Joe Bonamassa shares his top tips for buying vintage guitars

If you want to know something about buying vintage guitars, there are few better people to ask than Joe Bonamassa – so that’s exactly what we did. Writing exclusively for Guitar.com, Joe gives us his top tips for buying vintage.

joe bonamassa les paul
Image: Eleanor Jane

Hey guys, I’ve been asked to write a few words about collecting guitars and to offer a little advice about my process of collecting them, and so here are five points that will help you in that endeavour:

1Originality and history

This 1933 National Duolian was once owned by Bukka White

When purchasing from original owners, you should understand that you are buying a story as well as a guitar. Each guitar has its own incredible history and provenance which may include photos of the original owners from back in the day, manufacturer and dealer tags, as well as its own musical legacy. Likewise, you will often encounter an unfortunate lineage of undisclosed issues, repairs and disgruntled former owners that feel cursed by their ownership of that particular instrument.

You want to seek out the former and avoid the latter. One of the first questions I ask myself is, “Does this guitar’s originality add up as total package and is it proportionally aged from the case down to the string saddles?” and “Does it have a history I want to embrace?”

2Don’t get into it to make money

Gilmour

Guitars can be great investments over time, but they shouldn’t be treated as 401ks, stocks or commodities. I have a joke that goes: “What do you call a guitar collector who just sold one of his guitars for a dollar more than he bought it for?” Answer: “A guitar dealer.”

If your primary motivations for collecting guitars are a quick flip and fast money, it can get you into dangerous territory where you will expose yourself to the best and the worst elements of the business. For many folks, the profit becomes more important than refining a collection that you truly enjoy and love.

3Buy what you like

JOE BONAMASSA’S 1951 NOCASTER AND 1952 TELECASTER

I love solidbody guitars made by Fender and Gibson from the years 1950 to 1965. That’s what I collect, seek out and cherish. It is good to diversify a little bit, but never let other people spend your money for you. I get asked all the time: “Joe, when are you gonna get into this brand or that model?” I always tell them that collecting is a highly personal thing and at the end of the day, you alone have to be happy with what you purchase. Don’t be concerned about ‘keeping up with the Joneses’.

4Keep it fun

joe bonamassa les paul
Image: Eleanor Jane

The minute a deal gets confrontational, or someone is shouting at me or insinuating they know more than me (which they probably do) or making the negotiation an unpleasant experience, it takes all the fun out of buying that instrument. The seller usually dictates the terms of sale, so periodically, I get some strange requests. On occasion, I have been asked to bring a bag of cash and meet in a Del Taco parking lot (or something similar) in the middle of the night.

When sellers make it too difficult, I’m out. This is supposed to be fun and the minute you own the guitar after a deal like that, you begin to resent it and feel the whole thing was done under duress. It’s a killjoy. It’s honestly better to just walk away. If there is one thing I know about this collecting thing, it’s there is always going to be another deal and more stuff to buy.

5Don’t be a lazy collector

The best thing is for every collector to do their homework. By that I mean, be a shrewd buyer, know the instruments you’re buying inside and out. Know the right people to buy from and try to avoid the ones who are not trustworthy. Know more than you need to, because you will see anomalies and things that are not in the books or on the internet. Have a trusted circle of knowledgeable friends you can check with before you make a purchase.

Be confident so as to not buy into myths and hearsay and false information that has been disseminated through the internet forums and elsewhere. Experience, knowledge and the advice of other learned collectors will help to make wise choices and to know an original guitar when you see one. All of this takes patience, work and dedication.

If you follow my advice, you’ll build a collection of instruments you will be proud of and enjoy. Play well, be safe, play loud and have fun!

Visit jbonamassa.com to get tickets for his upcoming tour dates. Check out Bonamassa’s collection here.