Why vintage guitars?
There is something special about musical instruments of a certain age. Guitars built from the mid 1950s until the late 1970s are generally held in high esteem; techniques and materials, particularly pre-1970 were vastly superior to today's 'mass-produced' standards. But is a vintage guitar really much different to a modern day equivalent? People often say wood is wood, but this is simply not the case. Centuries old trees that were regularly harvested for guitar manufacture in the 1950s are now protected, and it is these old trees with close grains and unbeatable tonal qualities that make the very best guitars. With rainforests rapidly diminishing their protection can only be a good thing. But it does mean that good quality older guitars, perhaps with a few modern upgrades can make some of the very best instruments available. What's more, much of the painstaking attention to detail lavished upon fine old jazz guitars by special order/custom departments and aimed at serious guitarists has been replaced by the continual churning out of 'limited editions', aimed at serious collectors. Whether these rare, but ultimately not-so-special guitars will be quite so desirable in 30 years time remains to be seen.
What is a vintage guitar?
Different people have different opinions on what makes a vintage guitar. For the purposes of this site, a vintage electric guitar or vintage bass is one that was produced in the golden age of rock and roll. From the very early 1950s when Fender first produced the Esquire and Broadcaster, and Gibson the Les Paul; to the early 1980s, when both of these companies sold to their current owners.
Why play an old guitar?
The musical revolutions occurring during the period in question created the first well-known guitar heroes, and gave their guitars iconic status. It is no surprise that the right guitar can immediately conjure a specific period in time, both with looks and sound. And modern day guitarists who want to capture an essence of that period will naturally tend towards these guitars. Nothing says 1950s quite like a Gretsch. Nothing says 1960s quite like a Vox teardrop or Phantom.
Numerous classic guitars made by the likes of Gibson, Epiphone, Fender, and Guild are worth thousands, sometimes tens of thousands; a little expensive for the average player, and often these are the preserve of investors and collectors. Early versions of the Gibson Les Paul, SG and Flying V guitars, or the Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster. But there are still very many affordable, great sounding, and exciting to play vintage guitars that offer something simply not available in a new guitar. A well-built vintage instrument, although expensive can actually be superb value for money in comparison to some of the new guitars available at that price.
Vintage guitars for sale
This site is for information only - we don't sell vintage guitars - but do check out our Vintage guitar collectors pick list: a regularly updated selection of rare guitars, vintage catalogs, or unusual items currently that we've found for sale on the web. We especially like to feature Vintage guitars with a story! If you're selling something interesting yourself, get in contact and we can help promote your item.
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A detailed look at an early 1970s Fender Precision bass guitar in custom black finish, with rosewood fretboard. 1972 list price, $307.50. The Fender Precision
had been shipping since at least very early 1952 - with just one re-design circa 1957. This example, then, shows a model already two decades old, but barely changed since the '57 revamp. Fender got it right first time around, and although there are numerous minor cosmetic differences, the essence of this bass is effectively the same as it was in '52: a simple, single pickup instrument with a GREAT sound. Check out the demo video through an old Ampeg B15. It's no wonder this is the bass that everybody wants!
The Vox Stroller
was the brand's entry level electric solid body guitar, fitted with just one pickup and a fixed tailpiece. Although aimed at student guitarists, it wasn't a terrible instrument, but did lack somewhat in adjustability, having no accessible truss rod and only a floating rosewood bridge. But this example is actually quite an improvement on earlier versions, with a standard 1/4" jack and a solid mahogany body. 1967 price £18 2s. JMI ceased UK guitar production in late '67, and combined with decreasing demand for the Stroller, this surely must be one of the last examples shipped.
