What is Your Guitar Collecting Philosophy?

SMG_Guitar_Collection

I grew up in a household of collectors. Between my parents, my brothers and myself, there were coin collections, antique collections, photograph collections, record collections, baseball card collections, snake collections (yes the living, breathing, reptilian kind) and that’s just the beginning. In this collection of collections one thing stood out. Each individual item had either sentimental value or monetary value, or both. Some pieces were traded or sold, but others could never be parted with.

Collecting can be enormously fun and challenging. It drives you to set goals, budget your time and carefully manage your ever important financial resources. Something I’ve always enjoyed about collecting is that you meet other people who share your interests. Through buying and trading you get to meet some pretty cool people. Also, you learn a lot from other collectors. And as you get to be more knowledgeable, it’s cool when you can help out a newer collector with some tidbit of info.

My massive guitar collection–for now–is only massive in my dreams. I currently own 3 guitars and 2 basses. In the scheme of things, a collection of 5 objects is pretty small, maybe even minuscule. But even though it’s small, the collection process is the same. I picked each guitar because they caught my eye when I saw them in person. I didn’t want to buy a guitar just because it was a good “investment.” I wanted to be emotionally attached.

Before buying any of my guitars I researched them. A lot. By the time I was ready to purchase the guitar, I knew more about it than the seller did. Google is an excellent resource, along with a ton of books out there. This helped me authenticate it and hopefully allowed me to avoid looking or sounding like an idiot. It’s also hard for someone to rip you off when you have done your homework ahead of time.

SMG_Nigel_Tufnel

Nigel Tufnel, aka Christopher Guest, shows off his Vintage 3 pick-up Custom LPah the sustain!

I have had great luck over the last couple of years in dealing with private sellers. When you meet in person and talk to them, you find out some of the guitar’s history. I like knowing if the guy selling it is the original owner and bought it when he graduated from high school in 1976. Or maybe he is the third owner and bought it from Norm’s Rare Guitars. Whatever the case, it adds a lot of fun to the collecting process to know something about the guitar (assuming you’re collecting vintage guitars and not new ones!).

Don’t be afraid to negotiate a FAIR price. As long as you did a little research ahead of time and are respectful about it. For example, the seller is asking $1,000 for a guitar that you know recently sold for $750, go ahead and offer $750. Also grab a copy of the latest Vintage Guitar Price Guide and show the seller that it is currently listed at between $650-850. I hate douchy collectors who low-ball though. Don’t be a jerk and offer $300 for an all original 1964 Fender Strat. Hopefully the seller will know enough not to sell it to you, and if you’re lucky he won’t also kick you in the nuts!

By the way, if you’re looking for great guitars that are also good investments, these ones seem to be growing in value on an almost exponential level. Now that the market is pretty depressed because of the economy, you can probably get a good deal that will really be worth something some day:

  • Pre-CBS Fender Stratocasters, Telecasters, Precision basses, Jazz basses
  • Vintage Gibson Les Pauls, ES-335’s, SG’s

So my collecting philosophy is to have fun, find the guitars I really like, learn a lot about them from books and from the previous owners, and I like knowing I bought it fairly. Oh yeah, and I really like playing the damn things! So far, this philosophy has led me to buy (1) a Sunburst 1986 Fender ’62 Reissue Strat, (2) a Tobacco Burst 1976 Gibson Les Paul Standard, (3) a 1973 Gibson J50 acoustic, (4) a Tobacco Burst 1976 Gibson Thunderbird Bass, and (5) an Olympic White 1983 Fender ’62 Reissue Jazz Bass.

What is your guitar collecting philosophy?

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  • Dan

    I so wish I had every guitar I ever had. That would be a cool collection. My favorites were stolen. I really only have a few at the moment. Treasured gifts every one. I doubt I would ever collect more than I could play on a regular basis. I have 3 on the wall now that need new strings. A few nonames so cracked and ratty lookin that the burglars didn’t even steal them. I have them because I love the sound not because of what they are worth. If I had nothing but money I might have one or two more… ok ok maybe 3 or 4 more… whatever

  • Frank

    My “collection” of guitars is really only one. My ’61 Epiphone Casino is the only guitar I ever wanted to keep long term. Its a single pick-up model. I have had it for 30 years and have never seen another one like it. The fret board is scalloped from decades of incessant playing. The headstock has a crack from being dropped multiple times. It slipped out of my hands a couple of times when I was playing it without a strap-I know, I know! I HAVE stopped doing that. Jack Daniels made me do it. Friends and even dogs and kids have put it in peril a few times too. I have a few more guitars lying around. I am not emotionally attached to any of them. I have had my share of Strats and Les Pauls, but never kept them long. Either the neck is too fat or the action isn’t to my liking or its too heavy or something. Its always something. Collect guitars? – I can’t.

