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 hindrance to play; basically firewood with strings. Perhaps ok for decorating a bar wall, but that's about it. Most are somewhere in between. 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, and you can easily get a fair price, as long as you follow a few basic steps: correct guitar identification, correct valuation, and effective description.
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.
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 focus of this site, and there are also some excellent books on guitar identification (Gruhn's Guide is about the best), and very many helpful collectors hanging out on guitar forums and social media groups. Accurate information is harder to come by for Japanese guitars. A handful of factories produced a huge number of guitars, often quite similar, but with the retailers branding rather than the manufacturer. Some will never have been shown in a catalogue, and getting detailed information may be quite difficult.
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 by Schaller or Kluson etc. rather than manufacturing 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 names for selling cheaply in bulk to 1960s, 70s and 80s teenagers. Audition, for example was the name applied to Japanese guitars produced for sale in Woolworth stores in the UK. And there were hundreds of other store brands like this; guitars such as these are really quite common. Most unbranded guitars will be in this category, and although often acceptable instruments are unlikely to sell for anything more than two figure sums.
Once you have a manufacturers name, determining the model and year are next. 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. Many identical guitars may have been given different model designations by different retailers. Guitars by Harmony, Kay and Valco in the US, Eko, Hagstrom and Crucianelli in Europe and Teisco, Kawaii and Norma in Japan were all sold under various marques, despite being very similar or even the same instrument.
For a guitar produced by the likes of Fender, Gibson or one of the bigger manufacturers, finding the year may be as simple as looking up the serial number on a chart online, then referring 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.
Precise dating can be tricky - but establishing an approximate age shouldn't be too hard. Most vintage guitar collectors and dealers can suggest a decade, simply by looking at the guitar, it's styling, the materials used and how it is constructed. This is something you get a feel for with time. If you are completely in the dark, post online and somebody will surely help. Often less well known guitars are actually copies of other guitars. Or their hardware may be copied from a better known brand. If you know the first production date of the guitar copied, this again can narrow down potential production years.
One trick that guitar collectors always use 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.
Is there any paperwork in the case? Sales receipts, price lists and other paperwork can often hold a date. Furthermore if you have a retailer name, you may be able to search online for a guitar catalogue that holds the model in question.
Of course you have to be aware of copies.. from the 1950s onwards, budget guitars (and some quite nice ones to be fair) were often modelled on more expensive guitars by the big brands. These were produced in huge numbers and are not uncommon at all. Unfortunately, these can look VERY convincing, and quite often an owner might have replaced a decal to complete the deception. There are ways of spotting these guitars. A 'Gibson' with 'made in Japan' on it's neckplate... or a Les Paul with a bolt-on neck. Generally these guitars will also not have a serial number (or at least one that corresponds to the correct numbering system). If in doubt refer the guitar to a forum / discussion group for a second opinion.
Need the value of your guitar? The Official Vintage Guitar Magazine Price Guide 2023 is out now