The Best Vintage Guitars to Add to Your Investment Portfolio

The Best Vintage Guitars to Add to Your Investment Portfolio

Vintage guitars can jazz up your investments and may hedge against inflation. Here's what you need to know to keep your portfolio in harmony.

The Best Vintage Guitars to Add to Your Investment Portfolio
Priscilla Thomas

Updated Nov 23, 2022

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  • Kurt Cobain's 1959 Martin D-18E is the most expensive guitar ever sold at auction
  • Replicas of Tony Iommi's 1964 Gibson Solid Guitar are some of the rarest in the world
  • You can invest in sought-after vintage guitars starting at $2

There are so many types of guitars on the market—big ones, small ones, electric ones, and acoustic ones. They can have six strings or seven or 12. Some were made by legends, and a few were played by them. With so many guitars out there, how do we know which ones are great investments and which ones should get smashed on stage?

However you decide to invest, vintage guitars might help your portfolio hit the high notes.

Vintage instruments don't just make beautiful music—they can also make financial sense to invest in. Just like luxury watches and Macallan whiskey, vintage electric guitars are a promising alternative asset for investors to diversify their portfolios.

The best vintage guitars to invest in

Not everything old is worth holding onto, so you need to know which vintage guitars are worth your time and money. Guitars made before 1980 are usually considered vintage.

Some of the most valuable vintage electric guitars are American-produced Gibson and Fender models from the 1950s and 60s. This was when these enduring brands were still building and innovating.

Not every guitar from these brands or decades will be a worthwhile investment. Similar to investing in fine art, you must stay on top of the market and the culture to inform your choices. There's no guarantee that an investment will pay off, but research can help you avoid hitting a sour note.

What makes a vintage guitar valuable?

As with many vintage collectible investments like rare books or fine wine, the value of a vintage guitar is not correlated to the stock market. Instead, factors like rarity, condition, and cultural significance determine their value. This makes them an appealing asset class for diversifying your investment portfolio and a potential inflation hedge.

But what kind of vintage guitar will make your bank account sing?

Fame and fortune

It's all who you know or, in the case of vintage guitars, who they knew. Guitars owned or played by celebrities may potentially increase in value. The acoustic guitar played by Kurt Cobain during his 1993 MTV Unplugged performance holds the record for most expensive guitar auction at $6.1 million in 2020.

And a one-of-a-kind Charvel EVH Art Series guitar that Eddie Van Halen played onstage and autographed sold for $74,400 on Goldin Auctions in 2008.

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The 2008 Charvel EVH Art Series guitar used on stage and autographed by Eddie Van Halen.
Source: goldin.co 

Used guitars in the Art Series sell for $4,000 to $50,000. Bids in the April 2022 auction started at $10,000, but with Van Halen's signature and stage time, the value increased by nearly 650%.

Even models preferred by popular guitarists have become more valuable. For example, the 1959 Gibson Les Paul has been one of the most sought-after vintage electric guitars for years thanks in no small part to being a favorite of musicians like Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.

goldin
Goldin

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1959 Gibson Les Paul standard

  • Type: Electric
  • Style: Six-string
  • Supply: 643
  • Highest sale: $2 million in 2016

The ‘59 standards regularly sell for six-figures, and Gibson believes that a mint condition version could be worth up to $500,000. The Les Paul was replaced by the Gibson SG in 1961, but its popularity led to a reissue in 1968. 

The stuff legends are made of

You might not notice whether a guitar is made with generic or rare materials, but trained ears can appreciate the difference. The type of wood used in a guitar's body can impact the tone, resonance, and value.

Korina is from the Limba tree, a relative of mahogany that produces similar tones in a guitar. When Gibson was designing their futuristic 50s models, they chose Korina wood because it wasn't commonly used at the time. Unfortunately, these cutting-edge designs sold very poorly—fewer than 100 Flying Vs shipped in 1958 and 1959—so they were quickly phased out. The wood itself isn't rare, but vintage guitars made with Korina wood are, which, as a result, makes them valuable collectibles.

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The 1959 Flying V that sold for $182,500 through Christie's in 2009.
Source: newatlas.com

1959 Gibson Flying V

  • Type: Electric
  • Style: Six-string
  • Supply: 98
  • Highest sale: $182,500 in 2009

The record-high price for a 1959 Gibson Flying V is $182,500 in 2009, 22% above its estimated value at the time. Adjusted for inflation, the Korina wood guitar would be worth $252,485 in 2022.

