Mark’s Corner by Mark Waldrop

First let me say that I am NOT an authority on vintage guitars. For that refer to George Gruhn, Walter Carter, or Matt Umanov. One of those guys whose entire life has been dedicated to this subject. But, I have been working and playing guitars; vintage, new, and used for several decades now and I do have some insight. Yet I continue to be enlightened by new information and discoveries in the world of fretted instruments.

Many years ago, in the early days of Vintage Guitar magazine a discussion came up about what actually makes a guitar “vintage”. Is a post CBS Fender guitar a true vintage instrument or is a late 60s or 70s Fender (like Jimi played) a true vintage piece? At that time there were many who protested that only a pre CBS Fender is a true vintage Fender and nothing else deserves that designation. Well that was about 40 years ago and most of those protestors are long dead. Today a guitar considered vintage may well be a late 1970s or 1980s guitar that those moldy figs who had such disdain for more recent listings would have snubbed. A Japanese made Fender Squier is now a vintage guitar. Back in that Vintage Guitar Magazine discussion, as I recall, anything over 20 years was deemed a vintage instrument. By that standard 2000 Gibson Les Paul is now a vintage guitar and a 1993 Fender Kurt Cobain Jag-Stang is a vintage collectible.

My own 1943 Gibson L7 is one of only three that were made that year. They have carved bodies like a cello or violin, making them perhaps most labor intensive guitar. This very guitar has a current value of maybe $3,500.00. A 1965 Fender Stratocaster, an assembly line built instrument made in the 100s at least would fetch a hefty 5 figure amount, and a 1959 Les Paul would be 6 figures. There’s no justice or reason for the values placed on most vintage guitars other than that our object of desire was played by one of our heroes.

Truth be told today’s guitars are among the best ever made, many of which instantly have the panache of a great vintage guitar. Those factory made guitars of yore weren’t build by luthiers, but they likely are today. Of course a Custom Shop Fender or Gibson is going to be a special guitar, but so is a Heritage or the amazing Grez guitars that we’ve been selling. Barry Grezbik is making guitars from ancient redwoods 1000 years old or more. You don’t get much more vintage than that. The flavor of decade has been torrefaction, cooked woods, or whatever they choose to call it. The idea is to produce guitar that sounds and responds like an old guitar. It works.

Me, I’d rather torrefy my own guitar by playing the heck out of it. I’ve seen brand new high quality guitars begin to open up with just a few hours of playing time. After a few years they start to really chime. For some of our clients who own many guitars none of them get played enough to really open up.

It’s taken me some 60 years to find my ideal guitars. I have 4 and they all please me each time I play one of them. One vintage piece is the Gibson L7 and the other one is a 1970 Harmony Sovereign 12 string. Some folks are fortunate enough to find the perfect instrument at the beginning of their playing career, but for others it’s a life long quest. At my advanced age I hope to be done searching, but I may be proven wrong.

The coolest vintage guitar I ever played was a WW II era Martin 000-28 that had belonged to blues great Big Bill Broonzy. It was lent to me by a friend on the occasion of myself and Bob Rountree opening up for British folk/jazz/rock band Pentangle at The Village Gate in Greenwich Village back in 1970. The band consisted of the two greatest British acoustic guitarists of that time, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. A friend of mine felt that I needed to be playing a flat top acoustic rather than my old Gibson ES 125. Interestingly, that very guitar came to be owned by Pentangle guitarist John Renbourn many years later.

Today I’m happy with my Martin 000-18 12 fret and my others. I hope you’re happy with your guitars, too, whether it’s a newer Chinese made Epiphone or a rare 1920s era Larson (I’ve owned both). But if you’re still searching stop by.