I think we are in an age where some of the finest, most consistent guitars are being made both in factories and by individual makers. For this reason, while I’ve thought vintage guitars were intriguing, I’ve never really bought into the hype that they are worth, in some cases, 100 times more than a new guitar of “equal” specs.
The truth is, though, I had never played any truly vintage guitars until recently. I’ve now played a few vintage guitars, and I realize that there’s a little more to it than hype.
What I’ve found is that there does appear to be something special about a good vintage guitar. I played through a couple of examples from Gibson and Fender and was surprised about how they felt. It’s hard to put into words exactly what was different about them, but there’s definitely something about them, whether it’s vibe or wood that has aged or something else. It’s probably a lot of things.
To give a specific example, I was able to play a 1963 Strat that was really beat up, with various modifications. The body looked like it had been dragged behind a car. However, the neck felt better than any neck I’ve ever played before. It was well worn and extremely comfortable. The body was very resonant and had a nice attack to it. There are some guitars that when you play them just feel right. This guitar was like that.
That’s not to say that all vintage guitars are great. There are certainly some duds, just like there are some duds being made today. When I was playing the Strat a few weeks ago, I also played through about five different 50s era Telecasters. I didn’t like any of them. One was very heavy, and the rest just lacked whatever it was that the Strat had.
However, when you find a good one, there’s a little extra vibe to them that new guitars don’t seem to have. Again, it’s hard to explain what it is. There’s also something special about playing a guitar that has a lot of history. It’s fun to imagine where the guitar has been and what stories it could tell.
Unfortunately, most vintage instruments are priced out of the range of normal people. It’s hard to find a 60s Strat or a 50s Telecaster that is below $10,000, and you certainly aren’t going to find a vintage Les Paul that regular players can afford.
For that reason, I’m glad that the factories and boutique builders of today are producing such high quality instruments at relatively low prices making them accessible to most of us. Even the import guitars are much better than they were just 10 or 15 years ago. There are nice guitars being made at just about any price point.
However, if you ever have a chance to play a vintage guitar, I think you’ll find what I’ve found: No matter how nice a new guitar is, there’s a vibe and feeling in a good vintage guitar that a new guitar can’t replicate.