For those of you who have not yet had the opportunity to make the
pilgrimage to the stucco building at 629 Forest Avenue, Staten Island, you
have a real treat in store. Where else can you wend your way into a whole
room where nothing but mandolins hang on the wall, and you can pick up and
play any one of them, without being hovered over? As Joni Mitchell sang in
"Song for Sharon" (the Hejira album), "I went to Staten Island, Sharon, to
buy myself a mandolin." (Actually, Stan has reported that it was a Gibson
mandocello, and an old Martin guitar.) This landmark is part of the NYC
Music Trail. The list of names of famous musicians who have patronized
MandoBros is much too long for this post. Stan can tell you, or just send
for his free catalog and related materials.
Stan himself picked up a guitar during the Great Folk Music Scare of the early '60s. In his own words, he came to Staten Island from Penn State to buy himself a Masters Degree in Education/English from Wagner College, and then, deciding that it was an unusually comfortable place to live, stayed on for more years of higher learning as a Columbia University Teachers' College doctoral candidate for what became an Ab.D (All but Dissertation) in the College Teacching of English. (All that higher learning in English was not wasted, as will be readily apparent when you read Stan's instrument descriptions. If you haven't seen them yet, lets just say they are "different" .) At various times,in his youth, a mail carrier, part-time salesperson at Rondo Music, temporary typist, musician, accompanist, writer of magazine articles, record producer, and college teacher of guitar and the arts, at age 28 Stan co-founded Mandolin Brothers (that would have been on December 14, 1971, in the evening, actually) and later on, co-founded Steinberger Sound Corp.
Although Mandolin Brothers is one of the largest worldwide dealers for such as Martin and Gibson, I think that a noteworthy aspect of Stan's retailing focus has been his support of smaller independent luthiers, our own Bill Bussmann's Old Wave line, Apitius, Rolfe Gerhardt's Phoenix line, Ratliff, and Summits come to mind, and he stocks a goodly supply of Webers, Rigels, Breedloves, Mid-Mo's , etc. I suspect that for many of the smaller builders, the exposure afforded by Stan was a significant boost. If you are looking for some mandolinistic eye candy, just drop in on http://www.mandoweb.com/15_MandolinFam.htm and feast your eyes. Or just click on the link at Mandolin Cafe, which MandoBros helps support. Stan has about seen it all, and is uniquely qualified to comment on the history, present and future of our stringed instrument world, and I look forward to his insights.
Q - If you have reviewed the posts from our builder Guests of the Week and/or the posts from the Mando Builders Super Summit held in March, you will see that we have had quite a bit of discussion on the Virzi Tone Producer, originally stirred up by your old repairman and recent CGOW, John Monteleone. John was not a fan of the Virzi. You must have had numerous opportunities over the years to come to some opinions about the Virzi, its pros and its cons. Can you add to our discussion of the Virzi?
[for reference - The Virzi Vortex - Tony Williamson]
A - The vehemently vilified Virzi.
We at Mandolin Brothers have always tried to take the most conservative, long view on musical instrument design. It has generally been our feeling (with only a couple of exceptions) that if the manufacturer made it that way then that's the way it should have been made, at least in the time during which it was originally done. The couple of exceptions that immediately come to mind are the infamous Fuller Bar (or "Volume and Tone Reduction System") that Gibson provided the unlucky buyers of their J-200 guitars in the mid 1960s, and, well, the Gibson adjustable bridge in acoustic guitars of the '60s. Since our initial disappointment with the latter, however, we have, over the years, become more accepting of the adjustable bridge. We now realize that the guitars that have this bridge have a decidedly different sound than those with a non-adjustable bridge, and, yes, Elizabeth, there actually are many individuals who like that sound. Same thing with the ceramic bridge or saddle. Yeesh. What were they thinking? But, again, as we get older and wizened, we recognize that certain sounds on some of our favorite recordings could not have been made without that J-45 having been fitted with those ceramic components and/or adjustable bridge. And so, in our dotage, we are pleased when we acquire one.
