Vintage Guitars

VintAxe FAQ

The questions and answers below were selected from forums and E-Mails.

What's the best way to store vintage guitars?
I think humidity, temperature and sunlight are the 3 biggest issues. I have a studio in my basement but I am currently running a dehumidifier. I like using the basement for storage since there is no sunlight and the temperature is pretty stable year round. Try to keep the humidity level between 40-60% I purchased a digital temperature/humidity gauge off an auction site for around $25 so I can constantly monitor the humidity level in the studio. By using the dehumidifier, I'm keeping the relative humidity between 50-55% As far as "in cases" versus "out of cases", I like to keep at least 15 guitars handy to play at all times. Why buy them if it's such a hassle to get them out of the case to play you won't bother. I've got a mixture of wall hangers (see our pics) and 7 slot guitar stands (another auction site purchase)so that I can grab one of 20 guitars anytime I want to play. Having said that, I've got to admit that the L5 and a couple of my more expensive instruments live in their cases. I don't want them out where they can get bumped. Enjoy your instruments.

Are UniVox and Vox related?
Historically they have been separate companies but currently there is an interesting connection between the two. Vox is an English company started in 1957. The Univox name surfaced when the company Unicord purchased the Amplifier Corporation of America (ACA) in Westbury, NY in 1964 and marketed a series of tube amps under the name Univox. Guitars followed in 1969, and almost all Univox guitars were supplied by Arai and company of Japan. My hunch is both companies used Vox in their name because it is an acronym for voice. OK, now for the strange convergence. In 1985, Unicord was purchased by Korg and the Univox line went extinct. Interestingly, Vox products are currently distributed in the U.S. by Korg. So are they related, you tell me. Actually, if we dug deep enough into the holdings of corporate America everything is probably related, but I guess that's another story.

Can you explain why people always say Silvertone and Teisco in the same breath?
Silvertone and Teisco are linked because Teisco supplied the guitars to Sears and Roebuck in the 60's. According to Michael Wright, Teisco guitars can be found bearing at least eight brand names:"Teisco, Teisco Del Rey, Kingston, World Teisco, Silvertone, Kent, Kimberly and Heit Deluxe. Teisco was the name used mainly in Japan but also on a few occasions here in the United States. Most Teisco guitars were imported into the United States by Chicago’s W.M.I. Corporation —originally owned by guitar importing pioneer Jack Westheimer — bearing both the Teisco Del Rey and Kingston brand names. By the mid-’60s W.M.I. was providing Teiscos to Sears and Roebuck carrying the Silvertone moniker." If you are interested in learning more about Teisco history, Michael has two Vintage Guitar articles on the web.

How do I know if I have a Teisco?
In the '60s and '70s Teisco guitars were imported into the states with a variety of names including Heit, Kent, Kimberly, Kingston, Silvertone, Teisco and Teisco Del Rey. You can find more information to help you identify your guitar using serial numbers, badges, headstock styles etc. at Teisco guitars at

Who made the first stereo guitar?
The first stereo guitar I'm aware of was the White Falcon-Stereo introduced by Gretch in 1950. Other stereo guitars include Gibson's ES-355 TDSV and ES-345 TD. Mosrite's 350 and certain models by Rickenbacker, Carvin, and Hoyer were also stereo.

Can you tell me about the history of Norma guitars?
Normas were built in Japan between 1965 to 1970 by the Tombo Company and distributed in the U.S. by Strum´N Drum, Inc. of Chicago, Illinois. The company specialized in copying Italian guitars like EKO and Goya and sold them in the U.S.A as NORMA's. The most blatant EKO copy is the SDEG 490-4, a guitar that confused the heck out of me when I was shopping for an EKO. It is covered in a blue-green plastic sparkle laminate that I was pretty sure EKO had never used but guys will market the guitars as EKOs ($800 vs. $400 value). The Tombo Company is still in business, but these days they specialize in harmonica production.

How can I get started collecting affordable collectible guitars?
Let's face facts, collecting mainstream American made guitars from the 50's, 60's and 70's is beyond the budget of most people interested in guitar collecting. With prices for unmodified American Classics ranging from $2,000 to $20,000, most of us would be lucky to sport a collection of one or two guitars. Fortunately for us, however, there are a lot of very interesting and well-constructed non-American made instruments from this era that are still within the budget of a collector with modest means. I consider vintage guitars that sell for less than $800 to be budget guitars, but in some cases, prices can slip up to $1000 for really nice examples. On this page, I'd like to offer some opinions concerning the relative value of a variety of budget American guitars, as well as import guitars from the 50's through the 80's. Of course, the largest market place for acquiring these guitars is online auctions and dealers, however, buying guitars without being able to handle them is a risky business. Let's start by discussing the problems associated with purchasing guitars online.

