Over the years of playing guitar, I love taking every opportunity to play a variety of instruments to try to learn, from my own ears and hands, what makes a steel string acoustic guitar sound great and play well. In the 1970s I was mostly listening to and playing electric guitar. I did have an acoustic at home, but it was a 1950s Maton ‘Stradivarius’ f-hole guitar that I’d bought for about $40 from an Adelaide second-hand store. This guitar was fun to play, but at that stage even I could tell that the laminated body f-hole design was trebly and lacked sustain. In the late 1970s, K Yairi acoustic guitars started appearing in Australia from Japan and I bought a cutaway dreadnought model. This guitar was well made with a solid cedar top and laminated back and sides,. I liked the understated aesthetic and it had a noticeably sweeter, more sustaining voice than the Maton archtop. I enjoyed playing this guitar for a year or two and it was definitely a step up in tone.
Around this time in the early 1980s a guitar maker from Victoria called Bryan DeGruchy moved to Adelaide and was doing some luthier work at a guitar shop I used to go to in the eastern suburbs. I remember meeting Bryan there as he worked on some Tele partscasters, but the conversation quickly moved to his true passion: steel string acoustics, made with traditional woods, designs and techniques. So a little while later I arranged to visit Bryan at his home in the Adelaide hills to explore having a guitar made. I remember chatting in his tiny garden shed workshop, admiring the stack of tonewoods in storage, and looking at templates for different traditional body shapes. By the end of the visit I was starting to think about guitar options and Bryan was strongly dissuading me from anything non-traditional, like a cutaway top!
Before I left he invited me into the house for a cuppa. While chatting with Bryan and his wife, I noticed a small guitar in the corner of the dining area. “Oh, that’s one I’ve made for myself” said Bryan, “.. the back and sides are some 100 year old Brazilian I got from a retired violin maker in Portland; the boards were only big enough for a small guitar.” I asked if I could play it and was immediately struck by the volume and tone that leapt out of this small beauty. When I asked if this model size had a name , Bryan said , “Oh not really, I just call it the Midget”. A short while later I managed to convince Bryan to sell me ‘Midge’ and now, close to 40 years later, she remains a very favourite guitar. It was only years later, after I started thinking about and studying Martin guitars, that I measured all the dimensions of Midge to realise that what Bryan had created was an exact homage to a pre-war Martin 0-28. [The photo below is a later Martin … more about that in Part 2.]
If you’re a music lover or a guitar enthusiast, you know that vintage guitars are the holy grail of the guitar world. They are the embodiment of history, craftsmanship, and art. Australia has a rich and diverse music culture, and vintage guitars are a significant part of it. But, where do you find them? What are the best-kept secrets of vintage guitars in Australia? Well, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will uncover the best-kept secrets of vintage guitars in Australia, from hidden guitar shops to the most sought-after vintage guitar models. We’ll delve into the history and stories behind each guitar, the craftsmanship that went into making them, and why they are so valuable today. So, whether you’re a collector, a musician, or just a curious enthusiast, join us on this journey as we explore the fascinating world of vintage guitars in Australia.
History of Vintage Guitars in Australia
The history of vintage guitars in Australia dates back to the early 1900s. During this time, guitars were mostly imported from Europe and America. However, the Australian guitar industry started to flourish in the 1950s with the introduction of local guitar manufacturers such as Maton, Cole Clark, and Fender Australia. These guitar manufacturers produced some of the most iconic vintage guitars in Australia.
One of the most sought-after vintage guitars in Australia is the Maton Mastersound. This guitar was first introduced in the late 1950s and quickly gained popularity among Australian musicians. It was played by some of the most famous Australian guitarists, including George Harrison, Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger. The Maton Mastersound is known for its unique sound and craftsmanship, making it one of the most valuable vintage guitars in Australia.
Types of Vintage Guitars
Vintage guitars come in different types and models, each with its own unique sound and history. The most common types of vintage guitars include acoustic, electric, and bass guitars.
Acoustic guitars are known for their warm and natural sound. They are mostly made of wood and are popular among folk and country music players. Some of the most sought-after vintage acoustic guitars in Australia include the Maton EBG808 and the Gibson J-45.
Electric guitars, on the other hand, are known for their versatility and ability to produce a wide range of sounds. They are mostly made of solid wood and are popular in rock, blues, and jazz music. Some of the most popular vintage electric guitars in Australia include the Fender Stratocaster, Fender Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul, Gibson ES-335 and the Maton Mastersound.
Bass guitars are similar to electric guitars but are designed to produce lower frequencies. They are mostly used in rock, funk, and jazz music. Some of the most popular vintage bass guitars in Australia include the Fender Precision Bass and the Gibson Thunderbird.