And now, on to the much maligned Virzi. The parallels between a Virzi Tone Producer removal and a so-called partial birth abortion are too obvious to even begin to envision, let alone depict, and yet, there is no better analogy. A Virzectomy? Oh, sure, let's cut it into pieces with a scalpel and take it out through the soundholes! Not in my workshop you don't. We are famous for turning down work when the procedure alters originality (except in cases when the player's ability to make music is threatened - like a fret job or a neck reset). Oh, God, there's that uncomfortable metaphor again! Let's not go there any more, okay? Just yesterday I told a young man, buying a new Les Paul Standard, that, even though he requested it, we would not remove the Gibson pickups and put in aftermarket pickups. I warned him, as I've warned thousands, that this reduces market value the moment you do it, (and I don't accept the "what if I keep the original pickups in the case pocket" excuse - an alteration is an alteration and you know the parts are going to get separated and lost). Twenty five years from now, it could mean a value reduction in the thousands of dollars. I also told him that, if he takes the guitar to see Les Paul perform at Iridium (in Manhattan, right across from Lincoln Center, on Monday nights, if you haven't already gone there - GO) - that I would give him permission to ask Mr. Paul if he would sign the underside of the pickguard only. Please don't have him, or anybody else, sign the instrument! Some call instrument autographs idol worship. We call it graffiti. Have the artist sign your high school autograph book, instead.
Lloyd Loar, a forward thinker, apparently bought into the Virzi Bros.' schpiel. What a great sounding idea (no pun intended). One can only imagine how they must have pitched him: "We've already conquered the world of violin instruments - now it's time for the greatest improvement in the mandolin since Orville first put on his plaid trousers." "Uh. . . . " "No, really, this'll smooth out the tone and remove the stridency. Sound, as you of all people know, is chiefly generated by the vibration of string into bridge, bridge into top, but with our invention - once it gets inside, some of the sound bounces from top to back and out the soundholes, but some of the sound bounces from top to the Virzi, back to the top; then, while half of that sound bounces to the back and out the soundholes the other half comes back to the Virzi, boinks up to the top, then to the back, and out, and all this occurs in a gradual sequence of decay that lasts for nanoseconds! On the orchestral stage, this may make the conductor so distracted by its ethereal beauty that he loses his place, has an involuntary spasm, and sticks his baton into the eye of the principal violinist! Think of it, Loar! Your name will go down in history as the man who revived interest in the mandolin in the era of the banjo-based jazz band!"
How could he say "no?"
Now, 79 years later, we have had much opportunity to hear signed F-5 mandolins that were originally made with no Virzi, those that were and still have their Tone Producer and those that have had their V-word removed. Our opinion is that, while there are, of course, differences in tone due to the presence or absence of the dreaded spruce flying saucer, we have never heard a Loar mandolin that did not in some major way impress us. We have always felt that differences that exist simply from example to example, in high end fretted instruments, even those of the same model with consecutive serial numbers, outweigh the differences that occur from the presence of one changed component - like requesting Adirondack spruce on the top of a Martin, or replacing the bridge on a Gibson Mastertone banjo with a Snuffy Smith. Will you hear a difference? Sure. Is one "better" than the other in a way that all listeners will agree? Heck, no. Are both of professional quality?
Yes, of course they are.
With so few Loar mandolins in existence, and fewer still being offered for sale, would you turn down one just because it either has a Virzi or had one once but no longer? I wouldn't. If having the Virzi means being able to obtain it at a lower price - then great! That works. I've heard some players (not many) say that they prefer the sound with the Virzi because, while not as loud, it is sweeter and has a more even consistency. Who am I (who is any of us) to second-guess Lloyd Loar who, along with his administrative colleagues in early '20s Kalamazoo factory, made changes to our beloved fretted instruments which literally changed the course of American (and the world's) music? Whatever his decisions, they were the right decisions.