  • I have three acoustic guitars: one dead old one that was my first “real” guitar, one steel-string dread with a piezo and preamp, and a no-name nylon-string guitar. I have 2 lap steels: a 50s Supro in C6, and a child’s Les Paul copy I keep in open A, like open D capo’d up. I have two electric guitars: a MIJ Fender Tele and a rondo Tele I can use when I wanna mod my Fender or if I break a string.

    In short, my collection philosophy is practical. I want to play. I have some variation should I want different sounds, but there’s no belief that the things I buy will keep value, much less gain value.

    Plus, I like Teles.

  • Dan

    My guitar collection would be bigger if I weren’t worried about the financial aspect of it. Right now it’s three electrics (fender fat strat, ibanez ax7, and schecter gryphon), three acoustics (homemade, Taylor GS4E, and a Carlo Robelli I got for free from Sam Ash and put ball-end nylons on), and a bass (Washburn T14, essentially…think the model number was different when I bought it). I’d like an archtop I could get good jazz tones out of, a decent classical, and a fretless 5- or 6-string bass to sort of round out the basic tonal capabilities…and then maybe something with active pickups, or some guitars I can leave drop-tuned.

    I was at a guitar store a couple weeks ago and one of the employees mentioned his philosophy on guitar collecting was to buy a new guitar if it gave you a tone or something else you couldn’t get with anything else in your collection.

    • Mickey

      Hey Chris! Cool stuff man. That Jaguar & “bastardised” Framus/Yamaha/60s transistor radio setup seems killer!

  • My philosophy? Don’t collect guitars, play them.

  • My philosophy? Don't collect guitars, play them.

  • Matt

    You have good taste in guitars, my friend. I only play bass but I have 4 instruments. A Hohner B2A Steinberger copy, a Spector NS-2J-EX with a maple burl top (I don’t want to sound like a douche, but it’s the most beautiful bass I’ve ever seen), a 1982 Kramer DMZ6000, and a homemade 5 string P bass that I mostly built from parts I got off eBay. Other than the P, they’re all just basses I saw in music stores that I decided I wanted.

  • Great article and I can definitely relate. Over the years I have bought and sold a number of guitars, mostly bought. Thanks to the economy I was forced to “trim the herd” as some like to say which did help me weed out the more mediocre guitars, but I still have a bunch I simply can’t part with. They have sentimental value. I’m not a pack rat – guitars are the only thing I have multiples of, but to me they’re as much works of art as they are instruments. I play every guitar I own – I don’t buy anything just to have it sit in a case or on a stand, and I don’t buy anything for investment purposes. Every instrument I own is unique and I really do get a warm fuzzy feeling admiring and playing them. But for practical purposes I have too many (IMPOSSIBLE! You can never have too many guitars!) and often envy players who have a single guitar that they’ve put their sweat and years into. But you’d still have to pry my collection from my cold, dead fingers.

  • TK

    I collect ‘edsels’–the total market failures–the guitars that lasted for 3 years or less on the market and were gone for lack of sales. I just love the weird stuff–strange body shapes, weird electronics, stuff that looks like it was made from left-overs, someones idea of the ultra guitar with all of the sounds out there all in one–that kind of stuff. Starcaster, MVX, Flying V, Vox stereo 12 phantom, corvis–a lot of guitars fall into this and no one wanted them when they first hit the market. The Flying V hit the market in ’58 and was dropped from the catalog in ’60–no one wanted it.

  • rich prestia

    I have 12 guitars….ALL Fender Stratocasters. Only 1 of the bunch is considered ‘VINTAGE…a 1979 Antigua Stratocaster. It’s value hasbeen diminished by the addition of new jumbo frets, and new pickups.
    I want to have functional, useable guitars; I’m NOT concerned with their ‘vintage’ value.
    The ’79 sounds and plays better now than when it was new in 1979.
    What good is a VINTAGE guitar if it sounds like crap!
    My others are all relatively new Fenders that have all beet ‘gutted’ and outfitted with pickups of my choice. They ALL sound how I WANT.
    I could comfortably play them on ANY stage!

  • I buy guitars that I like.
    I also buy guitars for parts as I like to repair and rebuild older guitars.

    my thing really is the odd not collected weird and unusual.
    Like my toilet seat guitar.

  • My philosophy is HAVE FUN… enjoy what you have no matter if it is 1 guitar or 100 guitars!

    I’ve bought and sold well over 100 guitars over the years… some of this was just good old “flipping” (buy/sell with the intention of turning it over for a profit) and some was from my personal collection (i.e., sort of “trading up”). In all cases I tried to find the fun in each guitar as it passed through my hands. This means I tried to play on it and appreciate it for its sound, its look, its uniqueness, etc.

