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This article was originally published in issue #13
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Now here's the rub... If you didn't want to restore it, you could easily sell it for its parts!
Guitar Interactive welcomes back the noted guitar collector and historian Paul Brett with his unique take on vintage guitars. Just what's left that is affordable and - most importantly fun to play?
In this issue I'm going to again present a varied article concerning collecting vintage guitars that, in its fundamental form, highlights what you should steer away from when buying vintage - or anything else for that matter. The first guitar I want to illustrate falls under my 'bridge too far' category as even for an experienced luthier it would cost far too much time and money to repair to its former glory and in this case, wouldn't be worth the costs involved, as these Collegiate guitars do not fetch that much in the market. Here is a 1930's guitar I fondly call 'The Old Dog'. It was, in its day, a low budget guitar that was passed around students and some have left their names and marks etched into it, which was a common practice back in the '30s with these kinds of shared student guitars. This would not be a major issue to repair under normal circumstances but then someone else got out the Polyfilla (Spackle, for our American readers - Ed) and had an artistic moment creating what can only be described as amateur mayhem in trying to effect repairs! I keep it purely for illustration purposes and it acts as a reminder to check out repair costs when buying vintage instruments that have issues. The photographs feature the scribing of names and etchings all over the back of the body and on the scratch plate, the massive side split attempted repair, side hole Polyfilla repair and the headstock with the Collegiate logo - still mostly intact would you believe? Value, totally worthless!
On the other hand, the second guitar would be very collectable if it was in top condition. May I therefore present a member of the Hofner arch top family, first introduced to the market in 1954 and often referred to as the Black Beauty. Whilst this has had an awful attempted repair to re-attach the neck to the body, it's still salvageable and restorable, albeit needing some parts and a major repair.
The Hofner model 458 was a deluxe version of the 456 and has an all laminated body. Standard in size, 410mm wide and 80mm deep, it has a five piece neck and a rosewood fingerboard adorned with mother of plastic inlays. The particular model under discussion does not carry the original tailpiece, which was usually a trapeze style and adorned with the Karl Hofner logo. The tailpiece on my one is a compensated one usually associated with those fitted to Hofner Presidents under the Selmer brand, so I guess this was a later replacement addition. The single pick up is a Hofner twin coil type 511 with exposed staples and a wide plastic surround, this and the control panel, may also have been a later addition. There is no bridge and the machine heads carry a couple of awful unrelated replacement tuning knobs in grey on the bass side of the strip. Some of the laminate is also coming away from the neck join, probably because whoever tried to repair it, used a claw hammer! As I said, this can all be repaired. So, unlike the Collegiate guitar, the Hofner is probably worth restoring because there's not a lot of them about.
Now here's the rub... If you didn't want to restore it, you could easily sell it for its parts! Hofner original parts are worth lots of $$$. For example: an original compensator tailpiece is averaging around the $270 mark. A pair of strip machine heads in vgc, around $240. A plastic pick up mounting around $30, scratch plate $95, single control knob, $30, vintage neck around $450 and a body even more, while a pot from the '60s fetches around $60 and so on. Original Hofner parts are very rare to find and collectors will pay good money to restore their original guitars. There is quite a healthy market in collecting Hofners and my mate Gordon Giltrap wrote a very good book on the company and its guitars, which is well worth a read.
It could even be argued that even after restoration to a guitar like this, you will make more money on selling the parts individually, without the hassle! Of course you'll never realise the price that John Lennon's own Senator achieved at the Christie's auction in 2009, where it sold for a staggering $337,226 dollars but as a guitar, it wasn't worth more than six or seven hundred. Goes to show you what people will pay to own a legendary musician’s guitar he only played when first starting out on his monumental but tragic journey!
It’s a must, also, to check out the electronics on any vintage guitar that is being sold as original. Check the dates on the pots, serial numbers on pickups etc. against listings that are readily available on the 'net to see if you are actually buying an original. This is fairly easy to do on solid bodied guitars. I have seen some beautiful, yet cheeky fakes that people have made and sold for far more than the item was worth, because what they purchased was made up of other parts from later models or repros. Others have had resprays and alterations made, which will devalue the instruments sell-on price. If you are serious in starting or building a collection, research everything you can before parting with your cash.
A couple of years ago, someone put Robert Johnson’s Gibson 1928 L1 up for sale with an asking price of $6 million dollars. It made the headlines in the press but seeing the photographs on line, it looked like a new guitar which, if it was Johnson’s, would certainly have shown signs of playwear and probably more down through the years. There is also the conjecture that Johnson never owned a Gibson because at that time, many photographic studios carried suits and prop guitars for artistes with little money to have their pictures taken with. It’s more than likely that of the two known Johnson pictures with guitars, he played the Kalamazoo KG -14, which was the cheaper version brand Gibson produced. Oh, the joys of collecting!