Vintage guitars come in all shapes and sizes; some are incredibly rare, highly prized by guitar players and very expensive to buy. Some are nothing short of a hinderance to play; basically firewood with strings. Most are somewhere inbetween. There is most likely a player or collector out there who would love to pay you for your guitar. If you have anything exceptionally rare, you are best off selling on consignment through a respected vintage guitar dealer, rather than privately online. Likewise if your guitar is basically junk, you might find selling it at a local table or car boot sale is most effective. But most guitars are suitable for selling online, as long as you follow a few basic rules.
There are a number of things that you can do to help your vintage guitar sell quickly, whilst maximising the sale price. If you don't, you run the risk of deterring buyers and ending up either getting less than your guitar is worth, or failing to sell at all. This article is aimed at all those individuals who want to sell a vintage guitar, but don't really know where to start.
Step 1: Identifying the guitar
If you already know what your guitar is, jump to step 2: Finding out what your guitar is worth
So how do you know what you've got? There is a lot of information about the major American and European vintage guitars online, in fact that is the main purpose of this site, but there are also some excellent books on guitar identification, and very many helpful collectors hanging out on guitar forums.
Start with the brand name. Most guitars have this somewhere on the headstock, on a label in a soundhole, or on a scratchplate or pickup. Entirely unmarked guitars are rare, and as a general rule, better manufacturers were proud of their work, and will have applied their logos prominently. It is true that some decal logos are removed, but again, owners of better guitars tend not to let this happen, whilst cheaper copies are often anonymised in the hope that they might be mistaken for something that they are not. If your guitar has no markings, it is most likely not going to sell for any significant sum. Examine the guitar closely for any markings: model codes, serial numbers, and countries of manufacture. Look under the scratchplate, on the neck heel and in the neck pocket, on the neckplate, on the guitars hardware and on the back of the headstock.
If you are still stuck, start comparing hardware to other guitars. Look online for other instruments with the same pickups especially but also neckplates, headstock shapes and bridges. Tuning keys can also give clues, but many manufacturers used commercially available parts rather than manufactured their own.
What about where it was made? Is there a country designation? Made in Japan? Italy, USA? for example. Get out a ruler and start measuring any parts of the guitar. Are dimensions metric or imperial? Older American guitars tend to be in inches or fractions of. European and Japanese guitars are far more likely to be designed in centimetres. What about markings on the electronics? Any language clues there? If you know where it was built you have certainly narrowed down the number of possible brands.
Numerous guitar manufacturers produced generic-looking entry-level guitars under different brand neames for selling cheap to 1960s and 70s teenagers. Audition, for example was the name applied to Japanese guitars produced for sale in Woolworth stores in the UK. Guitars such as these are quite common; most unbranded guitars will be in this category, and are unlikely to sell for anything more than a few pounds.
Once you have a manufacturers name, determining the model and year are next. Precise dating can be tricky - but establishing an approximate age shouldn't be too hard. There can be a lot of subtle model variations, and pinpointing the exact name may not be essential if the guitar is largely unknown or often misidentified.
For a guitar produced by the likes of Fender, Gibson or one of the more famous manufacturers, finding the year may be as simple as looking up the serial number on a chart online, then refering to a catalogue from a similar period to find the model. Even a web image search with the brand and year can show very many guitars that may match.
Another trick that guitar collectors always talk about is reading pot codes. The pots, or potentiometers, are the tone and volume controls on a guitar. If you can get to the reverse side of these, you may well find a code, with some date fragments embedded within them. This is of course the date that the pot was made, rather than the guitar, but they are often closely correlated. For more about this, see our page on reading guitar potentiometer codes.