Factors that Affect the Value of Vintage Guitars
The value of vintage guitars is determined by various factors, including the age, rarity, condition, and history of the guitar. The older a guitar is, the more valuable it becomes, especially if it is in good condition. Rare guitars, such as limited edition models, are also more valuable than common models.
The history of the guitar also plays a significant role in its value. If the guitar was owned by a famous musician or used in a significant event, its value increases significantly. The craftsmanship and materials used in making the guitar also affect its value. Handmade guitars are generally more valuable than mass-produced guitars.
Where to Find Vintage Guitars in Australia
Vintage guitars can be found in various places in Australia, including guitar shops, online marketplaces, and auctions. However, finding the right vintage guitar can be a daunting task, especially if you’re new to the world of vintage guitars.
One of the best places to find vintage guitars is in guitar shops that specialize in vintage guitars. These shops have a wide selection of vintage guitars and knowledgeable staff who can help you find the right guitar for you. Some of the best vintage guitar shops in Australia include Premier Guitars and Capital Vintage Guitars
Online marketplaces such as eBay and Reverb are also a good place to find vintage guitars. However, you should be cautious when buying guitars online, as you may not be able to see and play the guitar before buying it. It’s also essential to buy from reputable sellers and check their ratings and reviews before making a purchase.
Tips for Buying a Vintage Guitar
Buying a vintage guitar can be a significant investment, so it’s essential to do your research and be cautious when making a purchase. Here are some tips to help you buy the right vintage guitar:
1. Set a budget: Vintage guitars can be expensive, so it’s essential to set a budget and stick to it.
2. Do your research: Research the model and history of the guitar before making a purchase. This will help you determine its value and authenticity.
3. Inspect the guitar: Inspect the guitar carefully for any signs of damage or wear. Check the neck, frets, and electronics to ensure that they are in good condition.
4. Play the guitar: Play the guitar before making a purchase to determine its sound and playability.
5. Buy from a reputable dealer: Buy from a reputable dealer who specializes in vintage guitars. They will provide you with the necessary information and documentation to ensure that the guitar is authentic.
Restoring and Maintaining Vintage Guitars
Restoring and maintaining vintage guitars is essential to preserve their value and sound quality. However, it’s essential to be cautious when restoring vintage guitars, as any changes made to the guitar can affect its value.
If you’re not familiar with guitar restoration, it’s best to take it to a professional guitar technician who specializes in vintage guitars. They will be able to repair any damage and restore the guitar to its original condition without affecting its value.
Maintaining vintage guitars is also essential to ensure that they retain their sound quality. Here are some tips for maintaining vintage guitars:
1. Keep it in a case: Keep the guitar in a case when not in use to protect it from dust and humidity.
2. Clean it regularly: Clean the guitar regularly with a soft cloth to remove any dirt or dust.
3. Change the strings: Change the strings regularly to ensure that they are in good condition.
4. Store it properly: Store the guitar in a dry and cool place to prevent it from warping or cracking.
Famous Vintage Guitarists from Australia
Australia has produced some of the most famous guitarists in the world, many of whom have played vintage guitars. Here are some of the most famous vintage guitarists from Australia:
1. Angus Young: Angus Young, the lead guitarist of AC/DC, is known for his iconic Gibson SG guitar.
2. Tommy Emmanuel: Tommy Emmanuel is a world-renowned fingerstyle guitarist who has played various vintage guitars, including the Maton Mastersound.
3. Paul Kelly: Paul has a mid 1970s Gibson Les Paul Signature, an unusual semi-hollow gold-top model that he likes use as well as a range of acoustic instruments.
Vintage Guitar Events and Festivals in Australia
Australia is home to various vintage guitar events and festivals that celebrate the art and history of vintage guitars. These events bring together vintage guitar enthusiasts, collectors, and musicians from all over the world. Here are some of the most popular vintage guitar events and festivals in Australia:
The National Capital Vintage Expo held in Canberra every Oct. A showcase of Australia’s best vintage dealers with clinics, performances and concerts. There is plenty of opportunity to ask questions, have your vintage guitar valued, trade, buy or sell an instrument or just browse.
Melbourne Guitar Show: The Melbourne Guitar Show is the largest guitar show in Australia and showcases a wide range of vintage and new guitars.
Sydney Guitar Festival: The Sydney Guitar Festival celebrates the art of guitar playing and features various vintage guitars and musicians.