Q - Since you along with a handful of other dealers seem to have a handle on the vintage market where do you see the price of a '23 Loar F5 in 5 years? In 10 years? Do you think the gap will close between the price of a signed Loar
and a 20's Fern?
I know you think highly of the new Gibson Master Models but what other makers do you think are up there with the best of the best? You have had dozens of Loars come through your hands in the past 30 years. What is your most unusual story on the find of an original Loar?
A - I was shocked when I found an old Mandolin Brothers catalog from 1985 and discovered that we were offering a clean, signed Loar, asking $18,500. My recollection is that, by 1997, we were asking $27,500. That's $9000 (48%) appreciation in 12 years. The late '90s, of course, were the period in which the stock market went insane, and fortunes were being made overnight in technology and the internet. It is my opinion that, due to that period of unrestrained fiscal exuberance, even though inflation, by the usual means of measuring it, was allegedly not rampant, the concept of money, and what it could buy, became skewed. Seemingly overnight, by ought-one, those who bought into the Wall Street Windfall became world worn and wary. But two facts remained - real estate values remained strong -- the decline of the Dow only accelerated its ascendancy, and the same happened with vintage American fretted instruments.
In 2001 we offered a super clean July 9th, 1923 for $62,500, within a month an employee of Gibson OAI Division is said to have sold his Loar for $70,000 and then, surprise!, Skinner of Boston auctioned one off for (it is said) $89,000 including buyer's premium. So what's that -- $26,500, or 42% appreciation in 6 months? An article titled "The Collectible That Rocks (While your 401-K Gently Weeps, Vintage Guitars are Shakin')" was just published, in April, in Business 2.0, a magazine feature of AOL. In the first line writer Marc Berley says "Just imagine that in 1998 you ignored your stockbroker's recommendation to buy [3 stocks, and] instead you blew $50,000 in hard-earned cash on a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard electric guitar. . . . Today you'd have an investment worth $150,000." Although not every '59 'burst brings $150,000, he's on the right track. As far back as 1978, in the Update section of the second edition of The Musical Instrument Collector by Willcutt and Ball, other dealers and collectors waxed cautionary about vintage instrument futures, so we decided to leave 4" of white space above and below our one sentence follow-up, which read "If we had $2 million to spend tomorrow, we would invest it all in prewar American Fretted Instruments."
Six years ago I recall prophesying that the Lloyd Loar signed mandolin would see six digits before or during the millennium year. I was slightly off. If they haven't done so already then give it a year. In 5 years, it's anybody's guess, but maybe $120,000? And in 10 years who knows: $140,000? If these projections seem to suggest a slowing down of demand it might be because the baby boomers may, right now, be the chief underwriters of Vintage Instrument value growth. If that's true then, in 10 years, you are likely to see fewer baby boomers still playing and a different focus on valuation. Still, I do not foresee a decline.
As for the price of ferns "closing the gap" with Loars, I don't know how that would be possible. That silly little signature on the yellowed paper label is the writing that's inviting, the scrawl that calls, the 'graph that makes us laugh, the script that tips the Chivas to the lip. Sure, the fern has and will continue to dramatically gain in value - no question there, but it will remain the DeVille to the 'Dorado. As the great bard said in A Midsummer's Night's Pickin' Party: "The leafy lute will ne'er eclipse the last Loar: 80416."
Q - I know you think highly of the new Gibson Master Models but what other
makers do you think are up there with the best of the best? You have had
dozens of Loars come through your hands in the past 30 years. What is your
most unusual story on the find of an original Loar?
A - We do think very highly of the new Gibson Master Model - and our sales of this varnish finish replica reflects its quality, its extraordinary tone, and the resulting excitement that envelopes and saturates the world of mandolin playing. Other fine ones are, of course, Gilchrist, Monteleone and Nugget. I've heard good things about Dudenbostel (forgive me if that's misspelled) but have never seen one. If Mr. D. is reading this perhaps he should send me one to examine and buy if I like it, or at least phone me. (Hope that's not too subtle.) We consider Oliver Apitius to be up there (and he is up there, in rural Ontario), we love the sound of the Phoenix Bluegrass and Neoclassical even though they're not shaped in the traditional Florentine, but hey, neither is a Monteleone.
