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Vintage, Rare, Unique, Special, or Just Old?

These are some of the words our customers use to describe their older treasured instruments – guitars, mandolins, ukuleles, banjos and some rarer forms. They share with us stories about how their parents or grandparents acquired the instrument at interesting milestones in their lives and how they have been passed from generation to generation. If they are thinking of selling then the stories may be tinged with fondness, sadness or even regret.

At the Denver Folklore Center, we have been privileged for 60 years to see, touch, play, evaluate and help sell some extraordinary acoustic instruments. But from time to time we have to let people know that what they think is a valuable treasure is simply something that is old and perhaps worth holding onto just for sentimental reasons.

So, what makes an instrument vintage and valuable or just old?  Like other things that can age well – cars, furniture, clothing, wine, coins, stamps – there are a variety of factors that determine whether an acoustic instrument qualifies as vintage and valuable. Simply being old is not enough. Here are a few factors that can come into play:

1. Is the company that made the instrument no longer around? Being defunct may make the company’s products more valuable.

2. Was the person who built the instrument identified as “a special or unique builder”? (e.g., Les Paul, Bill Collings or Lloyd Loar). Is the builder no longer alive?

3. Are the materials used to build the instrument now considered rare or even unavailable (e.g., Brazilian Rosewood)?

4. What is the condition of the instrument? Is everything original? The more perfect - and the less altered - the instrument, the better.

5. Are there collectors actively seeking this instrument? (As was the case with Lloyd Loar mandolins for many years)

6. Was the instrument the archetype on which future generations were based?  (e.g., Fender Stratocaster)

7. Is the instrument associated with an iconic performer like Earl Scruggs, Eric Clapton, Maybelle Carter, Andres Segovia, Pete Seeger or Bill Monroe?

8. Has the model become a “standard” like a Martin D-28 or a Gibson F-5 mandolin? 

Whether your instrument is vintage or just old, the real “magic” comes through playing it and the pleasure that creates for you and those who are listening. If you’d like to find out the value of your instrument come by the store and take advantage of our evaluation and appraisal service. - Saul Rosenthal, Co-Owner Denver Folklore Center