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by Glenn Kenny


Hank Williams

For some folks shopping for vintage instruments, the scenario is that they've reached a certain level of success in life, and have embarked on a sentimental journey. "Some customers come saying, 'I've always wanted to own this guitar, since I was 16; I couldn't afford it when it was a mere $600, but now I'm ready to spend $6,000 or even $60,000.'"

Sometimes the journey has taken a customer someplace he didn't want to go. "I had a client once who returned a very nice Gretsch. Naturally we were curious as to why, and he said, 'It's a lovely guitar, but it smells like granny's attic.' Well, we couldn't argue with that, not that it's our policy to anyway. We accepted the return and the fellow still wanted a guitar, so he flew in and spent a whole day smelling guitars to find one that wasn't offensive.

It's not something of which I'm dismissive. People buy things that resonate emotionally. In the case of this particular Gretsch, well, the customer found out its emotional resonance wasn't the one he was looking for. I'm happy to report he found a piece that did strike the right tone, and aroma, after a sufficient amount of sniffing around. Actually he found several guitars that day!

"There's a saying, nobody buys a $100,000 stamp collection because they need to mail a letter. Some collectors won't do much playing of a really expensive piece. Guitars are different from stamp collections. As with stamps, with vintage instruments condition, originality and authenticity are important factors. But you can play the instrument, and you can have fun with it. When Merle Haggard was reunited with the Lefty Frizzell guitar that was lent to him by Lefty himself the first time Haggard played on a professional stage, when he was fifteen, Merle went straight into the studio with that guitar, to make a record with it."

Not every guitar in the shop goes for tens of thousands of dollars, but every guitar on the floor is special, in tune and beautifully playable. Which one's best for you will depend on more factors besides budget. Over the next installments of this guide to vintage guitars, we'll look at the different genres of music that certain models are best at, and look at both classic pieces and eccentric axes.

Merle Haggard

back to Part I

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