A nice example of the Vox Clubman II
bass, built by JMI in Dartford, Kent in 1963. This is a lightweight bass, short (30") scale and very easy to play. It is an early example, and as such has a thin black scratchplate and side mounted, coaxial output jack. JMI offered left handed examples of their solid body Vox guitars and basses at 10% premium. Production numbers are unclear, but left-handed examples rarely come up for sale
Not to be confused with the Gibson ES Artist
launched by Gibson in 1979; this ES Artist was an early model designed by the Gibson research and development team in Kalamazoo in 1977, the instruments themselves constructed by Gibson artist Chuck Burge. It was planned for launch as a high end semi acoustic with 335-style construction (central maple block) and innovative circuitry - but was pulled at the last minute, being deemed too expensive. Apparently, several examples were produced with varying specifications, though exactly how many actually left the Kalamazoo plant is unclear. Certainly two guitars were sold to LaVonne Music
by Gibson in around 1980. Read more about the development of this guitar, with details from Chuck Burge and the story of it's sale to LaVonne music
The Hofner Committee was a truly beautiful guitar produced in Germany, primarily for the UK market. It was a large bodied (initially 17 1/2") guitar with a carved spruce top, available as an acoustic or electric guitar. By the early sixties the carved top was replaced with a laminate, and although still a very fine guitar, the earlier carved top examples, with frondose headstock (like the example shown here) are far more highly prized amongst musicians and vintage guitar collectors.
The Gretsch Chet Atkins Tennessean, or model 6119 was Gretsch's best selling hollow body of the 1960s. This wonderfully faded example from 1965 was originally Dark Cherry Red, but has turned a mid-orange brown. The original color, however, can be seen underneath the pickup surrounds. 1965 specs: maple body, two-piece neck, Brazilian rosewood fretboard and Hi-Lo 'Tron single coil pickups. Nickel plated Gretsch Bigsby tailpiece.
The 1965 Gretsch catalog, or catalog #32, featured 10 hollow body electric guitars, including the newly launched Gretsch Viking; four solid body electrics, including the Astro Jet - making it's only catalog appearance; just one bass, the single pickup PX6070; nine acoustics and 12 tube amplifiers. Pride of place went to the Chet Atkins Country Gentleman that adorned both the front and back covers. 24 pages, six of which are in full color.
Loose frets are especially problematic in certain old guitars, but are generally very easy to fix. You'll be amazed at the difference you can make with just a few tools, a bit of knowledge, and a little time. Fixing loose frets can eliminate fret buzz, remove sharp fret ends, and greatly improve the tone of any guitar. If your luthier bill will be greater than the value of your guitar, definitely time to have a go yourself!
Hagstrom guitars were distributed in the mid-1960s United States by Merson of USA. This eight page 'worlds fastest playing neck' catalog, printed in two-colors contained six solid body electrics, three solid body basses, two electric acoustic guitars, two electric acoustic basses and five acoustics.
was produced by Hofner in Bubenreuth, Germany, specifically for Selmer, who distributed the brand in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other commonwealth nations. The President was a hollow body electric acoustic, available as a full body or thinline, and with blonde or brunette finish. It was a great playing guitar that sold fairly well in the second half of the 1950s, throughout the 1960s, and into the very early 1970s. The example shown here is a full-body depth guitar in blonde - and as a 1965 guitar, one of the last to feature the rounded Venetian cutaway. From late 1965 until 1972, the President sported a sharp Florentine cut. Naturally, such an electric acoustic suggests jazz and blues, but many of the original British Hofner President players were part of the rock 'n roll, skiffle and beat scenes of the late 50s and early 60s.
"The Choice of Professional and Student Musicians Everywhere" This eight page catalogue was included as an insert in the 1963 annual "school music" issue of Downbeat magazine (September 1963). As well as keyboards and pedal steels, this catalog contains seven guitars, three basses and ten amplifiers - from student guitars such as the Musicmaster and Duotone to professional models like the new Jaguar
The newly designed Les Paul Recording
guitar was released in 1971, in many ways as an updated version of the Les Paul Professional that had debuted two years earlier in 1969. The new guitar came with a new owners manual explaining the (somewhat complicated) controls, their operation, and giving other specifications, including recommended strings, action and control settings. Compare with the broadly similar owners manual for the Les Paul Personal / Professional
The Les Paul Triumph bass, like the Les Paul Recording
guitar was first shipped in 1971, but was based on a slightly older model, the 1969 Les Paul Bass
. Functionally, these basses were very similar, although the Triumph did offer low and high impedance operation, without the need for a transformer cable. This owners manual details the basses specifications, suggests a string set, recommended action, and suggests a series of tonal settings for rock, country and solo bass playing.
