March 12, 2004
Three Experts Discuss the Non-Vintage Collectible Fender Stratocaster - Part Two, Frank Glionna
by FRANK GLIONNA and TOM WATSON
Part Two of a three-part series in which experts Allan Clarke (Outside Sales Manager and Custom Product Specialist, Guitar Center's Certified Reserve Collection), Frank Glionna (owner, The Music Gallery, Inc.) and Steve Pisani (Custom Shop Guitar Specialist, Sam Ash Music) share their opinions about the current state and future potential of non-vintage collectible guitars. Part One featured the opinions of Allan Clarke.
In addition to his general opinion about the non-vintage collectible Stratocaster market, each participant was asked how he would invest $50,000 in such instruments.
The Non-Vintage Collectible Stratocaster
by Frank Glionna, The Music Gallery
off, a little background information. I have been in this
business for 30 years. I started The Music Gallery in 1974
with one purpose in mind: To serve the guitar player. If
it involves the guitar, we do it. Sales, service, lessons,
repairs, advice, whatever.
I will begin with why I started a small collection of non-vintage guitars.
I am a drummer, not a guitar player. Although I do play
now, I wasn't playing then. I just loved guitars. I
enjoyed how they looked, the different shapes, the exotic
woods and finishes, not to mention what the electric
guitar represented to youth and rock 'n' roll - the whole
romance of it all. So I've always been a candidate for any
special series that Fender or any other company had to
What I have found out is that I'm not alone. There are many players out there that aren't virtuosos but have the same passion for the guitar as I do. They play the guitar for relaxation, self-expression, whatever. The bottom line is they love their guitars and they love "creative guitars" like a MOTO Strat (popup image of green MOTO Strat, Tele and Jaguar set) or the Surf Strat (link to article).
Then again, there is also the player who says, "No frou-frou for me. Just give me pure tone and a great neck. I'm gonna play the guitar not look at it." I totally understand and respect this frame of mind as well.
Though I do have a small collection of vintage guitars that I keep around the store, we have never been known as a "vintage dealer". Some are in glass cases, some are mixed in with the guitars on the wall. These guitars always stop people in their tracks and provoke questions.
Since my store is somewhat physically small, I rotate the vintage collectibles on display all the time. Players love these instruments. Even people that don't play guitar are interested in these pieces; either the instrument's story, or how old it is, or perhaps that it looks like the exact guitar they saw - insert the name of any worshiped rock player - use in Fort Worth in 1974. Whatever it is, these pieces consistently generate interest.
These days, Fender Custom Shop Art Guitars (at least in some circles) are being thought of as investment-grade art, in addition to being musical instruments. The guitar market is growing so fast that I don't think our music manufacturing association, NAMM, has any idea. While all the big manufacturers have been making pieces that are incredibly elaborate and pricey, they realize that people also want collectibles that are affordable as well. Take, for instance, the Paisley and Flower Telecasters: Japanese-made guitars that originally sold for less than $700 but that still draw a significant amount of attention. While a lot of these guitars will end up being not much of an "investment", they are still unique and therefore will hold value in the hearts (and pockets) of those who play and love them.
That is one of the reasons I was attracted to this area
of the business in the first place. You could get a unique
guitar for a very modest price. Remember the aluminum-body
Strats and Teles that were made in the early nineties?
They were about the price of an American Standard
equivalent, and they had a tie-dyed-like finish.
Incredibly unique, both in looks and tone.
Now, are these or any of the Art-sy guitars going to be worth big dollars? We don't know. I don't collect them for that reason. I hope they may be extra-valuable, but if not I still enjoy them. I find that a lot of collectors share a similar opinion. They are hoping their guitar may be valuable someday, but hey, if it's not they got pleasure from playing it regardless. It is safe to say that their value is pretty solid, in that what it takes to build these guitars (meaning $$$), just in labor and material costs, will be higher tomorrow than today. Basically, over a period of time, any existing guitar is worth more because the new version will cost more.
