask if the original ones have been kept).
Likewise with pickups – they should be original and should not have been replaced with modern equivalents. Yes, pickups do go “dead”, but if such is the case and they’ve been replaced, ask the seller if they have the originals so you can reinstall them – they are easily rewound.
Things like bridge adjustment screws are commonly replaced as the originals go rusty from sweat. Like frets, they are replacement parts that do not affect price.
Time and string tension will take its toll on the neck of almost any old guitar.
This can be fixed easily enough, and new trussrods can be installed. Yes, that costs money, but if you really want that guitar, factor the repair into the price. Not a deal-breaker, but a bargaining point.
Pots can get noisy, but most of the time a spray with a proprietary switch cleaner (make sure it has lubricant in it) will sort this. Damaged pots can be taken apart and repaired without disturbing the original solder joint (usually not a job for the amateur).
Noisy output jacks can sometimes be cleaned rather than repaired.
Most vintage guitars (& other instruments also) will show some wear from use, whether it be scratches or wear in the paint, rusty metal parts, worn frets, or other issues. These are not considered to devalue the instrument, as long as it is from normal wear & tear.
Indeed, repairs to noisy jack sockets and fitting new knobs or other parts in place of the original older (& worn) ones can devalue it.
Genuine vintage guitars in pristine condition will be worth more of course, so be prepared to pay accordingly.
The point here is that vintage guitars are old, and have usually been used, gigged, and repaired from time to time. Do not compare it to a new guitar, and do not compare it to a new “Vintage Reissue” or “Relic’ed” guitar. You are paying for its rarity, sound, desirability and any other factor that you deem important to yourself.
Note: An “old” guitar does not mean it’s a “valuable” guitar. I’ve seen old guitars that have spent their lives in an attic (worst place to store it) with a very inflated asking price just because it’s “old”. I’m sure most of us have stones in our yards that are millions of years old……and are worth nothing……
Freya Guitars, why are we different?
Here at Freya Guitars we model all our guitars on the older vintage models as much as we can. Robert has been in the music industry all his life and has more than 55 years experience of gigging, repairs and design. He has gigged and played today’s vintage guitars long before they were vintage, and long before there was any vintage guitar scene or market.
Anne has featured as a vocalist with many groups and has extensive experience of live gigs and recording in Ireland, Spain, Canada & the USA.
We strive to put that old “mojo” into all of our guitars, and if Robert is not happy with something he will draw from his experience and spend hours making sure it is correct. Our Freya “Vintage Voiced” pickups are designed to emulate that “old” vintage sound, sparkle and clarity, and our humbuckers are modeled on the ’59 Gibson PAF sound.
When you buy a Freya guitar, you are not only buying a guitar, you are buying an instrument that has been spec’ed with good tonewoods and pickups, and experience drawn from many years in the industry. Our mission at Freya Guitars is to put good-quality guitars & basses into the hands of the “ordinary” musician at reasonable prices.
Freya Guitars offer excellent customer care with 5-star reviews, quality instruments and personal service & advice to all our customers. We are always here to help.