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Modern Home Theater Lifestyle and Design
Investment Grade Guitars
By Bryan Southard

For some, the guitar's influence extends no further than that of their Guitar Hero video game. To others, it's the instrument of the gods. Most can argue a favorite instrument, but you will be hard-pressed to find an instrument that's had a larger impact on modern music. With the invention of the electric guitar in the early 1950s, it soon became the tool of choice for modern music. The '50s gave birth to the surf generation, with such greats as Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, yet by the late '60s, we had virtuosos like Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, whose guitar chops transcended what we previously thought mere mortals could produce. Who can forget the impact of such classics as Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" on rock and roll?

Some sought to collect and preserve these fine instruments and their amplifiers, knowing that someday they would be valuable. Others used their instruments like tools, later modifying them and rendering these fine guitars as "players' instruments" with significantly reduced value. Still, with the collectors' market in full swing, it's never too late to invest. Over the last decade, finer guitar gear has appreciated at a rate that exceeds most other common investment opportunities. Here are a few fine examples:

1978 Fender Stratocaster

These late-‘70s Stratocaster’s (1975-1980) were produced by CBS following the sale of Fender in 1966 and were once considered junk when compared to the pre-CBS models. Yet, with pre-CBS Strats selling for upwards of $20,000, these guitars are now sought-after axes. These guitars range from $1,500-$2,500, depending of the color and condition, and have appreciated as much as 15 percent over the last year, making them great investments.

1964 Fender Stratocaster

Many enthusiasts consider the ‘64 Stratocaster as the holy grail of electric guitars, one that few can now afford to own. However, for those with deep pockets, this is a guitar that is in short supply and one that will appreciate as much as 100 percent in the next decade. There is a tall buy-in but, due to limited availability, there is also a certain return and a great player in the meantime.

1979 Gibson Les Paul Standard

Gibson produced many more Les Paul Customs in the ‘70s than Standards, yet time has proven that the Les Paul Standard is the favored instrument of today. Late-‘70s Standards, in good condition, will become more sought-after in the coming years. With the average price for an original, clean Sunburst model at about $2,000, plenty of beautiful examples are available on eBay for as little as $1,400. This instrument is sure to appreciate as much as 50 percent in the next several years.

1958 Les Paul Standard

This guitar, known by enthusiasts as a “Burst,” is perhaps the most coveted guitar on the planet. Bursts were produced between 1958 and 1960, with a mere 200 ever made. Models that have strong color and are in good, unmodified condition are fetching in excess of half a million dollars, with recent 1959s selling just north of $1,000,000. Due to the low availability of these awesome guitars, this investment is one for the ultra-rich and a new way for the rich to get richer.

1966 Marshall Model 1987 50-Watt Amplifier

This amp, referred to as a “Plexi” due to its notable Plexiglas front panel, remains the favorite of many legends, from Jimmy Page to Jeff Beck, due its absolutely superb dynamics and signature “Marshall at 11” sound. Unlike more recent models, distortion on these old Marshall amps was created by cranking them full-blast. These amplifiers have doubled in cost over the last 10 years and will continue to climb. Pay close attention to be sure that all components and transformers are original. A clean example will fetch between $2,500-$5,000, depending on color and condition. Colors other than black are rarer and more collectable.

1978 Marshall Model 2203 100-Watt Master Volume Amplifier

This amplifier was responsible for the sounds of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, with such bands as UFO, the Scorpions, Van Halen, Aerosmith and every other band looking for power and modern crunch. This amp revolutionized the sound of rock guitar and can produce that smooth signature Marshall crunch at bedroom volumes. Currently, you can purchase a 1975-1979 Model 2203 for about $1,200. This amp is a certain classic, a steal at this price, and it will be the next low-cost Marshall to jump in value. Expect to pay in excess of $2,000 by the year 2010.

1964 Fender “Blackface” Deluxe Reverb Amplifier

This stellar amplifier was responsible for a good percentage of early ‘60s music and remains one of the standards in clean, unmolested amplification. Artists like Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck cut their teeth on this amp. Stevie Ray Vaughn used this amplifier in his early recordings. Find yourself a clean, original example, expect to pay from $1,500-$2,000 and be prepared to be blown away by its sound. These amplifiers are goldmines in hiding. I expect a 50 percent return in the next five to seven years.

Be careful when investing in guitar gear. It’s best to obtain advice from a knowledgeable expert prior to investing. Guitar gear is as beautiful as it is functional. Here are a couple of excellent references should you choose to pursue this rewarding hobby:

“The Official Vintage Guitar Price Guide 2008” from Vintage Guitar Magazine. This annual printing has tons of information to tune your knowledge base. It still needs to be interpreted, but it is the “Blue Book” of vintage guitar and amplifier gear.

“The History of Marshall” by Michael Doyle is the unequivocal resource on the greatness of Marshall Amplification.

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