Vintage musical equipment

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A guitar pedal board comprising several effects pedals, including vintage Electro-Harmonix Big Muff and Vox wah-wah pedals from the 1960s and 70s.

Vintage musical equipment is older music gear, including instruments, amplifiers and effects pedals, usually sought after, maintained and used by avid collectors and musicians. While any piece of equipment of sufficient age can be considered vintage, the term is typically applied to instruments and gear either known for their sound quality, rarity, or some unusual aspect.


Many individuals and institutions have maintained collections of musical instruments and paraphernalia for centuries and these collections ranged from antique or rare artifacts to samplings of musical items from cultures around the globe. In the last 19th century, American archaeologist Henry Chapman Mercer began a collection of then-contemporary musical instruments (among other things) with the intent of preserving them, knowing that the onset of industrialization would change their manufacture. Now antiques housed in the Mercer Museum, in their day Mercer's collection could have been deemed "ephemera" and is a precursor to the modern trend in vintage collecting.

As the post-industrial 20th century ushered in amplified and electronic music, much of the manufacture of musical instruments was still done by hand. Because instrument makers and inventors were always revising their technology, or because a new technology superseded the old, or because a competitor made a more successful product, or because the demand for some products was low, many editions of instruments, amplifiers and musical gadgets were made in limited quantity. These, and other gear made in larger supply that remained in high regard among musicians, created a collectors market in the late 20th century that became known as "vintage" and was associated with popular music, distinct from the antique collectors market that focused on classical music or indigenous instruments.


Main article: Vintage guitar
A collection of vintage guitars

As early as the 1970s, musicians and collectors began to recognize the value of older instruments. Among guitar aficionados, the mass production of both acoustic and electric guitars served to highlight the quality workmanship and materials of older instruments. Historians, such as George Gruhn, helped to codify both the monetary value and sound quality of these guitars for both collectors and musicians.

Examples of well-known vintage electric guitars include 1950s and 1960s era models like the Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster, and the Gibson Les Paul. Also collectible are certain Vox, Gretsch, Rickenbacker, and Epiphone instruments. An example of a well-known vintage bass guitar is a 1950s or 1960s era Fender Precision Bass. Although less well-known and not as financially valuable, older electric guitars under the names of Harmony, Danelectro or Kay are becoming increasingly collectible.

Examples of well-known vintage acoustic guitars include Martin and Gibson models typically built prior to the 1970s, 1920s to 1930s Nationals and Dobros, and 1930s era Recording Kings, among others.


A Mellotron keyboard

Prior to the popularity of electronic music, the Hammond organ was a staple instrument in jazz, blues and early rock and roll up through the 1970s. Booker T. Jones famously played in on many recordings for Stax Records that helped define the sound of soul music in the 1960s that later musicians would want to achieve by adopting a Hammond of their own.Mark Vail (2002-04-10). The Hammond organ - Beauty in the B. Keyboard musician's library. Backbeat Books. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-87930-705-9. 

Musical synthesizers first came to popular music in the 1960s and evolved through the 70s and 80s. Because the technology was changing so quickly, many synthesizers were manufactured for a very short period of time and would later by sought after by musicians and collectors seeking unique or unusual sounds. Popular brands of vintage sythsizer include Moog, Mellotron, Korg, ARP, and later Roland and Yamaha[1][2][3]


Orange amplifier and cabinet from the 2000s with a look reminiscent of the 1960s and 70s.

The first guitar amplifiers were made in the 1930s using vacuum tubes to amplify an instrument's sound. These tube amps remained the standard until the 1970s when transistors became cheaper to manufacture and maintain. During the 1980s, when most guitar amps being manufactured used "solid state" semiconductor technology, many musicians seeking an older style of sound favored older amps that used vacuum tubes.[4] Popular vintage models include the Fender Showman, Bassman and Vibroverb amps, and older models made by Ampeg, Gibson, Marshall, and Vox,[5] as well as other smaller companies such as Valco, Danelectro, and Premier. By the 1990s, many of these amplifiers had become so popular and sought after, that manufacturers began to reissue some models, while newer, smaller companies built new amps that boasted a "vintage sound".

Effects pedals[edit]

When electronic transistors began to replace vacuum tubes, it became possible to fit aural effects circuits into a portable device. These first effects pedals —or "stompboxes", so called because a guitarist would stomp on one to activate it—were manufactured in the early 1960s and became popular through groups like The Kinks and The Rolling Stones by the middle of the decade.[6][7] Early pedals mainly created a distortion or "fuzz-tone" effect, but with the arise of psychedelic rock, more esoteric effects became popular. Warwick Electronics manufactured the first wah-wah pedal in 1967 and that same year Roger Mayer issued the first octave effect,[8][9][10]

The following year saw the arrival of Univox's phase shifter and chorus effect. These pedals became favorite effects of guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Robin Trower.[11] By the mid-1970s a variety of solid-state effects pedals including flangers, chorus pedals, ring modulators and phase shifters were available.[12][13]

While digitized rack units became the standard for popular artists in the 1980s, older effects pedals were preferred by punk and garage rock bands. Seattle grunge rockers Mudhoney celebrated these roots on their 1988 EP Superfuzz Bigmuff, named for two of the band's favorite guitar effects pedals: the Univox Super-Fuzz and the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff, which helped to provide the band's signature "dirty" sound. When fellow grungers Nirvana made it big in 1991', interest in vintage pedals grew among their fans.[14]


  1. ^ "9 Dirt Cheap Vintage Synths That Don't Suck". Synthtopia. Retrieved 9 July 2013. 
  2. ^ "Vintage Synth Explorer". Retrieved 9 July 2013. 
  3. ^ Solida, Scot. "The 10 greatest synthesizers of all time". Music Radar. Retrieved 9 July 2013. 
  4. ^ Weber, Gerald, "A Desktop Reference of Hip Vintage Guitar Amps", Hal Leonard Corporation, 1994. ISBN 0-9641060-0-0
  5. ^ Fargen, Ben. "10 Classic Guitar Amps & The Songs That Made Them Famous". My Rare Retrieved 9 July 2013. 
  6. ^ "The Art of the Stompbox". 2010. Retrieved 13 September 2010. 
  7. ^ "FuzzEffect: The Fuzz Story and Photos". Retrieved 13 September 2010. 
  8. ^ Drozdowski, Ted (June 30, 2008). "The Accidental Birth of the Wah-wah Pedal and How It Became the Signature Sound of Psychedelic Rock". Retrieved 13 September 2010. 
  9. ^ Mayer, Roger. "Octavia". Retrieved 13 September 2010. 
  10. ^ "Photocell modulator deliver glorious vintage-vibed tones". audiobuyreviews. Retrieved 17 July 2016. 
  11. ^ Molenda, Mike; Pau, Les (2007). The Guitar Player Book: 40 Years of Interviews, Gear, and Lessons from the World's Most Celebrated Guitar Magazine. Hal Leonard. p. 222. 
  12. ^ Hunter, D (2004). Guitar Effects Pedals: The Practical Handbook. Hal Leonard. p. 11-15.
  13. ^ Thomas E. Oberheim (May 1970). "A Ring Modulator Device for the Performing Musician". AES Convention 38: 708. 
  14. ^ Atria, Travis (6 March 2008), "Stephen Malkmus – Talks Real Emotional Trash", Glide Magazine, retrieved 13 September 2010 

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