As for an unusual Loar story I think my favorite is "The Parrot Loar." A guy comes in with two pieces - a Lloyd Loar F-5 -- November 28, 1922, #71055, with a Virzi -- and a K-2 mandocello. Each has a colorful parrot on front and/or back. The mandolin's back is largely overlaid by the parrot and, studying it, I realize that it's an oil painting -- a large version of the of the smaller parrot decal that's on the K-2. I'm told that the original owner is in a nursing home and that now is the time (and quickly, too, if you don't mind) to liquidate the pieces. About this piece, in September, 2000, we wrote: "Aye, Matey, well, yes, now that you mention it there is a large parrot oil-painted on the back! And a well-executed parrot it is, too. The owner of this Loar is a 76-year-old who hails from Needham, Mass, the parrot capitol of the world. The mandolin, whose wood on the back, surrounding The Bird, is three-dimensionally flamed, sounds incredible - the throaty, rich, lower midrange response combines with a clear, bright upper mid-and treble which retains the purity of tone no matter how hard you attack the strings." We learned a long time ago, from a collector named Mr. Barnes, that before you say the special name of any Loar out loud, you have to make the "Tsk" sound, sucking briskly back on your tongue, before the literary name. So this is "Tsk, The Parrot Loar" - and then you must make up an aphorism, like "a bird in the band is worth two in the hand." The buyer of this mandolin has, last I heard, chosen to not have the bird removed or the back refinished, for which we say "Yay."
Q - We all know of your association with our former CGOW John Monteleone. Do you have any good stories on John to share with our listmembers? Do you have any fond memories of Jimmy D'Aquisto or John D'Angelico or any of the other
legendary builders you have known? Was Bill Monroe ever in your store?
A - One good story about John is how we met him: My original partner, Hap Kuffner, and I were guests on Israel G. Young's (owner of The Folklore Center on Avenue of the Americas in Greenwich Village) WBAI-FM radio program. This was shortly after Mandolin Bros. was established, the spring of 1972. Izzy introduced as "Two Gibson mandolin freaks" so you have a sense of what the show was like. We discussed vintage fretted instruments for half an hour and were ready to leave the station when a call comes in to the switchboard, asking for one of us. It was John Monteleone, calling from Islip to say that he had just finished building "guitar number 2" - a J-200 replica - and, since he was seeking a job as a repairperson, asked if we would we like to see his work. At that point I had never met any private individual who had solely built a guitar before, so I said "Sure, bring it out." He drives out to Staten Island and shows us this absolutely beautiful maple jumbo, just astonishing. I still have photos of his guitar, angled against a tree in my back yard, on a glorious sunny spring day. We were hooked. I asked him, if this is Guitar #2 what was Guitar #1 and he explained that, when he was in college, he was issued a chest of drawers by the university. Before leaving in his last year in the dorm he took it upon himself to remove the drawer bottoms, glue the wood together and make Guitar #1 out of the dresser. I thought "wow - this guy is driven to make guitars - it's an unstoppable force." "You're hired" we said.
I regret that I never met John D'Angelico. Yes, I played acoustic guitar in the early '60s and drove into Manhattan to be part of the Washington Square scene and to play at the coffee houses in and around McDougal Street but, at that time, I had no experience with archtops and the thought of seeking a visit with the great builder never occurred to me. I am very glad that I knew Jimmy. He came to guitar shows, especially the Dallas show, where Tom Van Hoose -- gracious, generous man that he is -- took us dealers out to dinner with Jimmy as the guest of honor. Scott Chinery hosted fabulous parties and press gatherings and nearly always had Jimmy by his side. We all elevated James D'Aquisto to the highest pedestal and worshipped his workmanship, imagination and artistry. The tragic, premature deaths of Jimmy, and Scott, and now John Zeidler, collector Michael Katz, teach us that we should live every day as if it were our last. For us to fail to daily derive joy from our freedom, our comfortable life styles, the gloriousness of nature, and the beauty of our fretted instruments - the things that we love - would be an even greater tragedy.
