Hey Man….it’s a Historic Reissue!

 I love going to guitar shows and cool guitar stores. One of the things that make going to them nice is being able to look at some really old, clean guitars. What makes these guitars special? My opinion is that the workmanship, the materials, and the plain "historic nature" of the guitars make them attractive. This notion of "historic nature" is a tough one, because with the exception of a few very special guitars, historic doesn’t necessarily apply to everything. The old "it’s old, therefore it is worth a fortune" bit doesn’t work here.

Back in the old days guitars that were worth a fortune were hard to come by. Because of the demand for these old guitars, the big guitar manufacturers hit upon a pretty great idea back in the mid-80’s: make new guitars that look like old ones, and sell them for a big premium. Well, Mr. Juszkiewicz didn’t go to Harvard and rescue Gibson for nothing. Gibson started out with the Reissues in the 1980's, started the killer Les Paul Classics in 1990, and graduated to the mega-buck reissues.  Even Fender started reissuing their old guitars (how about the cigarette burns on the "Beat-Up Strats"?).  As the supply and the prices grew, an interesting phenomena occurred: the reissues became the collectors items, and people started talking about them in terms normally reserved for the "real deal" from the old days.

I’ve nearly bitten the Historic Reissue bait several times. Those 1960 Reissue Flametops are my favorite (that neck), but I did a little unemotional analysis and decided against it.  The chief reason is the number of guitars out there for sale (shares available) versus their value.  In stocks the term shares available refers to the number of shares of a particular stock that have been issued and are presumably available for trading. So just how many originals did Gibson make back in the '50's?  

According to Tony Bacon and Paul Day, authors of the killer Les Paul Book (IBSN 0-87930-289-5), Gibson made the following number of 1958 -1960 sunburst Les Paul Models (aka Standards) --

1958  434 (Includes some Goldtop models)
1959  643
1960  635
TOTAL: 1712

The number of available real 1958-1960 Sunburst Les Pauls, if all were on the market, would be about (drum roll)...1712. That’s it folks…. that is all Gibson made in Kalamazoo!

Fast forward to the year 2000: how many Historic Reissues are they cranking out in Nashville?  Have you seen any figures? Of course not...Just don’t be surprised when it comes out that Gibson is cranking out fifty Sunburst reissues daily (this number is actually based on some insider information).   At that rate, they would create a double for every real Sunburst in about two working months!  Ask the question: how many are they making, and how many have they made. 

I believe that people should play their guitars, and invest in the equities market. Economics 101: I bought a 1968 Gibson SG for $450 in 1979. I could sell it for maybe $1000-1500 today. The value about doubled in 20 years, while inflation…. wow. Just for illustration, a new Z28 Camaro cost about $6500 in 1979. In retrospect, I wish I’d taken that $500 and bought 500 shares of Chrysler when it was about $1 a share during this time -- Remember Lee Iococa?  Its worth today? Beyond your dreams…don’t even ask! On the flip side, however, the joy I got from playing that SG can’t be measured, and I plan to enjoy it from now on.  Oh by the way – the worth of a guitar is directly proportional to what someone is willing to pay you for it -- Can you say eBay?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that anyone is stupid for buying a Historic Reissue. The current crop is made up of beautiful, functional guitars. Also, I applaud Gibson for being a great company – one I would love to buy stock in (if they were public) and work for. I guess the point of this is that if you enjoy keeping that Historic Reissue under your bed, go for it. Just don’t be disappointed 20 years from now when it is worth about what you paid for it.

Where will the reissue craze end?  An illustration from my high school years -- Do you remember the Corvette Pace Car in 1978? They were to be the collector’s item of the decade. The Chevrolet dealer in my hometown sold one for $50,000 (remember, a Z28 sold for $6,500). Fast forward to 1999. I saw a Pace Car in the paper this morning in "like new" condition for $15,000. The problem? Chevrolet supposedly made more Pace Cars than they said they were going too and the market got flooded. Everybody that wanted one and had the means was able to buy a new one, and the resale market collapsed before it even started. Hmmm …let the buyer beware….

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