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Musical Instruments

Non-Vintage Guitars at Vintage Prices?

What is with the skyrocketing prices of used non-vintage musical instruments lately?

Here’s some background: My first “real” bass guitar was a Peavey T-20 that I bought new for about $350 at Wonderland Music in Dearborn, Michigan back in 1983 (the store has long since closed, but it was so cool back in the pre-Guitar Center days). Anyway, I sold it a few years later, but I did some collecting over the years, and one of my goals was to own a set of all three T-series Peavey basses (T-20, T-40, and T-45). I was able to get a T-40, but it was stolen shortly after. I did get another T-20 about 10 years back in bad shape and am currently working to restore it to playable condition.

I was looking online for a T-40 and T-45, and was floored by the sticker shock. A fair- to good-condition T-40 is going for well over $800, and if you can even locate a T-45, it’s going for twice as much.

These T-series basses (along with the T-series guitars) were the first attempts at Peavey to put out durable instruments made in the USA at reasonable prices. The guitars were completely manufactured by machines, which was unheard of back in the early 1980s, but is now pretty common with mass-produced guitars. While Peavey amplifiers had numerous celebrity endorsements, the guitars and basses did not get much promotion. There were some innovative features on the guitars and basses, but they were generally poo-pooed for their bulky weight and necks that were much wider and harder to fret than instruments from Fender or Gibson.

So why would second-hand non-vintage guitars and basses from a company like Peavey cost so much? There are a number of probable reasons, but most likely, it is the greed in the sellers’ market. I’ve written about this before, but I will state it again. Shows like American Pickers, where Tom and Frank will pay $200 for some beat-up banjo or guitar with no brand name, makes people think that what they have in their closets is a buried treasure. That program, along with PBS’s Antiques Roadshow, often have appraisers talking about some gem of a find being worth thousands of dollars. Yeah, a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop or a pre-war Martin D-28 is going to be worth a lot of money. However, these were unique when they were built, they were built with a lot of care at the time, and have structure and tone qualities that cannot be truly duplicated. Many have disappeared through time, so the ones that have survived are near priceless.

Another factor is visibility on some lower-end guitars. An old Airline guitar from the 1960s being played by Jack White, which before could be had for $10 at a garage sale, now command many hundreds of dollars. Thus, anyone with a old guitar sitting around (it doesn’t even matter what the name brand is or if there even is one) thinks that he/she owns a fortune with strings on it.

I recommended watching the Casino Guitars channel on YouTube before (https://luegra.design.blog/2020/11/14/youtube-find-casino-guitars/). Baxter and Jonathan have touched on this phenomenon briefly. I remember a similar situation happening back in the 1990s, where cheapo guitars were going for big prices. I admit, I got caught up in the hysteria and started buying a lot of guitars. I lost a lot of money in reselling them when I needed cash. I don’t ever plan on going that route again, but I still am interested in securing the three original Peavey T-series basses.

But not at what is being asked these days! I can wait it out to see how the market is moving. I would be doing it more as a personal love, and not to do some profitable trading. I can understand rare Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, or Martin guitars being valued due to the quality of workmanship as well as celebrity exposure, but for something like a first-generation Peavey guitar, something that was built specifically to be a cost-effective (and less-quality) alternative to the major brands, I don’t think that they are worth to rising cost. Buyers, both private and dealers, will eventually be honest with the sellers to say that these lower-end guitars are not worth that much money. Also, I am sure that those thousands of T-series guitars and basses sitting around in closets and attics will eventually come out to the market from owners that have not used them in years and have no use for them. Again, I can wait.

Chew on it and comment.

By Matt Merta/Mitch Matthews

Musician and writer (both song and print) for over 30 years. Primarily interested in roots music (Americana, bluegrass, blues, folk). Current contributing writer for Fiddler Magazine, previous work with Metro Times (Detroit), Ann Arbor Paper and Real Detroit Weekly, as well as other various music and military publications. As songwriter, won the 2015 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (Bluegrass Category, "Something About A Train," co-written with Dawn Kenney and David Morris) as well as having work performed on NPR and nominated for numerous Detroit Music Awards.

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