Vintage guitar market anxious for high notes at auction

Fri Mar 28, 2014 8:12am EDT
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By Phil Wahba

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The market for vintage guitars is tuning up again after years of hitting flat notes.

Its comeback will be tested next week, when California-based collector Hank Risan puts 265 of his 700 guitars on the block in the biggest such auction in recent memory.

Up for sale are electric and acoustic guitars by D'Angelico, Gibson, Gretsch, Martin and Washburn and others, from the 1890s to the 1950's, a period many collectors see as a golden era of guitarmaking.

A 1930 Martin OM-45 deluxe acoustic, one of only 11 made, lists a starting bid of $875,000 and is expected to be the highlight of the auction, set for April 2-3 at boutique auction house Guernsey's in New York.

The sale is being closely watched not only by guitar enthusiasts hankering for a historic "axe," both to play and as an investment. Dealers are looking for a fix on prices after the market cratered in 2008, as wealthy investors and aficionados got slammed by the financial crisis.

"This is the first time in six years, basically, that there has been this sort of opportunity to see whether there has been a recovery," said Peter Szego, a collector and former architect who last year edited a history book on American guitars.

An index by Vintage Guitar Magazine that uses the value of 42 classic guitars as a market proxy has started to tick upward after falling some 30 percent from its 2008 peak of $1 million, when the financial crisis sent collectors scurrying, to a trough early last year.

In the years before 2008, many speculators, particularly for electric guitars, jumped into the market for the first time, creating a bubble.   Continued...

Vintage guitars are seen on display during a preview before their auction in New York March 20, 2014. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton