Vintage Guitars

I would like to start this article with the following story. I started full time in the music business at the tender age of 18 in 1978, working at Wisher (Derby) Ltd, a family run musical instrument shop. At this stage we did not have the largest of selection of guitars available. We were not one of the UK’s largest accounts for the suppliers and Derby is certainly not in the centre of the universe for successful bands, artist or studios. But we did sell guitars, and around the late 70s, Fender Strat sales were good. Remember you could only buy USA Fenders then. No Far Eastern imports in those days, so apart from a choice of colours, the only options available were with or without trem, plus maple or rosewood fingerboard. One of the more popular colours towards the end of the 70s was a natural finished Strat. Now it might seem hard to believe today, but how many had a 60’s Fender and stripped the old finish off it ????? If you weren’t around then, ask a friend, your Dad, older brother, uncle or whoever was involved in playing guitar in those days and see what memories they have of such Strats. I suppose the old red or blue finish was no longer cool. Maybe it was just beaten up and looked better stripped back to natural. If you were around then, I’m sure you can recollect such stories as I certainly recall many such instances

Other cool things in the late 70’s to do to your guitar:-

I clearly remember that on more than a few occasions, we would have two or three  1960’s Strats on the wall at the same time, in various disguises and none were easy to sell. The new 78 Strat would sell for around £375, and we struggled to get £300 for these older guitars. Now some of these old guitars just had the finish removed, but some had a new brass nut, new brass saddles, new 5 way switch, Dimarzio pickup, or any combination of the above. I even recall either selling the new ‘custom parts’ to customers to ‘upgrade’ the guitar themselves, or we would undertake the work on their behalf. As I said earlier, Derby was not the guitar centre of the UK, but I use to see plenty of these ‘customised’ 60’s Strats. Now go and speak to the dealers who were much larger in those days, and see how many ‘customised’ Strats went through their hands.  Speak to the likes of Keith Woodcock and his staff (Rob, Phil, Clive, Malc) from the old Carlsbro days at Mansfield, Ken Archard and the guys from Top Gear on Denmark Street, Graham Pell from Soundpad, Dixie from Dandelion Music in Huddersfield. These guys sold far more guitars in the 70’s than I did. Or speak to the likes of Neville Marten from Guitarist Magazine, who repaired and gigged these guitars in the 70’s. The same with the likes of Geoff Whitehorn, or Eddie Allen, who could be seen demonstrating for Fender and Marshall around the UK or at various music shows. I’m sure that they can all account for such ‘modified’ vintage Strats

You also have to remember that in the late 70’s the vintage guitar market had barely started. It was still possible to find a ’59’ Les Paul, for £2000, in the dealer ads in the back of Melody Maker (I know because been a Gary Moore fan I wanted one). So guitarist undertaking such custom modifications were doing so purely for their own satisfaction and improvement. Remember at the time it was not deemed as devaluing an old guitar.  As mentioned above, a 62 pre CBS Strat was selling for around £300, so at the time it was no big deal to undertake such changes.

NOW LETS MOVE ON A FEW YEARS – WHAT HAS CHANGED – ASTRONOMICAL INCREASES IN THE VALUE OF VINTAGE GUITARS

Now don’t you think that in the 70’s, when you could easily find a non-original ‘customised’ 60s Strat to buy for around £300, that today it is rare to come across such a stripped down 60’s Strat for sale, with a brass nut, brass saddles, a 5 way switch, or fitted with Dimarzio pick-ups. I read loads of guitar magazines and adverts, browse the readers sale ads in the back of the mags, visit guitars shows, visit other music stores throughout the UK, click on various web sites inc Reverb, Gum Tree or E-bay, but it is very rare to find such a ‘customised’ 60s Strats for sale. They appear to all have become ‘original’ again

With good clean examples of a pre CBS 60’s Strat now selling between £10,000 and £15,000, and many poor refinished examples fetching around half this price, such values means the vintage guitar market is open to abuse. It is easy to find dealers in the States advertising genuine original parts on the web site. It is equally just as easy to find on the web site, copies of the original headstock transfers/decals, complete with all the appropriate pat. nos. Couple this with the ability to give a new refinished guitar the ‘aged’ treatment, so the desire and ability to pass a guitar off as original is there. The cost of a superb re-spray in a ‘custom coloured’ nitro-cellulose finish, and then ‘aged’ would cost under £1000, yet the rewards for selling it on as original can be in excess of £8000 extra profit. Hence a big motivation.

To be fair, I have known a number of customers who have had their old Fender refurbished to the original spec, for their own use, then if sold at a later date, it would be advertised as a refurbished model. As such it is often further down the line when such a guitar might be ‘passed off as original’

Whilst a new Fender Custom Shop Relic Strat replica is easily identifiable from an old Strat, anyone who has seen one of the ‘aged’ SRV models or the first replica of the Rory Gallagher model, will be able to see very clearly what levels can be achieved with the ‘aged’ process. Now apply this ability to any repairer or trader (unfortunately some supposedly vintage traders now operate from home, so I wonder if they pay taxes on their trading profits !!!) who has a low level of integrity, but is skilled in the know-how of how to create an ‘aged’ master piece and the result is a big potential profit for the seller. But a poor deal for some unsuspecting buyer. Fender are now even manufacturing exact detailed original parts for their 50th Anniversary Custom Shop 54 Strat. So whilst these parts are not available to buy from Fender, as they are strictly manufactured for that guitar, if Fender have the ability to make them, then so has someone else. I have heard rumours on the web, of a small unit in the Far East illegally manufacturing aged old parts, and even old and aged guitars, to be sold of as original. If true, we now have the added problem off ‘new’ guitars deliberately manufactured for fraudulent purposes and sold as ‘original vintage’ models. So this is on top of the more well known approach of passing on refurbished examples as original.

A short while ago I came across an interesting situation. In 1978 I acquired a 1962 Strat. At the time of buying this Strat, the body had been stripped back to natural, yet the rest of the guitar was 100% original. That included every pot, pick-up, capacitor, hardware, screws etc etc. Around 1978 I had this Strat re-finished in fiesta red with a nitro finish. I’d only it back about 1 hour when I accidentally marked the new soft finish with a distinguishable blemish, so along with the serial number, it made this guitar instantly recognizable. Sometime in the 90’s I sold it, after having played it for a number of years. I sold it as described, with a re-fin body but otherwise all original. Now jump ahead and around 15 years later I was asked to provide a written  insurance valuation for a customer. He came to see me at the shop with his 1962 Strat. I opened the case and instantly recognized my old guitar. I quickly pointed out that a) it was my old guitar and b) the re-fin was still in pretty much the same condition as when I sold it. The customer instantly wanted to question my thoughts about the refin, as he had purchased it, at an appropriate price, believing it to be all original. So I told him my story, yet it turns out it must have gone through one, maybe two, further owners since I sold it. So somewhere down the line, someone took a chance that maybe it could be sold as an original Strat. I’ve not seen the guitar or last owner since, but certainly such stories exist

Do not just think the problems of fake and fraudulent activities only apply to old Fender guitars – they don’t.

As a parting note, I recall an article in an American monthly guitar magazine, written by a respectable repairer and trader. The writer was going to sell an old Strat on behalf of the customer, he passed comment to the customer that the guitar in question was nice, clean and original. The customer then pointed out that the guitar had in fact been refurbished a number of years previously by the writer. The refurbished work was so good, he had not spotted his own work, it was that good. Scary times

Ultimately it is a case of BUYER BEWARE – if the rewards for fraudulent activity exist then the market place to deliver such returns will equally exist.