General Guidelines for purchasing Vintage Instruments Online
If you plan to purchase instruments from an auction site or dealer on the web, it is generally impossible to inspect the instrument personally before buying. Clear pictures can help, but no digital picture can capture the many factors that go into placing a value on an instrument. When I make an online purchase, I definitely want clear answers to the following questions. In my mind, all of these factors can influence value so if the seller refuses to respond to your questions, look for a different instrument.

Is the neck straight?
Assuming you want to play the guitar, this question must be answered first. If your guitar does not have a truss rod to adjust the neck and the neck is bowed, it is now a piece of art, not a musical instrument. Unless you are buying from a knowledgeable dealer, your seller may not really know whether the neck is straight or not. Three fairly simple tests can give you clues whether or not the neck is straight. First, ask about string buzzing when single notes are played up and down the neck. Excessive buzz is indicative of a bow. You can also ask the seller to hold the low E string down at the first and twelfth fret while sighting along the edge of the fretboard. Is the string the same distance from each fret all the way down the neck? If not, you have probably got a bow. Finally, you can ask the seller to sight down the neck from the headstock to the body and simply look for a bow or warp. Although a luthier can sometimes straighten a bowed neck by applying heat and pressure, it's best to avoid this problem if possible. Of course, small amounts of bowing can be fixed by a truss rod adjustment.

Is the intonation accurate?
Poor intonation can be the result of a bowed neck, worn frets or improper adjustment at the bridge. Many cheap guitars have a bridge that cannot be adjusted for intonation. Bad experiences have taught me to generally avoid buying a guitar unless it has an adjustable bridge. If you buy a guitar with a non-adjustable bridge and the intonation isn't right, you've got a very nice piece of wall art. If your seller owns a guitar tuner, ask them to play the same note at different places on the neck to see whether the note sounds at the same pitch at each location. Many guitars cannot pass this test perfectly, but the notes should be pretty close to the same. If no tuner is available, you are rolling the dice.

Is there excessive fret wear?
The best place to check for fret wear is the B and E strings at the third fret. Ask the seller to describe the wear on the third fret and whether the B and E strings buzz when picked at this position. Also, you can pull the strings up and down as if applying finger vibrato. If you heard a pinging sound, the wear is significant enough to warrant fret dressing.

Do all pickups work?
Pickups may not work for 2 reasons. If it is a broken wire, bad potentiometer or bad switch the fix is straightforward and relatively inexpensive. If the pickup is defective, you are stuck with rewinding the existing pickup ($50-$75 per coil plus labor @ ) or searching for a replacement on a parts guitar. Note that pickups epoxied into their covers cannot be rewound. It is also problematic to rewind pickups on Vox and Hagstrom guitars.

Are the pickguard screws all there and original? Do they show signs of wear?
I use this observation as an indication whether anyone has been inside the guitar meddling with the pickups, wiring or switches.

Are all the original parts still with the instrument?
The most frequent missing parts are tremolo bars, headstock logos, bridge covers and pickguards. Although these parts can sometimes be found, they are generally hard to find and expensive to purchase. I've been asked to pay $35 for an original replacement screw. I recommend buying a guitar with all parts intact, it may be more expensive initially, but the rate of increase in resale value will generally enable you to recover your higher investment and more. I've seen a headstock badge make $150 difference in the selling price of a $300-$500 guitar.

Can you describe all dents, chips, scratches, cracks, dings, or other finish flaws on the body and neck of the instrument?
We can't expect perfection, but the fewer the better. I avoid guitars with cracks in the wood, chips in the neck, or obvious signs of abuse. I also don't like old screw holes, cracked pickguards and excessive pitting/rust on metal parts.

Are all parts on the instrument original?
The most frequently replaced parts on old guitars are the tuners, knobs, bridge and output jack. Often when tuners have been replaced, the screw holes for the original tuners are still visible. You will probably need to find pictures of you guitar to determine if the knobs and bridge are correct. Pickups and pickguards are also often replaced so make sure you are getting the originals.

Is the finish original?
A new refinish is generally pretty obvious since a 30-50 year old guitar isn't going to shine like a new one, however, an old refinish can sometimes be difficult to detect in pictures. Popular refin colors are solid black, brown, white, red and blue as well as natural. If you are planning to buy a guitar with one of these finishes, it probably wise to ask the seller if they believe it has been refinished.

Is there anything about this guitar that might influence it's value that I don't know?
In the end, buying guitars online is like gambling, sometimes you get an exceptional value and sometimes you get burned. By resisting auction fever and asking relevant questions before the purchase, I think you can reduce the number of unacceptable instruments you might buy. This question isn't fool proof, but it may get you some leverage with the seller if you discover you have been misled.

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