Vintage vs. New Acoustic Guitars (No-brainer Choice?) • Acoustic Tuesday 276

Which is better to buy: vintage guitars or new guitars? While it might seem obvious to some, you can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses on an 8-point rubric. And when you walk it through these considerations, you might be shocked at the results.

Figuring our whether a vintage or new acoustic guitar is right for you can be as standardized as you want it to be. You can go by feel, you can do a pros and cons list, or you can borrow my 8-point guide to determine your direction.

I get asked all the time which is a better purchase: vintage or new. It truly depends on what you’re looking for. There are some broad generalizations you can make, but if you like a guitar even though it’s outside of your preconceived idea of what you should purchase, don’t feel limited.

Vintage guitars have tons of strengths, some that, in your mind, may outweigh all of the strengths of buying a new guitar. Whichever decision you think is right is the important one. If you disagree with my rubric, that’s totally fine. I invite you to share yours in the comments and let people know how your rubric worked for you! 

Featured in this episode…
– Riddy Arman  
– WesternAF  
– Dust to Digital  
– Sweetwater  
– Mule Resophonic Guitars

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  1. Oh yeah, one more thing Tony, you have a lot of great sounding guitars that you whip out on the TAC Family demos. It would be nice to know what guitar you are playing. So hey, what about your guitarsonal? Inquiring minds want to know. I think it would be nice to know what guitar you are playing and it’s tone woods. Thanks

  2. Hi Tony, this is Richard from Anchorage, AK. Just want to say I love your show and what you are doing. I want to go back a minute about your show on humidifying guitars. My question is: if you keep your guitars in its case in a 45% humidity closet, is it getting the proper humidification? Should I raise the humidistat to 50% or more? I like keeping my valuable guitars in it’s case to keep them safe from people and earthquakes etc. The humidipacks are great but they don,t last too long up here and they are pretty expensive for my income level not to mention that I am also married!!! What do you know or who else should I ask. BTW there are no working luthiers up here either.

  3. Vintage vrs. New? They all both guitars so why not compare then? Reminds me of apples vrs oranges. They are both fruit aren’t they? But with prices on a truly vintage instrument typically running 3 times to as much as 30+ times as much as a new similar make/model guitar, the buyer of vintage is in a different world than the typical guitar buyer. A better comparison would have been old versus new. One can pick up many guitar models from the 70s and 80s that are comparable in price to new. Many of your arguments are still valid and I still think new would win. I own a 74 Martin D-28. It has drawbacks like lack of adjustable truss rod. But no way to replicate 50 year old wood. I have played numerous torrified top new guitars and they don’t match the rich warmth of that old wood. Nice try – but not the same.

  4. Tony, As always, another enjoyable show! What is vintage? What does “vintage” mean? Is “classic” and “Vintage” the same thing? You forgot New Guitar smell vs Old Guitar smell. Many viewers may laugh, but what about Chemistry, the Connection between the energy of the Guitar and its conveyor? Is it real? Warren Haynes tells the story of Playing “Tiger” and said it came alive as if Jerry was playing him. Or something to that effect. Great listen by the way. Are you a denier of connection, Tony?
    I started a new adventure this week and experienced two talented people. I started to volunteer at The Sellersville Theater. Beautiful venue, intimate with great sound. Volunteering is a great way to see and hear fantastic music. Kaki King was Outstanding. Blew me away. Stephane Wrembel Wow! They both know their way around the Acoustic guitar. Enjoy
    Have a Grateful Day!

  5. 99.9% of you who actually go out and gig, whether it be at a coffee shop or a stadium, 99.9% of the audience will not know if you’re playing a $125K Martin or your favorite $800 Takamine as long as it’s well set up, is in tuned and you sing in key. It is your playing and singing skills they will notice and appreciate way before the actual instrument. Stop thinking that you have to have a bougie guitar to become a good performer or just to feed your ego. Don’t get me wrong, Martins, Taylors, Collins, Eastman, Laravee, they are all great instruments. I have some (used), and appreciate them, but they are not my favorite guitars. I have my first guitar that my father bought for me new from Michell School of Music when I was 7 years old, 1954 Epiphone Zenith F-hole arch top and back made of Ash (made a few that they were trying a different wood with a natural finish). It is in excellent condition with original case. Plays extremely well and sounds fantastic. It’s not an acoustic dreadnought, but just a pleasure to play. I have Tak’s, Alvarez, Washburn, Oscar Schmidt, Ibanez, Yamaha, JBL (yep, couple of there early acoustics), and more that all have they’re unique playability , tone and overall sound. They are not $$K instrument. It’s necessary to spend the money on learning to play the instrument, not necessarily on the instrument itself. itself.

