17 Feb

"Vintage" Is Yuppie Bullshit

Written by TehGunky Published in Read 1 time

There's a segment of the guitar-buying market that pays a gigantic premium for "vintage." "Vintage" is a load of hot bullshit. 

Basically, they're paying more money for "old," regardless of whether or not "old" is any better than modern stuff. Consider this: back in 1957 or so, they used cloth-wrapped wires and paper-in-oil capacitors because that was standard production at the time. Do these factors affect the tone of a guitar? Some people will claim that the capacitors do, but no-one other than capacitor-snobs will be able to hear a difference until the tone is turned way down. In the 50s, they used hand-wound coils because they didn't have computer-controlled winding machines, and this means that some pickups will have more output or a brighter sound, even if they are the same model of pickup, produced in the same factory on the same day by the same person.

Same for things like magnets - the magnets in the pickups of 1950s guitars were made using the technology available to them at the time, and we've had 60 years of technological advancement since then. The magnets being produced now are of more consistent quality, and material tech advancement means they will probably be more strongly magnetic for longer. And think about potentiometers - the methods used to create the little carbon-coated discs inside, the materials used to make the contact points and cases, etc., has all been improved and made more consistent with 60 years of technological advancement. Yeah, there are some cheap-shit pots that will corrode and fill up with dust really fast, but they had that in the 50s and 60s, too, and they put them in the cheap-shit guitars from that era that sell for 10 times their orginal price now. 

The same goes for the hand-shaped necks and body contours - CNC milling does a much more consistent job of wood-shaping, so two guitars produced on the same day in the same factory won't have super-different-feeling necks. 

If a person finds some perfect "vintage" guitar, it's the result of pure luck. The one with the next-highest serial number might be a piece of unplayable crap. Probably not, but you never know. 

The guitars produced in China and Asia right now, for Epiphone and Squier and other companies, have a very high degree of consistency. Two guitars produced in the same factory on the same day will have the same dimensions, the same build quality, the same quality of parts, the same quality of paint, etc. For good and ill. 

What's interesting to me in the video is, both dudes had a tough time telling the expensive Custom Shop model from the cheap-ass Squier. The build quality coming out of the Indonesian and Chinese factories (and again, this is the legitimate, licensed stuff, not the unlicensed fakes) is likely comparable to, if not outright better than the stuff being made in the USA in the 50s and 60s. Better manufacturing methods, more advanced materials (except the wood - all the technical innovation has gone into synthetic parts, we haven't managed to improve trees just yet), computer-assisted quality control. There might be some fine details that are a little off - slightly rougher finish on the frets, for example - but a lot of these can be worked out with a bit of patience and effort by the owner. Low-quality parts can be replaced, same as they were in the 60s when the corroded crap stopped working on those ones. 

And that's just the basic guitars. There's a whole other market for "vintage" aftermarket "upgrades." People are willing to pay more money for stuff that mimics the less-advanced manufacturing methods of days gone by, thinking the inconsistencies make these things "sound better." Or they will pay a premium for "vintage" capacitors thinking they will capture some magical tone they heard on a recording somewhere, not realizing that the amp and recording equipment have much, much more effect on that tone than a choice between ceramic, film or paper-in-oil capacitors would. In the case of pickups, it can make a real difference, but even then you're buying into a lucky strike rather than a perfect recreation of a magic tone. Great-sounding P.A.F.s were about as common as lousy-sounding ones. 

It's your money, so spend it however you want. But use your head, and remember that "vintage" is a marketing word meant to add artificial value to an item, not a statement of quality. 

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