There haven't been any real trends in this (Art-sy) market that I have noticed. There are no "Holy Grail" guitars that I have requests for all the time. Month to month, even week to week, we get tons of letters and calls for all sorts of guitars. There are exceptions though. When Brazilian rosewood reached the end of its rope [importation of Brazilian rosewood to the United States has been banned], everybody wanted it. What's the lesson? Tell people they can't have something and they'll search it out.
If I had $50,000 to buy any Fender guitars that were not vintage, I would buy the collection of "Diamond Dealer" guitars. Fender had a small group of dealers in the early nineties (there were 50 at first), and only these limited dealers were sold the six Diamond Dealer guitars. They were the Harley-Davidson Strat [pictured on the left], the Playboy Marilyn Monroe Strat, the Freddy Tavares Aloha Strat, the 40th Anniversary Strat (40th Anniversary of the Stratocaster), the 50th Anniversary Strat (50th Anniversary of the Fender company), and the Jimi Hendrix Monterey Festival Strat. Today, these special dealers are called Master Dealers.
If you found the complete set, the price might be higher than $50,000. But with a little searching I would think you could piece the set together within that budget. The rarest of the group was the Harley. A total of 109 were made, including prototypes. The Harley-Davidson, I was told, got $20,000 or $25,000. But over the past 15 years that would have to be one of Fender's best.
I would also buy anything that is made in the MOTO finish. The Custom Shop made a bunch of these that were mainly white MOTO (popup image of white MOTO Strat). However, there were some experiments. I also saw a few that looked like bowling balls. They had blue, grey and white all swirled around. There was also a set of Fender Blues Deluxe amp in white MOTO and matching flight case. These were not so difficult to locate.
I had the Custom Shop make me five MOTO sets in other colors: Cherry Red, two-color Sunburst, Cherry Sunburst, Purple, and Blue Sunburst.
I always get asked about limited-run guitars. There have been many limited runs of different Fender guitars. Some were done by builders or sales guys at the Custom Shop, and many were rather cool. Others were commissioned by different stores. Chances are, you won't know the history of the run. I once ordered a small series of Custom guitars from Fender, and even though the guitars were numbered pieces that made up a small group, they weren't really more valuable than any other one-off run, unless you count something like the Diamond Dealer edition, or some other specific Fender project.
Some of the other guitars that the Custom Shop has put out over the years, and that I still see around and at fair prices, are the "Pinup Strats" (pictured on the left). Usually these are hybrids of Strats, Jaguars and Jazzmasters - like a Jaguar body with Strat pickups and a Bigsby tremolo.
There are many wacky Fenders that weren't built in the Custom Shop that I think are fairly priced, and that I like because they are unique and aren't available everywhere. Examples of these types of guitars include the Strat 12, The Walnut Strat, and the lefty-strung-righty Hendrix Strat.
Every year there are two NAMM shows. The Custom Shop seems to outdo itself every outing. They have so many unique guitars at that show, that if you ever want to add something special to your collection you have two chances a year.
[Images, from top to bottom: (1) Frank Glionna; (2) green MOTO Strat; (3) green MOTO Strat, Tele and Jaguar set (popup); (4) 1993 90th Anniversary Harley-Davidson Stratocaster; (5) white MOTO Strat (popup); and (6) red "Pinup" Strat. Images (1), (2), (3), (5), and (6), copyright 2004, Music Gallery, Inc.]
About The Music Gallery
The Music Gallery is not only a Fender Master Dealer but also a Gibson Super Dealer and a Martin Super Dealer. They normally have at least 40-50 Custom Shop Fenders in stock at all times. The Music Gallery is one of the largest (if not the largest) independent retailer of Fender Custom Shop instruments. They also carry Paul Reed Smith, Santa Cruz, Rainsong, Guild, Gretsch, CA, Rickenbacker, and Seagull. They steer clear of most of the modeling and digital world - they like tube amps and don't sell anything but. You won't find a digital stomp box in the store. The amplifier department stocks Victoria, Mesa Boogie, Matchless, Vox, O'Brien, and many Fender amps.
Published March 12, 2004 11:21 PM.