It’s vintage guitars vs new guitars in our latest discussion on whether or not an older guitar sounds better than a new one, and why Custom Shop guitars are the best answer for those who want the best of both worlds.
The old saying goes: “If you have a choice between believing the truth, or believing the myth. Choose the myth”. As guitarists, we’re inclined to believe that older guitars are instantly better than new ones and are full of special “guitar juice” that allows them to achieve superhero status in our eyes. Surely the fact that they’re older, means they’re way better right? Right?
But are older guitars actually better than new ones? Or are we as guitarists obsessed with the romanticism that a vintage guitar will sound better, play better and give us that vibe that our older vinyl records and favourite albums seem to tell us. Are we blind to the fact that there’s a much easier, less expensive and more reliable option staring us right in the face, in the custom shop?
To be honest, I’m more inclined to believe that new guitars are better than vintage guitars and if I had to pitch vintage vs. new guitars in a sound battle, chances are I’ll reach for that new Fender Stratocaster before choosing a pre CBS model any day of the week (but that’s just me). So today, I’m going to offer up 5 reasons as to why new guitars are better than vintage guitars and show you why custom shop guitars from the likes of Fender Custom Shop, Gibson Custom Shop, PRS and Martin Authentic range are (in many cases, but not all) a better option than vintage, in the hope I stop you re-mortgaging your home for that ’59 Les Paul.
5 Reasons why your new guitar is better than a vintage model
1. Vintage guitars will eventually have to be retired
If you take a look at all your favourite guitarists over the years, chances are they’re not playing the exact same guitar as they were when you fell in love with their sound (Willie Nelson excluded). Guitars, just like every instrument or tool eventually start to wear down and eventually need replacing due to over use. Dave Grohl’s famous vintage Trini Lopez hollow body guitar in Red was played on countless tours and records, but the man himself said he eventually had to retire it before he wore it out, choosing to start his own custom line of guitars to fill the void it left. Even The Edge has had to retire some of his most iconic guitars from a touring schedule to preserve them, allowing them out of their case for recordings only. Thankfully he teamed up with Fender to create a signature Fender Strat to get as close to his original tone as possible. The likes of Tony Iommi, Angus Young who are famous for their respective guitars choose to mix up their sets with “younger” guitars, albeit “broken in”. This is due to the fact that parts start to wear down, need repairing and eventually need replacing.
Of course, the day you buy your guitar is the worst it’s ever going to sound. As wood matures, the guitar settles and you get more used to playing it, your guitar sounds better with age, but it continues to age. However, if you get hold of a well-worn guitar from the 60s, chances are it’s begging for something to be repaired or replaced due to the simple fact it’s been through the mill. A played-in guitar will often feel great to play, but due to its age may be spoilt by poor re-frets and re-finishes that have happened over the years.
Most vintage guitars just won’t stand up to a hefty touring schedule of today. They’ve certainly got some stories to tell for sure, but they’ll tell them in a different, less urgent way. Besides, chances are that when it was built, it won’t have been to the standards of today. Which brings me to my next point:
2. New guitars are far more reliable these days
When guitars were being created back in the 50s and 60s, luthiers tried their absolute best to create beautifully crafted musical instruments with the tools they had and the components they could get their hands on. Brands like Fender and Gibson succeeded in creating iconic instruments that shaped the way we hear music today and spawned musical legends across the globe – no one is contesting that. But back then, electric guitars were still in their infancy and their successes were not always consistent.
After years of listening to players thoughts and needs, brands began tweaking designs and modifying construction processes like pickup winding techniques, wood selection and countless other aspects eventually creating the modern guitars we’ve come to know and love today. They also use a wide range of more reliable components that are environmentally friendly, safer to use and last a hell of a lot longer.
Everything from electronics to the glue and construction process are far more streamlined to create a guitar you can rely on. Guitars are starting off in a better place than their vintage counterparts.