Q - Most of us are of the opinion that time and playing enhance the sound of a good acoustic instrument. The prices on vintage electric guitars suggests
that many players feel that way about electrics also. I read that Les Paul
himself said that electrics really didn't improve with age, that modern
electronics were superior to 50's electronics and that old electronics were,
well, old electronics. Do you think that time improves the sound of an >
electric guitar or are we really talking about a "collecting" thing here?
BTW, I saw a vintage Gibson Flying V at the Dallas Guitar Show marked at
$125,000. I have seen them for $45K or even $50K but that did seem a bit on
the pricey side.
A - I, too, believe that time can only enhance the tone of any fine fretted instrument, even electrics. I'm not as certain about playing. We have had near mint instruments from the past that sounded exquisite, and we have had beat-to-death instruments that were compressed and contained, and vice versa.
There seem to be no absolutes, no generalities. I have seen acoustic instrument "woken up" by being played, sometimes by being played hard (hard enough to create volume, not hard enough to injure the thing). I remember reading about the tests conducted a few years ago wherein a machine that looked like a giant paint mixer created a specific low vibration, and people happily paid a fee to have their instruments vibrated for a period of time (gee, couldn't I just use a quarter-driven motel bed?). Several were quoted as saying "It sounds much better now." To my knowledge, nobody went back to the customer a month later to see if it still sounded better. We respectfully disagree with Les Paul - there is no sound like that of an old, vintage Gibson or Fender electric. Not even close. We have visions, perhaps a total fantasy, of "Patent Applied For" humbucking pickups being assembled by a half-dozen middle-aged women, sitting on stools along one long bench. We see them reaching down into baskets of component materials, each of them chain-smoking cigarettes and continuously gossiping with the person sitting next to them. Each of them knows her craft so perfectly that she doesn't even have to count the number of windings - she just knows when to stop. How can any modern company recreate, today, that low-tech a manufacturing method? Then add 45 years of time, allow the magnetism to degrade and the wire wrap to become frayed and, in the instrument in which it was originally installed, you will hear a sound so pretty that it may bring tears to your eyes. Do the guitars sound better because they are rare and collectible? No, it's more likely the other way around. Does it have to do with the notion that the sound of those guitars is the sound we have all heard on the finest recordings of the past? Who knows if, a hundred years from now, anybody will care about our music or that tone? But right now that is the idealized voice of the electric guitar and we live to hear it and to be able to create it ourselves.
Regarding the price being asked for an original Flying V at a show - I'm sure we don't have to restate the definition of market value. We have a saying that, when it comes to the sale of a fine vintage instrument, "you only have to sell it once." If the condition, originality, year and playability are all top notch, if it comes with an appraisal from a known, reputable expert, and if it has the original brown trapezoidal hard shell case, if only one person out of the millions who would die to own such an instrument can be found who can afford it, and buys it, then, at that level of condition, a new market value is established. It happens all the time.
Q - If you were not in the business of buying and selling mandolins and not
interested in building a collection, but wanted to buy a mandolin today that
might appreciate in value over, say, the next 10 to 20 years. What would you
purchase? First, if money were no object; and second, if you were spending
$5000 or less? I'd be interested in your "picks."