  6. Tony,
    There is also differences in your categories in price ranges. If your comparing a $125K vintage Martin to a 5K Martin, not too many folks would know the difference, because they can afford to purchase either one. Bringing this down to the average guitar player, a 1976 Takamine F-360S compared to a similar model new Martin would give you a different outcome. The Takamine ($500-$1200) would out shine the Martin. This kind of comparison has too many variables to make a definitive statement regarding vintage vs. new.

  7. You cannot tweak or changed the pickup of a vintage guitar. It will lose the value. I love new guitar knowing that I am the first to own it and love the smell of the wood. Have you ever smelled one of those vintage guitars in the 70’s? It has that funky smell specially if they have been played in a smoking bars. I had a chance to owned a 1970 Dove and I just can’t get myself to buy it at the same price of a new one and it has that stinky smell.

  8. New guitars vs. vintage is an interesting topic, but for the more “budget constrained”, how about “older used” guitars that don’t qualify as “vintage”, but have some of the attributes, such as some “character and mojo”, but for considerably less $? 😀 As with actual vintage guitars, it’d be best to see (and play) in person, but potentially a valid choice, especially if wanting to do any modifications to it, or be a bit less worried about traveling with it, playing it other than the relative safety of one’s home or studio, I’d think. 😀

  9. I like new guitars, but that is just because that’s all I’ve ever had. If I get an opportunity to play a vintage, I will, but I do think the cost would be prohibitive. I’m old enough just to enjoy the Taylors and Martin that I already have. Yes, I’ve already traded up and now I’m happy with what I have, but they are all new. To me old guitars are like old cars, if you have the money and the love, buy it. Steve

  10. A better way to answer this is a blind test. Old guitars tend to be really overpriced since the vintage mania started. The real question is how does it sound and how playable is it.

  11. I would love to have certain vintage guitars if I had big money. I once played a 1937 D-18 in a shop in Guthrie, Oklahoma, owned by Byron Berline; fiddle player for Bill Monroe! I actually jammed on it with Byron playing fiddle. We played “Gotta Travel,On” an old Bill Monroe tune. Byron complimented my singing say Bill would have been proud of me. Anyway Byron offered the Guitar to me for $7500. It was well worn with cracks and a small hole in it, but it was by far the best sounding guitar I ever played. Couldn’t afford the price tag, but a year later his shop burned down, I’m sure the guitar was lost, too bad. Since then I have considered a new Martin Vintage 1937 D-18. Haven’t tried one but if it’s even close to the sound of the real one, I think I’ll buy it!

  12. The lifetime warrantee on a new Martin is of significant value. A neck reset done correctly on a vintage Martin will cost many times more than the guitar did originally. In 1968 I got to play a D-45 that I understood was already old then. Amazing tone! The owner said the secret was Mapes Strings. I’ve been using them on my 1957 D-28 ever since.

  13. Resale value? I can’t sell any of mine so resale value isn’t a key category for me. I did buy an old guitar a long time ago but it’s not a very smart guitar. I watched the previous owner play it many times and it sounded beautiful. When I got it home it forgot how to sound that way. Stupid guitar. I gave my first guitar to my oldest son. It was inexpensive when I bought it in 1989. It sounds fantastic now. Most of my guitars are new. I’d be afraid to play an expensive vintage.

  14. My comment is about the “tone” category, when comparing vintage and new guitars.

    I believe the “best” old vintage guitars sound great and do seem to have a mojo that is superior to many new guitars. However, just because it is old, doesn’t mean it is great, even if it was made by Martin or Gibson. I was playing in a festival with a guy who just purchased a “vintage” D28. He pulled it out of the grey case and said he was going to sell it because it was a bit of a dud. We compared it to my Yamaha FG-200 and the Yamaha blew it away. So, remember there are lots of old guitars that are nothing special. I also think Guitars don’t need 65 years to “open up”. I think a couple of years of playing it allows the whole guitar to speak as well as it is going to. I purchased a Garrison G-50 that was a good price and sounded good. After two years, it sounded, and continues to, sound great.

