Let’s face it. Not everyone can afford a six figure 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard or a $70K and up Fender Mary Kaye Stratocaster. Fear not. For those of us who have to collect guitars on a budget or may be new to the vintage guitar collecting world, there is still hope! You don’t need to be a seasoned collector or a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to afford a great vintage axe.
Here are 5 electric guitars that won’t break the bank.
Introduced in October of 1964, the mighty little Mustang followed Fender’s other successful student models, the Musicmaster and the Duo-Sonic. With an offset body, short scale and the same single coil pickups found in the Fender Stratocaster, the Mustang is a can’t miss for players with smaller hands but a desire for big sound. However, these little guitars were also easily modified. If you are considering a Mustang, have the guitar inspected thoroughly to insure that it hasn’t been monkeyed with. For added cool points, look for Competition models with rally stripes or early models from late 1964 and 1965.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, Valco produced guitars branded as Supro, Oahu, National and Airline. Sold mostly through catalogs and in retailers such as Montgomery Wards, Valco guitars were more often than not, a young player’s first guitar. This has created a nostalgia effect that is inching these guitars up in value. In addition, the incredible revival of garage rock has thrust these guitars into the spotlight thanks to the likes of Jack White. For added cool points, look for multiple pickup versions that can really scream.
A few years ago, the market saw a sharp rise in the values of the Chicago made (Kay/Harmony/Silvertone) solid body guitars like the Jupiter and Stratotone. However, their semi-hollow stable mates lagged behind. Well, that has certainly changed. Early rockabilly artists loved these guitars and they have been re-embraced by players such as Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. Models such as the Harmony Rocket and Vibrajet and the Silvertone 1446 are readily available and very capable guitars. For added cool points, target models with working on-board effects like electronic tremolo or factory Bigsby tail pieces.
Since it was launched in 1954, the Stratocaster has become the symbol of American rock music. But with pre-CBS (pre-1965) examples often selling for the same price as a luxury car, budget conscious collectors may be a little gun shy about buying a vintage Strat. The good news is that there is no shortage of affordable and beautiful 1970’s Stratocasters that deliver a lot of bang for the buck. The Natural finish guitars are the most plentiful but color finishes like Black, Olympic White, Blonde and Wine can drive up the price a bit. Buyers should also note that these guitars can be notoriously heavy. It’s okay to ask about the weight before purchasing. For added cool points, look for the rare colors like Antigua. Some people love it. Some people hate it but it is definitely different.
These thinline Gibsons of the early 1960’s would eventually grow into the Gibson ES-330 and ES-335. Often overshadowed by their later and larger siblings, the ES-120s are no slouches. Their P-90 pickups were workhorses popular with jazz and country musicians of the day and their incredibly light weight made them comfortable to play for long periods of time. There were few frills associated with the ES-120 but their beauty was in their simplicity. As with most student level guitars, many were played hard. For added cool points, look for clean early examples from 1962 to 1964. These are considered the best years of the model.
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