A - If money were no object the easy part is deciding which you wanted to buy - a Loar (and if so, which date?) or perhaps a fern. The harder part would be finding one. If you were limited to $5,000, however, then having an opportunity to be able to try as many mandolins as possible - including multiple examples of the same model, in the same place, the same room, would be important. I believe that any American-made mandolin would appreciate in value whose builder has, over a sufficient period of time and with ample total output, achieved a national reputation for excellence, low frequency of repair, and a sense of solidity and continuity that would suggest that the brand name will still be in demand, say, 20 years from now. If you want to be absolutely certain about the investment potential, buy a Gibson or any of the other "best builders" we discussed above. But if you look back over the past three and a half decades surely you will agree that nearly all of the American-made instruments of even moderate accomplishment are, if clean, wholly original and easy-to-play, now selling for multiples of their original purchase price.
Q - Stan, leading off with some economic questions, do you think we are in a
bubble regarding high end mandolins (not just Loars), or are these prices
here to stay? what do you predict might happen as the Baby Boomers start to
retire in significant numbers? And is the musical instrument market tied
to the general economy, or not really?
A - I did speak about the Baby Boomers in Question #2, and also how our perception of money and the things it can buy changed 180 degrees thanks to the merciless humbling caused by the deflation of the stock market in the early 21st century. However, the questions of whether high-end mandolins are in a "bubble" and whether musical instruments are tied to the general economy are up for discussion. Lack of faith in the traditional ways of creating a retirement income (receiving almost no interest on certificates of deposits or savings, volatility in the stock market, cynicism about the trustworthiness of corporate executives and accounting firms) provides individuals approaching retirement, who are also musicians, the validation that fretted instrument values have virtually never actually declined in the past 30 years, and the best thing about owning a fine mandolin, guitar or banjo is that you get to play it while it becomes more expensive. Instrument sales do not seem to be tied to the general economy - anybody wishing to play will find the means to buy the musical tool that allows them to do so. Those who can afford the most collectible ones will no doubt continue to be able to.
As for retirement, astute individuals who have paid off their homes and their children's education, and who are no longer willing to use their nest egg to support the corporate shell game, are more and more seeing ownership of their personal Holy Grail as the culmination of their life's dream. Concerns are: that during times when money can again be made quickly in conventional ways, the audience who right now is seeking investment-quality fretted pieces are apt to be distracted by the lure of rapid liquidity, instead of the Loar of rapt luminosity. Additionally, we have the strong suspicion that Gen-Xers do not become glassy-eyed, as we do, when somebody brings out the '39 D-28 herringbone or the '34 RB-75 flathead, like the one that Bela' plays, and so the question, over the next 20 years, as Baby Boomers bid bye-bye, is not "Who will watch the home place" but rather "What will the Gen-Xer do with Daddy's early '30s F-5 when Daddy is gone from here?" I don't think "bubble" is the best term, since all trends are ultimately cyclic, but, as long as day-to-day financial security is not an issue, the musician who has acquired the instrument about which he or she has long dreamed, will likely live happier.
Q - Like most mandolin players I've learned a lot about the instruments by
looking on your web site. I was intrigued in the D'Angelico & D'Aquisto
mandolins that you've had in the past few years. There can't be that many of
these in existence. What can you tell us about them, and can you compare the
tone to any other mandolins, or are they a unique voice in mandolin world? I wish I had purchased mandolins instead of mutual funds.
A - The mandolins of John D'Angelico were based on his having begun his luthiery training in the late teens through the early 1930s, working for his granduncle, Ciani, who owned a violin and fretted instrument company in Manhattan. At that time, the mandolins he made were chiefly roundbelly, Neapolitan style. Opening his own shop in 1932 his initial designs were influenced by Gibson styles, including the archtop f-hole guitars that were developed with the help of Lloyd Loar a decade before. As time went on some of his mandolins resembled the Lyon & Healy Style A Professional model, with the violin peghead, which he called "Scroll," some with f-holes, some with two points on the body an oval soundhole. Some were Gibson A-50 style, which he called "Plain" - you gotta love the unaffected way he named his instruments. Did you know that Stradivarius, the last previously documented genius of the strings, in his own lifetime, made approximately the same 1,164 stringed instruments as did John D'Angelico. Is this mere coincidence? The celebrated crafter of Kenmare Street's products were, in every way, built to last for hundreds of years; his necks are the least affected by time, they seem to never change. While not a risk-taker, his designs did slowly evolve and become less derivative, more proprietary. His mandolins are ideal for the classical music or the popular music of '30s through the 1950s, the music that John knew they would be used for when he made them. There are 45 mandolins documented in his log book (numbered 125 to 174). If you add the other 124 pieces that one presumes he must have felt he had made prior to #125 in April 1940, this would suggest that he made 174 mandolins. However, we acquired and sold #175 and #176, which he hadn't written into his log book, each the Excel model with two points, and between 1954 and 1964, when he passed away, he probably made others.