    An interesting take on old guitars sounding so much better is one you could find on Youtube. James Taylor goes through a bunch of the acoustics he has played over the years. He claims that the acoustics wear out, to the point they are no longer as great sounding as when they were newer. I’m not sure that is always correct, but I think, if you took a cross section of all new guitars and compared them to all old guitars, the newer ones, would, on average sound better than the older ones. Will there be some “old gems” that just sing and beg to be played? Of course there will. But, particularly after a year or two of playing, I think there will be more great sounding new ones than old ones (on average). This assumes you are not including really poorly constructed guitars that use substandard materials and are mass produced to be distributed at very low prices.

  15. Love the Discussion regarding ruts. I know for a fact my ruts are mental. They are traps to derail my physical progress. I accept the fact that I will experience, have experienced ruts, but by recognizing the rut, the first part of the problem is solved: the identification. As long as I continue to play, the physical aspect of playing won’t suffer. The Daily Challenges are the key to surviving the rut unscathed. I just do I don’t think or have an opinion, I trust the teacher, follow the direction and I just do. The results of this practice continue to surprise and delight.

  16. Definitely like my guitars that i bought new and all the dings are mine. Havent come across any vintage guitars yet that i could afford. What makes a vintage guitar vintage? older than 1990, 1970, 1950, 1930?? great show today.

  17. BTW, I DO own a vintage guitar – a 1965 Gibson J-50. I bought it back then and it was the first quality guitar I ever owned.
    No matter what else I buy & play, I’ll never sell my old J-50.

  18. I have some used guitars… nothing any more that I would call vintage. My only real vintage guitar was a 63 Jazzmaster, and it just lived in the case because I’m an acoustic player. I let it go, shouldn’t have, but money was tight then. Loving used, slightly used, and beat to heck. But I want player guitars…not museum pieces.

  19. The real reason to buy a vintage instrument is TONE. That is really the only good reason to search for, not only a vintage guitar, but one that plays well & sounds beautiful… and then to pay big bucks for it! (And maybe some more $$ to have it restored, repaired, etc.) That’s an awfully large investment in time & effort as well as cash. Only worth it if there’s some magic there. (‘Mojo’ is cool, but not worth all that by itself. Tune up and make your own mojo!)

  20. Hi Tony, I started my guitar journey in 1980 with a pawn shop Yamaha FG-170. I quit in 1982 (life happens) and didn’t pick it up again until 2020. I’ve never been good at playing but I love sitting down with it and strumming. The comments you made today about not comparing myself to others fit me to a tee. Thanks, Jim

  21. Good comments on vintage guitars. I have a friend who makes top end custom acoustic guitars. I have had the distinct pleasure of being the first to play some of them,the very first. You play them and they sound good, but I about 5. Minutes the sound almost explodes. It’s like the top is responding ,vibrating, and he says “wake up guys we get to make music,” the braces say “I’m in,”. the back says “I like this” and the guitar morphes into this awsome sound machine. That is a wonderful experience to play through. Now add 30-40-70 years of playing together and you get an awesome vintage guitar.

  22. Hey Tony! Long time TAC member and AT viewer. Regarding Vintage vs. new guitars, it seems to me that if you have the resources (mainly time and money) vintage guitars are the way to go. But, let’s face it, most of us don’t. In fact, many of us struggle to afford the high-end new guitars that we crave. I have had success with a third option: used guitars. My collection consists of virtually new “B stock” instruments, as well as, well cared for guitars that were 3-5 years old when I got them. My investment overall has been about half the cost of brand new. I’d love to have a 1960s Brazilian / Adirondack D28S, but it’s not and likely never will be in the budget. My approach provides me some fun and education in my research and has allowed me to accumulate IMHO some great guitars including Collings, Larrivee, Guild, Taylor, Martin, Eastman, etc. Thanks for all you do for us Guitar Geeks.

  23. Vintage vs new for guitars is not much different from vintage vs new in cars: a 1953 Corvette vs a 2023 Corvette for example. The upkeep on the 1953 will take wheelbarrow loads more cash just to be made driveable. But each will be fun to drive for their own totally valid reasons.