Volume 52 Appraising Instruments

Written by Patrick Podpadec on . Posted in Northcoast Voice


Stay in Tune
By Luthier Patrick Podpadec

I love my job! Every week I get new customers that call me up to fix their “Family Heirlooms” or maybe their “Vintage” Stratocaster or their really cool Arch top Harmony from the early 50's or the occasional rare Gibson L-5 or Martin D-28. Lately I have been getting some instrument in just for appraisals. . I love having the opportunity to see, play and review the many different ones that come in.

 After working on so many different brands and styles of guitars I have been able to start to get a pretty good “feel” for the general cost or value of stringed instruments. There are a few distinctive criteria that needs to be looked at when appraising instruments. Of course the first and foremost should be the make,model and serial #. This is often not as easy as it sounds. Many instruments from the 30's and 40's may have been built by a large distribution manufacturer and have different brand names listed on the headstocks. Harmony guitars was one such manufacturer. This is the case with many guitars with names like Airline, Aloha, Marvel, Kingston, Vega, Silvertone. Regal, etc. the names go on and on.

 Today many of the lower end instruments and a handful of very well made guitars are manufactured in China or Taiwan from a large manufacturer named the Saga company. It is quite amazing how many instruments this company and many others like it produce in a year. Somewhere in the couple hundred thousand mark. Of course this is all stringed instruments such as guitars, mandolins, banjos, violins, cellos, ukelele's,etc. Although the majority of these instruments are student models, the bar has seemed to been raised a bit as far as the general overall quality goes. A few years back I had ordered a few of these type of instruments from Musicians Friend. For the most part I was impressed with the quality of construction and the relative consistency of the products that I ordered. Granted there were a few out of the bunch that need a bit more attention than others but most of them fared very well with just some new strings and some minor adjustments. Now I'm not trying to advocate foreign made instruments, but they do serve a very large market of new and upcoming musicians. I understand that it is not easy for parents to shell out hundreds of dollars for a new instrument when their not even sure that their child will stick with it for very long. But having said that, I feel it is also equally important that the parents help out to upgrade the instrument quality when they see that their child has taken a special and lasting relationship with their musical abilities. I know that this is sometimes difficult, especially in today's economy, but when it's possible it often gives the student a better sense of touch and ear coordination that will help in developing all of the attributes that it takes to be a master musician. I believe that most musicians that play “1st chair in a major city's symphonies are starting out at 6 figures a year. Not a bad goal to shoot for. All it takes is practice, practice, practice, …..... and a little luck!
Well getting back to the subject of appraisals, it is often hard to determine some makes and models of guitars from the 30's and 40's. Sometimes there are certain construction techniques, along with certain styles that you see over and over in a certain make of guitar. This can determine a particular maker. The Italian guitars from the 60's often had a lot of fake “mother of pearl “ pick guards or more electrical switches than anyone could ever use. They were always very flashy. Names Like Eko was one brand that comes to mind.
There are a few different places I go to when I'm trying to determine the value of an instrument, I own a couple of different appraisal books that I constantly update. There are also websites that can help with serial numbers and general descriptions of certain models of guitars from all of the major manufactures. Condition, playability, age, and popularity all are major factors in the final outcome of value. Just because it is an older Fender does not necessarily make it valuable. They made a few blunders over the years. Not all of the models that they manufactured were as much of a success as the Strat and the Tele.
Thre are many reasons that people would like their instruments appraised. Some for insurance value, some for purchasing or selling an instrument, and sometimes just for bragging rights. But if you find yourself in a position of needing a professional appraisal, I would be glad to be of assistance in way that I could . After years of being in touch with so many guitars, I have been able to become very good at finding out the values of most instruments. There is the occasional “What the #%&*% is that? But for the most part I have had good success. Please feel free to call or email me at 440-474-2141 or pat@ wood-n-strings.net if you want to find out what your instrument might be worth.

Thanks Again!
Patrick from Wood-n-Strings/Liam Guitars