| NEW YORK, March 28
NEW YORK, March 28 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
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.
The index remains some 25 percent below peak.
Yet, there have indeed been signs of life in the market.
In December, Christie's sold the 1964 Fender Stratocaster
guitar owned and played by Bob Dylan at his legendary electric
performance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 for $965,000,
an all-time record for a guitar at auction.
That beat out an Eric Clapton-owned 1956 Fender Stratocaster
that fetched $959,000 in 2004 at Christie's.
The Guernsey's sale will be all the more scrutinized since
Christie's is no longer holding guitar auctions, instead
offering private sales only.
On Thursday, the first production model Fender Stratocaster
was sold for $250,000, the Associated Press reported. The 1954
guitar was sold by George Gruhn of Nashville for owner and
historian Richard Smith to an unnamed U.S. buyer who was not a
musician, it said.
CAUTION IN THE MARKET
The breadth and size of Risan's collection and the fact that
this is not a celebrity auction make this sale a better gauge of
the health of the broader vintage guitar market, experts said.
Catherine Jacobs, co-owner of Philadelphia-based store
Vintage Instruments, which reviewed the condition of the guitars
for the auction, said that it is rare, for instance, for a
Washburn guitar to be up for auction, let alone several of them
Other standouts from the auction are a 1959 Gibson J-200
previously owned by Eric Clapton, and a 1941 Gibson SJ-200 once
owned by Stephen Stills, each expected to fetch hundreds of
thousands of dollars.
Risan, the chief executive officer of intellectual property
protection company Media Rights Technologies in Santa Cruz,
started collecting guitars as a young adult in the 1970s. He
planned at one point to open a museum to house them but said
that project was too time consuming. As the collection became
hard to manage, the 59-year-old Risan chose to auction guitars
Some of the price estimates are ambitious, such as the $1.75
million to $2 million on the 1930 Martin OM-45, well above what
the Dylan guitar fetched in December. But Risan says his guitars
are "investment-grade instruments."
"These guitars that are being sold are all works of art and
will only go up in value," he said.
Risan said several museums have made inquiries, but declined
to say which. He pointed to the current exhibit on early Martin
guitars at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as proof
of how vintage guitars have come to be seen as art.
Despite some promising signs, dealers still detect caution
in the market, even for guitars seen as blue chips likely to
hold their value.
"They're always the most desirable, but does that mean that
people are willing to spend what they used to spend on them? The
answer in general is 'no'," said Stan Werbin, owner of Elderly
Instruments in East Lansing, Michigan.
A successful auction could lure other sellers into the
market, many of whom have been waiting out the market's decline.
"There are going to be a lot of eyes on what's going to
happen here," Guernsey's President Arlan Ettinger said in an
interview at the auction house's storage space in Manhattan.
"Collectors everywhere want to see life return to this
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Lisa Shumaker)