3. Your favourite “Vintage” artists used fairly new guitars
Those Hendrix and Zeppelin records we love to listen to are full of new guitars. That’s right. The guitars that our guitar heroes of the 60s and 70s used guitars that were either 2nd hand or completely new. Jimmy Page is known for using the famous 1959/60 Fender Telecaster throughout his stints with the Yardbirds in the 60s and on early Led Zeppelin songs. His guitar only a few years old.
In addition, the Strat Hendrix used on “The Wind Cries Mary” was barely a year old. You could argue that the tone of the guitar was down to the components used and wood selection, when in actual fact, it was Jimi Hendrix doing his thing to make that song great. Plain and simple.
4. Wood is treated a lot better these days
Luthiers of today take far more care with the wood they use. Before the techniques of the drying process or “seasoning” as Martin guitars calls it, was perfectly honed to the ways of today, moisture levels weren’t really monitored to the specifications of today’s standards. This means that a vast array of vintage guitars were potentially crafted with wood that was not properly dried to today's stringent standards, thus not allowing the resonance and tone to shine through. In addition, some wood may have been far too dry upon conception and will suffer cracks and irreparable damage over time.
New instruments utilise modern drying and humidification techniques to ensure that your guitar has been created at the optimal humidity, thus giving your guitar the best chance at lasting a lifetime. If anything, Luthiers of today are far more meticulous in the choosing of woods and ensuring that each slab used has been optimised for tone and aesthetic.
In addition, woods of today are more responsibly sourced. And with the likes of the CITES law popping up, it’s a good thing too. All the knowledge and technique of treating wood has been developed over many years and as processes keep evolving, it results in better instruments leaving the shop.
5. Today’s custom shop guitars are the best examples of each era
The things we love about vintage guitars, whether it’s the feel, the hide glue creating a cohesive join resulting in a more resonant effect or the fact a humbucker was hand wound to create subtle nuances – whatever it is, chances are the custom shop guitars of today can replicate it, and even do a better job. The aspects that guitarists have stated make a vintage guitar so coveted have been meticulously recreated to minute detail, but combined with the modern, more reliable processes of today. This means with a custom shop guitar you get all the feel and response of a vintage style guitar, but a more reliable, hard wearing and responsibly sourced model. It’s the best of both worlds.
We are living in an era producing some of the best guitars ever. Thanks to a combination of greater understanding by designers and luthiers of what makes a guitar “good”, and the benefits that come with automated and computer controlled manufacturing, your guitar will gladly stay by your side for a lifetime and work harder every day.
Our Favourite Custom Shop Guitars at PMT
If you love the look and feel of a vintage guitar, whether it’s the hard-weathered paint work, dirtied fretboards and period correct appointments, yet want the reliability of a new guitar – something with plenty of life left in it, then Custom Shop guitars are the way to go. A custom shop guitar provides the guitar snob in all of us the comforts of a “broken in” guitar, yet provides us with an instrument begging for us to make our own mark on it. Custom Shop guitars feature the period correct stylings, electronic components (in line with modern health and safety laws) and authenticity that makes vintage guitars so appealing. However, we get a brand-new guitar with decades of life still left in it – ideal for touring musicians and collectors alike.
So, let’s take a look at our favourite Custom Shop guitars and see exactly why these should be on your list of consideration.
Fender Custom Shop
Fender Custom Shop 1960 Stratocaster Relic Candy Apple Red
The Fender Custom Shop 1960 Stratocaster Relic Candy Apple Red model provides the player with an instrument straight out of 1960 with every aspect meticulously designed to recreate the construction and playability of an original. Every aspect down to the smallest detail has been faithfully reproduced including the period correct Oval "C" neck profile, rosewood fretboard and flash coat lacquer finish that allows the lightweight two-piece select Alder body to breathe and resonate more freely.
To provide that classic, handmade experience the Fender Custom Shop 1960 Stratocaster Relic Candy Apple Red comes complete with hand-wound, Custom Shop 60/63 pickups. You get the signature hot rodded sound with enhanced bass response – full of attitude! The coveted vintage tone rings out clear with the addition of a hand wound middle pick up featuring reverse-wound, reverse-polarity construction. The addition of a period correct hard shell case adds the final vintage touch!
