How to Find Out the Age and Value of a Guitar

Maybe you picked up an old guitar at a yard sale for a few bucks, or maybe you’ve noticed a few dusty axes in your grandparents’ attic. These old instruments could be trash or treasure – you just don’t know. To find out the age and value of a guitar can take a lot of research, and may require you to bring in an expert…

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Finding the Holy Grail

Fifteen years ago, in a pawnshop in Billings, Montana, I bought a ’59 Les Paul Special—yellowed, battered, and beautiful—for $500. A month later, in the same shop, I picked up a ’61 Les Paul in perfect shape with the original PAFs for $600. Sadly, both the Gibsons were sold shortly after I bought them to cover diapers, rent, and put food on the table. However, four years ago I lucked out again and bought a 1946 Martin D-18 at City National Pawn in Cheyenne, Wyoming, for $1000. It had a DeArmond pickup nailed to the soundhole, an input jack screwed to the side, and a split bridge that left the guitar unplayable. After some intensive (and expensive) surgery, it’s the best-sounding Martin I’ve ever heard. It now makes it to every session I do.

Finding a Holy Grail guitar, even if you don’t manage to keep it, is an incredible thrill. When you hold that neglected treasure in your hands, you can’t help but feel something almost ineffable—it is like you’re touching the actual mojo, grit, jubilation, and heartache that the instrument made. Here are a few amazing, jealousy-inspiring stories of some Nashville players finding their Holy Grail guitars.

’53 Goldtop

I recently played on an awards show and ran into Tim McGraw. He was holding a beautiful goldtop, almost green with age. I was staring at this well-worn LP the way most men stare…

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