Vintage guitars are a significant part of Australia’s music culture, and they are highly valued by collectors, enthusiasts, and musicians. From the iconic Fender and Gibson guitars of the 50s and 60s, through to historic Maton guitars, Australia has some of the most valuable and sought-after vintage guitars in the world. Finding the right vintage guitar can be challenging, but with careful research and guidance from knowledgeable professionals, you can find the perfect guitar for you. So, whether you’re a collector or a musician, explore the fascinating world of vintage guitars in Australia and uncover the best-kept secrets of this beautiful art form.
Any guitar aficionado who has lived in Canberra for more than a decade would know the name Ian Stehlik.
Stehlik established the National Vintage Guitar and Amp Expo, which ran annually over a weekend inside Curtin’s Statesman Hotel between 2007 and 2011.
He also ran a vintage guitar website and business called Zone of Tone, and he took on the stage name of Dr Zot while playing in bands in and around Canberra.
Dr Zot made vintage guitars cool in the capital.
But for family reasons, Stehlik moved to Adelaide and was away for nine years.
But now he’s permanently back in Canberra and has brought all the enthusiasm he has always had for old guitars and amplifiers.
With new business partner Simon Wilkins, a start-up business has been established in the nation’s capital and is dedicated solely to vintage guitars and amps.
It’s even got the capital in the business name. It is simply called Capital Vintage Guitars.
The business has just been launched and is currently a website with an online shop, allowing in-person inspections by appointment.
But an actual shopfront showroom is being lined up for later this year.
Also earmarked for this year is the return of the National Vintage Guitar and Amp Expo.
“We’re talking to venues about it right now with the view to staging the event over a weekend in the spring sometime,” Stehlik says.
“Simon and I will reach out to all of our contacts and bring exhibitors and stalls here to Canberra to display vintage guitars from around the world – with many being up for sale.
“That’s one reason we’ve called it Capital Vintage Guitars, too, because this is the national capital with all these wonderful institutions like the museum and gallery etc.
“We’re obviously not comparing ourselves to that, but we have a lot of Australian things here and vintage Aussie guitars that we think it’s great to showcase in this city.
“We all celebrate American-made instruments, so why not celebrate Australian-made ones as well?”
So while there will be plenty of the US brands for sale – Fender, Gibson, Martin, Dobro etc – expect to also find a healthy stash of cool vintage Aussie guitars up for grabs, like Maton, Pacific, Wayne, JMG and more.
Vintage electric guitars, ukuleles and amps are up for grabs at Capital Vintage Guitars. And capital dog Alfie (not for sale). Photo supplied.
Wilkins also has a long connection with vintage guitars and believes Canberra is the perfect place for a shop and an expo dedicated to them.
He almost bought into an established guitar shop in Sydney but joined forces with Stehlik – a longtime friend and musical colleague – in Canberra instead.
“There is a strong vintage guitar core in Canberra and there is nothing else like it here,” Wilkins says.
“It’s not just a guitar shop and it’s not just a secondhand shop – it’s vintage guitars and there is a big difference.
“The location, being not too far for Sydney people, is also a bonus.”
Besides the stock they have already gathered for sale, the pair take guitars and amplifiers, usually at least 25 years old, from other owners to sell on consignment.
It is a formula that worked well for Zone of Tone back in the day and a business model they expect will have similar success for Capital Vintage Guitars.
“Nothing quite sounds like a vintage guitar,” Wilkins says.
“It’s a sound guitarists are still chasing today. And while this is a retirement business for me, I am really keen to get young kids switched onto vintage guitars.
“Generally, more teenagers and 20-somethings are getting there. There is a growing appreciation for vintage guitars with the younger set.”
Stehlik agrees, adding that players and collectors of all ages build strong connections with their instruments.
“The love of guitars is a personal thing,” Stehlik says.
“Guitars are an object, yes, but they have a sentimental and emotional connection with us.
“And music brings it all together. It’s like Paul Kelly sings, ‘meet me in the middle of the air’, because in the middle of the air somewhere is where we connect with our music and with each other.”
Why does Canberra and Australia need it’s own vintage guitar show?
Vintage guitar enthusiasts and Capital Vintage Guitars’ founders Ian and Simon first met in Canberra in the mid 2000s, when Ian was running a small vintage guitar business called Zone of Tone. With some prior experience of putting on guitar events and exhibitions, Ian brought those ideas to Canberra, and Simon was a great supporter of the several Guitar Expos that we put on in the years leading up to 2012.
When Ian returned to live in Canberra in 2022, not only did Capital Vintage Guitars get off the ground but lots of musical contacts here encouraged us to bring back the National Vintage Guitar Expo in 2023. We started considering the best venue and timing. We were particularly keen to use the great auditorium space that is also home to our friends at the Canberra Blues Society, and now we’re very pleased to announce that we have the confirmed location and dates:
Sat 7 and Sunday 8 October 2023 at the Harmonie German Club, Canberra.