20 pages, black and white with color front cover. In the middle of 1981, Rosetti took over distribution of the Gibson line in the UK. Rosetti were a very big name in Britain, having distributed Epiphone
since at least 1963, as well as Hagstrom
and others. This catalogue was produced at the tail end of 1981, and introduces a number of models to the UK, such as the MV-II
guitars and the Victory basses
, the GGC-700
and the Flying V bass. Some of these models were so short-lived that they were actually never included in US brochures. The cover image (reproduced in part here) showed some of the earliest demonstration models, including a Victory with a highly unusual white scratchplate.
A closer look at a 1981 Gibson Victory MV-II electric guitar. The Gibson Victory MV, or 'Multi-Voice' guitars had very wide tonal palettes; with coil-tapped humbuckers they could produce typical Gibson tones, but were also designed to 'out-Fender' Fender. Two models were launched in the summer of 1981. Whilst the MVX, was designed to do everything a Stratocaster
could do, the MVII was 'primarily for the discerning country player' - placing it squarely against the Telecaster
The Clubman was one of the earliest UK-built guitars produced by Vox at it's Dartford plant. As an entry level model it was very light, fitted with the most basic components, and not made of the most select woods, but it's unique styling, low price and easy playability made for a relatively popular guitar. Initially there were two guitar models, the single pickup Clubman I and dual pickup Clubman II, and a companion Clubman bass
- check them out in the 1962 Vox catalogue
. The guitar was redesigned in the middle of 1963, getting a new Strat-style body, but examples with the older body style were still being shipped perhaps as early as the start of 1964.
The Vox Consort was produced in the UK throughout the mid 1960s; originally modelled on the Fender Jaguar
, it was one of JMI's better quality instruments, with many features not seen on lower-priced guitars. This early example mixed innovative tone circuitry with Vox's original chrome-covered V1 pickups, for "every possible variation of tone from bass to sharp brilliance". By the middle of 1963, the model had been redesigned, becoming less Fender-esque and more Vox - have a look at the redesigned Consort in the 1963 Vox catalogue
The 1965/1966 Selmer guitar catalogue
contained guitars by a number of different makers imported for the UK market, the most numerous being German-made Hofner
electrics, acoustics and basses. There is also a fairly large Gibson
section, but it by no means contains all instruments produced under that brand at the time. Other instruments featured include guitars and basses by Hagstrom
, and Brazilian acoustic guitars by Giannini. 44 pages, with UK pricing in guineas.
A recollection of life inside JMI's two UK Vox
factories in Dartford: Dartford Road, and West Street, Erith, circa 1965/66; building Vox solid body guitars; working on special instruments including a highly ornate Vox Soundcaster for the Royal family and a five-string Symphonic bass for the Hollies; plus sharing your sandwiches with Bill Wyman! By Tony Russell.
A closer look at a 1962 Hofner Verithin
electric acoustic guitar, in translucent cherry red finish. The Verithin
was Hofner's thinline model, produced in Germany for Selmer
in the UK, and aimed at capturing the desire for the highly desireable, but largely unaffordable Gibson
ES series thinline models. They were good quality, well-built, lightweight instruments, and very popular in early 1960s Britain.
The Gibson Sonex
series pre-owners 'manual' was produced for circulation in early summer 1981, along with nine other manuals representing different segments available from Gibson at that time. Rather than a manual in the conventional sense, it is actually a mini folder with three loose-leaf inserts with catalogue-style image and description, one each for the 180 Deluxe, 180 Custom, and a new model, the Sonex Artist. The Sonex-180 Standard was not included, having been dropped from the Gibson line earlier in 1981.
series owners manual - 16 pages of information for the care and operation of the Gibson Sonex guitar: pickups, electronics, controls, coil tap, tune-o-matic bridge, tailpiece and stringing. Pertains to the Sonex-180 Deluxe, Standard and Custom models.
A closer look at a 1982 Gibson Sonex-180 Deluxe solid body electric, in Candy Apple Red finish. The Sonex
series consisted of four models altogether, all made with the same 'multiphonic' bodies, but varying hardware. The bodies had a maple core, enclosed in a material called resonwood, for "extraordinary sustain and harmonic reproduction". The Deluxe
was the most basic model with reasonable pickups and hardware, but they were good looking guitars, affordable, solid, and with the Gibson logo on the headstock.
