If you're a recent vintage guitar collector, the stories you've heard are true. You once could step into pawn shops or flea markets and find vintage Gibson Les Pauls and Fender Stratocasters for $50 to $100. True. These guitars now sell for thousands of dollars on Ebay and Gbase.
Those days are gone -- but there are still deals if you know what to look for.
The simple thing to remember in vintage guitar collecting is ... American guitars. Not to say Japanese or European luthiers haven't made fine guitars, but the vintage market isn't looking that way. If you stay American-made, you'll have the best chance of an instrument that will appreciate in value.
Next, forget about those who claim certain years of American guitars aren't desirable. It's true that folks once looked down on '70's Stratocasters -- but folks are now scrambling and paying top dollar for 70's and 80's models! Same thing with '80's Gibson guitars -- once thought of as poor-quality examples, people now bid high amounts for them.
Why? Well, once the most desirable pieces are gone, whatever's left is going to command attention.
So -- to find the next "deal" -- look for American made guitars that collectors are currently ignoring. Because -- soon enough, these will be at the top of the food chain.
How about specifics? Well, think "student" models. Some models are already desirable -- Fender Mustangs and Gibson Melody Makers, for example; other models haven't gained notice yet ... but they will!
For instance, Fender Bullets, made in the early 1980's, are student model guitars, but are American made and use parts found in Telecasters of the same period (pickups, etc). These are great-sounding, easy-playing, and nice looking instruments. You can still find Bullets for less than $300 ... although they're beginning to gather attention. Note, we're not talking the Squire Bullet Stratocaster-type model, but the American-made Fender model (looks like a Telecaster).
Fender also put out a Lead series -- the Lead I, Lead II, and the Lead III. Again, these were an American made student series -- but are great playing, solidly made, and sound wonderful. You can still pick up Lead's for less than $300.
Gibson Melody Makers have already been discovered by collectors -- but there's not a lot of action with Gibson's Kalamazoo line ... yet. These student models are similar in quality to the Melody Makers and Fender Mustangs. I've found Kalamazoo models for less than $100!
I haven't mentioned other brands -- Epiphone, Gretsch, Guild, etc -- because either their student models have already exploded in price or they really don't have student models. Stick with Fender and Gibson, stick with American made, and keep your eyes on lesser-known student models ... and you'll find deals that will likely join other lines in appreciating over the coming years.
Joey Robichaux operates the Free Sheet Music site at http://www.freesheetmusic.net and is an avid vintage guitar collector.