Short supply

Rarity often influences the value of a collectible, whether you're hunting down Pokémon cards or vintage guitars. The dismal sales of Gibson Flying Vs and Explorers have made them hundreds of times more valuable than their original retail price. The Flying Vs were costly in 1959, but the $247 price tag (nearly $2,500 today) is a fraction of the six-figure sales they fetch at auction.

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Chart tracking sales of similar assets to the Iommi replica prototype on Rally.
Source: rallyrd.com

Scarcity can also be intentional, like with special edition guitars. For example, the 1964 Gibson SG had a limited run of replicas produced in 2020 in honor of Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi. Iommi played a '64 SG on every Black Sabbath album and tour throughout the 1970s. Gibson honored Iommi with a special edition batch of 50 replicas of his customized SG, complete with the cartoon monkey decal that had decorated his original.

2020 Gibson Iommi "Monkey" SG (1964 replica)

  • Type: Electric
  • Style: Six-string
  • Supply: 50
  • Highest price: $20,000 on the Reverb Marketplace

Brand new Iommi Monkey guitars can sell for up to $20,000, but the signed prototype available on Rally opened with a $65,000 price tag at its initial offering. 

Freestyle features

Handcrafted vintage guitars have become more valuable over time, and they often come with one-of-a-kind pieces, rare materials, or unique designs. All of these features can increase their value among collectors.

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A one-of-a-kind 2005 Martin/Harvey Leach acoustic guitar that sold for $23,000 in 2016.
Source: liveauctioneers.com

Since 1833, the iconic acoustic guitar company C.F. Martin & Co. produced handcrafted guitars that often sell for thousands of dollars, even in used condition. When combined with custom Harvey Leach inlays, these guitars reach five-figure prices. Like the 2005 Martin D-45 "Melissa" that sold for $23,000—nearly twice its starting bid—on LiveAuctioneers in 2016. The mother-of-pearl inlay and solid black ebony fingerboard are one-of-a-kind features that make this guitar a desirable collectible.

Standout features can also add value to a vintage guitar, like Slash's double-necked Gibson from Guns N' Roses' "Use Your Illusion" tour in 1991. Slash purchased the 1966 Gibson EDS-1275 so that he could play the intricate solos that made songs like "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" instant classics.

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Chart tracking the sales of assets similar to the 1966 Gibson EDS-1275 replica in honor of Slash on Rally.
Source: rallyrd.com

2019 Gibson Slash EDS-1275 (1966 replica)

  • Type: Electric
  • Style: Double-necked
  • Supply: 125
  • New price: $13,299

In 2019, Gibson released 125 replicas of these iconic black double-necked guitars. They were priced at $13,299 each and signed by Slash. Resale prices for the special edition replicas are around $12,000 and up. The prototype that was sent to Slash for approval was acquired by Rally, where it has a market cap of $15,600.

Rally lets investors buy shares in the 2019 Gibson Slash prototype for around $1.20 each.

rallyrd
Rally

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How to invest in vintage guitars

Vintage guitars are definitely cooler investments than stocks and bonds, but you want to be sure that you find the right guitar for your portfolio. Luckily, you have options on how to invest in vintage guitars.

Auctions

 

Purchasing a vintage electric guitar at an auction house is a great option for investors with enough money to spend who want to own the physical asset. It's also your best bet for owning an instrument with a famous past. Guitars that were owned or played by influential musicians are often auctioned at high-end houses like Sotheby's and Christie's.

You can also find instruments with interesting history and provenance on auction platforms like Goldin and StockX. Both platforms hold assets that're carefully selected for their cultural value and high returns potential.

Shop in person

Connecting with collectors can help you track down the best vintage guitar for you to invest in with the added bonus of being able to see the guitar—and the seller—with your own eyes. Many music shops have vintage instruments and some stores are dedicated to selling vintage music instruments. You can also get together with music collectors at vintage trade shows in some major cities. These are your best opportunities to track down a vintage guitar investment.

Fractionalized investments

You can also use collectible investment platforms that offer fractionalized assets to build a vintage guitar collection without having to store or maintain it. These platforms turn assets into shares that investors can purchase starting at a few bucks. Rally has acquired several guitars with impressive provenance that are trading between $1 and $5 per share.

However you decide to invest, vintage guitars are a collectible asset that might help your portfolio hit the high notes.

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