Paying for a slice of history: the mystifying value of vintage guitars

The electric guitar is our single most enduring musical icon. A holy relic of popular culture, for over 60 years it has remained part of our everyday musical lives. For some they’re simply tools of the trade, but to many they’re living artworks, collisions of science, aesthetics and artifice.

Jimi Hendrix Strat

Vintage guitar expert, American author and former editor in chief of Guitar Magazine, Harvey Newquis, break down what makes a million dollar seller.

The market for rare and vintage electric guitars is a world unto itself. As those with an interest in the fret trade would know, even the most innocuous of models can command a jaw-dropping price tag.

When a famous association enters into the mix a mysterious x-factor kicks in to play. Here ownership can imbue a special significance and value. Touched with the essence of an iconic artist a sliver of greatness lives on within their guitars.

Known to some as memorabilia appeal, there’s no simple formula or textbook procedure for valuation. Common sense places emphasis on the cultural significance of the former owner, how many instruments they possessed, how often they employed the instrument, the track record of other instruments sold, what genre the artist hails from and of course whether the owner is living or deceased.

Yet the provenance of an iconic figure or even an association can elevate the value of a rare or mundane model well past logical value.

To give but three examples of the hefty tag these coveted guitars command, Eric Clapton’s customised Fender Stratocaster ‘Blackie’ sold for a record $959,500 US dollars in 2004. In 2013 Bob Dylan’s Newport-era Strat topped this figure, auctioning for more than double its expected value for $965,000.

Still, others have broken the million dollar mark. Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 white ‘Woodstock’ Strat, which is purported to have sold for an estimated $2 million when auctioned in 1998.

If you’re aspiring to sell your own million dollar guitar, you may be disappointed. Not every axe is a sure-fire winner. After delving deeply into the scope, nature and limitation of this curious value-add there’s a number of surprising truths behind just what exactly makes a famous vintage guitar…..

Read the full feature in Happy Mag Issue #5

Also in Issue 5

Burning the fucking joint down: we chat to A.B. Original
The Endurance of Shoegaze: a chat with Ride, Slowdive, and those taking the genre into the future.
Keeping Sydney Open: a late night conversation with Tyson Koh
Mood, space and the art of invisibility with rising producer Antonia Gauci
Mapping sound and colour with Leif Podhajský