    My personal collection has been as high as about 10 at once and as low as one. Some times I’ve had to make choices to “downsize” in order to afford getting a particular guitar I really wanted. My philosophy here is that no single guitar is irreplaceable (with a few exceptions).

    An example of this just happened to me last week… But the story actually starts back in 2009 when I was forced to sell off some of my guitars to cover some major bills. At that time I kept a single Gibson, a Fender and an acoustic. This meant I had to sell my Les Paul Custom Premium Plus Honeyburst AAA flametop (the ONLY ONE I’ve ever seen of this kind). Now fast forward to last week and I stumble across the exact same guitar on eBay. I contact the seller and tell them I used to own that guitar and I end up buying it back. He was happy it was going back to the original owner and I was happy to have it back in the fold (never want to sell it again!). BUT, in order to pay for it, I’m forced to sell 2 other guitars… but those guitars ARE replaceable. So my collection just lost 2 guitars to gain 1 guitar – net result is I downsized by 1 guitar but it was so worth it! And life goes on 🙂

  • Matthew Holycross

    I collect what I play. Mainly Jackson/Charvel. And OOO/concert acoustics and a 62′ Gibson Classical. Guitars in display cases are like looking at Lenin’s corpse in Moscow. Pretty amazing to see. But useless and tragic.
    Guitars should be seen and heard. They are not children in England.

  • Roscoe P

    Play them often.

  • rixis

    I collect the guitars I need to be able to make the sounds I want to hear. A Strat sounds different than a Les Paul, which sounds different than a Jackson, that sounds different than a BC Rich.

    It is all about “the tone”, isn’t it ? 🙂

    • @Rick – Yes, it is about the tone, but it is also about the style too. For example, there could be a guitar out there that has the greatest tone ever, but it was painted and designed to look like a giant turd. You might not want that in your collection, or maybe you would 😉 But guitars should have awesome rich tone, and beautiful sexy style to make it a complete package in my book.

  • Great discussion! I’d love to see all your collections if you’ll share. We built a free website just for sharing your favorite collections! This is my collection of (IMHO) the best guitars – ever. Post your collections (you can load you own photos) and share them back!

    http://www.gangaroo.com/users/17ae1880/collections/best-guitars-ever-made

  • Jordan Gruow

    Since I have a great repair man in John Grey and access to another shop at Homeless Dog custom, The low hanging fruit is easy. Josh at Homeless Dog or John Grey will bring things to my attention that need work and are , therefore, cheap.
    I still love “good” guitars like my ’96 LP Special, G&L ASAT, my 3 Homeless Dog Customs are great, BUT, there is a lot of mojo in beaters. Get what you can when you can. 23 guitars and counting…family portraits to follow!

  • My similar Philosophy/Idea: Collect them GTRs while the fun is in it. Choose carefully! THEN: Play them with the Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers motto: “This guitar has a Song in it today”

  • I collect stringed instruments for their utility. I worked thru many cheapo Squier/Affinity Teles ’til I found 1 (Butterscotch) that sounded/played well for my RocknRoll/Los Lobos-y songs. Tinkered with the guts to improve sound a tad. Found a white cheapo Tele that was already tinkered with- got my RealDealCountry middle-position guitar. Got a Burl Ash 12-string Tele off Ebay for good price- got my Psychedelia guitar. Gonna round out my Tele stable with a Saga electric Mandocaster kit (gonna put 2 pups on it & a Tele-style bridge), get a 3/4 size Tele & convert it to a Tele Octave Mandolin, then finish the year with a cheapo Tele with a Baritone neck slapped on it. And, then, as they say: That’ll do, pig, that’ll do. I see the Mojo-value in what I can do with a Tele, rather than it bringing it’s Mojo to me. I don’t have impressive instruments from a monetary/collecting perspective: I have instruments that entertain people; thus impress them (hopefully!) with what I can do with them. Just a matter of what we wnat to do with our toys!!!

  • Rick

    Buy American. Buy limited editions.

  • I have been collecting famous guitar brands used by the Beatle’s and other famous artists like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, etc. since the 1960’s. Come and visit http://www.fab-guitars.com you’ll find these brands: Aria, Breedlove, Danelectro, Egmond, Epiphone, ESP, Fender, Framus, Futurama, Gibson, Gallotone, Gretsch, Guild, Hofner, Ibanez, Jose Ramirez, Martin, Maton, Music Man, Peavy, Rogue, Rickenbacker & Taylor.

    Many of these collectable guitars are hard to find in the condition that are shown here. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

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