D'Aquisto, on the other hand, only made 3 mandolins, one of which we sold. It was modern, original and exciting, wildly asymmetrical with sharp body points and matching points on the sword-blade pickguard, a scroll inlaid head plate, a huge script logo, and a bound oval soundhole, like something one might see Lt. Uhura playing during her off-time on the Starship. The sound was unexpected and unclassifiable. Definitely not a bluegrass instrument but if you owned this piece and belonged to a mandolin orchestra your colleagues would be carrying you around on their shoulders while you took all of the best lead lines.
Q - What vintage mandolin models are good values for the player and not yet
valued highly by the collectors?
A - Any Gibson A-style mandolin (from any era) is an extremely good value for the player and yet still affordable. Even the snakeheads, made between 1923 and 1927, are, in our opinion, way under priced. It is said that you could probably not get any respectable American luthier to make you a replicated A-style mandolin today for the current price of a clean, prewar Gibson A- mandolin. Bill Bussmann's A-model price has finally surpassed the price of a regular prewar Gibson style A- and A-1, and Bill Collings's list for his A- is $3,300. (We have a theory, by the way, that all luthiers are named Bill. We're still working on the proofs. Bill Comins, Bill Cumpiano, Bill Moll, Bill Tippin, William Laskin. We are seaching birth certificates to see if John and James were D'Angelico and D'Aquisto's middle names and their first names were actually William. We'll get back to you on this.) Don't even ask what John Monteleone's price would be today for his simplest A-style. Is a Gibson Style A a bargain? Yeah, I think you could say that.
Q - I know things have changed a lot over the last decade in vintage instrument pricing. For instance, a refinish used to represent a 50% decrease in value. (At least that's what you were told if you were selling the instrument.) This does not seem to be the case today, especially if the instrument is particularly rare or desirable. What alterations affect the value the most? What alterations affect the value the least? Those are questions about the market value. I'd also like to know what alterations you think should affect the value the most/least. Thanks for taking the time to be our CGOW.
A - I agree with you that refinishing doesn't necessarily suggest the destruction of 50% of the market value as often as it may have in the past. Of course, it would depend on whether the refinish was professional, or amateurish, with a paintbrush, the type of work that Artie Smith colorfully calls "Reptile Dentistry." Most recently, I have found myself using "40%" as depreciation for a not-offensive refin. But it can vary from example to example.
The worst thing that can happen to an instrument, value-wise, is a neck crack (behind the nut, on the back of the neck, or at the heel). Then refinishing, then, under that, less than professional prior work - including any unnecessary repairs, then replaced or missing components. Of course, "needing a neck reset" would reside at a lofty level of seriousness because, if it needs to be done, it's expensive, and the cost must be deducted from the projected selling price. We do not, ourselves, feel that performing a professional neck reset on a vintage piece, that needs to have it done, in any way diminishes the market value of the instrument, as some people do. To us, if it isn't playable who's going to buy it? It's like buying a vintage automobile in original condition and refusing to change the oil or the spark plugs. Unless one were going to put the piece into a vacuum-sealed display jar, and worship it while genuflecting, there would be little joy of ownership if the car, or the guitar, couldn't be used.