Original vintage catalogue scan. Harmony produced regular full-colour catalogues throughout the 1960s, but because these catalogues were released pretty much annually, there were only incremental changes from year to year, sometimes the only differences were the prices listed within. 1965 was an absolute boom time for American guitar manufacture, and this catalogue includes most of the best-known Harmony models: Rocket, Meteor, Silhouette, H75/H76/H77/H78, but it is the last publicity for the Stratotone guitars which were phased out later that year.
bass was one of the models produced by JMI in the UK, primarily for the early sixties British market. It was comparatively high priced, still cheaper in the UK than the Fender Precision
that it was emulating, but not by much, and actually more expensive in the USA. It only sold in small numbers in Britain and barely at all overseas. No equivalent model was produced in Italy, and although it remained in UK price lists as late as 1967, it is unlikely many instruments were shipped beyond 1965.
This early Vox brochure comes from summer 1963, still the early days of JMI production, and shortly before the beat boom of the mid 1960s. At this time, Vox guitars were built in the UK, primarily for the British market. The company had refined it's production methods, to some extent, and many of the guitars shown are quite different from those in the Choice of the Stars
catalogue from late 1962. Includes primarily Vox solid body guitars, basses and amplifiers. See other Vox catalogue scans here
The Hagstrom Hagstrom HIIN
was first produced towards the end of 1969, as a direct descendant of the HII
models of the mid to late 1960s. It shared the same body shape, construction and materials of the older models, but with improved pickups and electronics. This model, the HIIN-OT, had no tremolo, rather a stop tailpiece, but was otherwise identical to the HIIN. With the famous Hagstrom low action, this is a very playable guitar, rightly well-regarded by musicians to this day.
The 1960 Selmer guitar catalogue featured a whole range of acoustic, electric semi-acoustic, and solid body guitars manufactured by Hofner. There were also a small number of Hofner-made (but Selmer branded) acoustic guitars, Futurama branded solid bodies, and a Futurama electric upright bass. From the very fine (and even shorter lived) Golden Hofner, to the budget Selmer 222 flat top. Monochrome, 32 pages
Goya was well-known for it's acoustic guitars, produced by Levin in Sweden; but in the mid 1960s they added a number of Italian-built electric guitars and basses. Semi-acoustic models such as the 105, 107 and 109 Rangemaster guitars and Panther II bass were made by Polverini, whilst solid body models 116 and 118 were made by Galanti. These were well-built good quality instruments, but perhaps too expensive to sell in large numbers.
Older updates here
Is older always better?
But older guitars are not always better than new guitars; they can have unreliable parts, or be difficult to maintain. A lot of these are upgraded to make great players grade instruments. Keeping the essence of the original vintage guitar, but adding a little of today's reliability. A great example is the 1960s Gibson Melody Maker; an all-mahogany set neck guitar with Brazilian rosewood fingerboard and beautiful nitrocellulose finish. Well-built by Gibson, in their Kalamazoo factory, but with very basic pickups, tuning keys and electronics. Upgraded examples are everywhere, and are exceptional value as players grade instruments. Then again some guitars, especially early Japanese and European models aimed at the student guitarists of the early 1960s are completely unplayable. Even the cheapest modern day guitars put these to shame. Before buying any vintage guitar it is a good idea to know exactly what you are buying!
This site aims to be a reference point for guitar players and guitar collectors. There's information, history, photographs and sound clips of many famous, and not so famous guitars and basses by makes such as Danelectro, Epiphone, Fender, Gibson, Guild, Gretsch, Hagstrom, Harmony, Hofner, Rickenbacker and Vox. There is a section on effects pedals too!
Check out the classic guitar advertisements, guitar catalogs, or listen to vintage guitars being played. If you get stuck, try the sitemap or post a message in the forum
Guitars bought! Do you have a vintage instrument for sale. I am looking for good condition guitars and basses circa 1950-1980 by Gibson, Guild, Hagstrom, Hofner, Vox and others. Let me know what you have available