Want to watch more custom shop guitar videos? Check out our Custom Shop Sundays series over at our PMTVUK YouTube channel.
Fender Custom Shop, '52 Telecaster, Relic Finish, Butterscotch Blonde
A 1952 Telecaster is essentially the holy grail of guitars, with an original model costing the same price as a home renovation or once in a lifetime trip around the world. Fortunately, there's far more budget friendly option to this vintage guitar, one that retains all the mojo and feel of the original 52 Telecaster (when things really got interesting at Fender) but provides far more stability and reliability. The Fender Custom Shop, '52 Telecaster, Relic Finish, Butterscotch Blonde is the quintessential Telecaster for the discerning tele fan. It's also a damn sight cheaper than an original model!
The Fender Custom Shop, '52 Telecaster, Relic Finish, Butterscotch Blonde has been meticulously designed to faithfully reproduce all the subtle nuances that made the original 52' so sought after and has been crafted to the exact specifications of the original model, right down to the flash coat lacquer finish. This top coat layer of lacquer has been applied quickly and thinly as per period correct specifications to provide an authentic look and allow the wood to breathe and resonate more. A heavy relic process adds to the overall vintage guitar aesthetic without affecting the playability negatively. It looks "broken in" but it's got decades of music inside it ready to be unleashed!
In addition you have a set of Fender Custom Shop Twisted Tele Pickups to provide you with that lush, hot, high output tele twang with a dash of stratocaster character.
A thicker "U" neck profile is period correct and in line with the original 50s telecasters and adds to the vintage feel of the guitar. A period correct case is the icing on the cake.
Want to see more? Shop a full range of Fender custom Shop Guitars over at PMT Online today or create your very own custom shop model. Our close relationship with Fender means we can help you get a completely custom Fender guitar based on your personal specifications! Call us today on 0151 448 2089 or call in to your local store to make an enquiry.
Gibson Custom Shop
Gibson Custom Shop True Historic 1956 Les Paul Goldtop
When you want molecular level reproduction of a guitar, the Gibson Custom Shop True Historic 1956 Les Paul Goldtop is by far one of the greatest achievements in custom shop history. The team at Gibson knpow a thing or two about making world class guitars, and they also know what makes their vintage guitars so sought after. With this model, you get absolute vintage accuracy right down to aspects like hot hide glue construction and correct carving techniques.
The Gibson Custom Shop True Historic 1956 Les Paul Goldtop goes to extreme measures to recreate the feel and sound of that of a 1956 model including a double-carved and hand-sanded top and neck, hand wet-sanded finish and hand-filed rolled fingerboard binding. Even the plastics have been replicated from molecular-level analysis of original vintage parts providing the player with a period accurate model. The authentic P90 pickups provide all the warmth and grunt you need as well as that classic sound of your favourite records.
A key part of the Custom Shop process also comes in the form of their spraying techniques.
As was correct in the late 50s, Gibson Custom shop spray these guitars with a thinner finish allowing the tone to really resonate correctly. The hide glue neck construction provides a more cohesive join that only matures with age, effectively making your guitar one solid piece of wood. It’s like stepping inside a time machine and coming back with your all-time favourite guitar from the 50s.
Gibson Les Paul Custom Electric Guitar, Ebony
One of the most coveted Gibson Les Paul’s has to be the Gibson Les Paul Custom Electric Guitar, Ebony, affectionately known as the ‘Black Beauty’. Originally designed in the mid 50’s an original model will cost you a small fortune, however the modern-day option is just as good, if not better than the originals. Not only do you get the same handmade attention to detail, but a guitar full of life ready to roar on stage. The mahogany body features a hand carved maple top which has been paired with a 24 -inch scale length neck crafted from one solid piece of mahogany.
The power lies in the pickups which are just begging to be thrown through a valve amp! You have a Gibson 490R pickup in the neck position which offers all the stunning tonal characteristics of the original PAF humbuckers whilst the 498T pickup in the bridge provides a slightly hotter output thanks to the inclusion of an Alnico V magnet.
A beautiful playing and sounding guitar that provides all the characteristics of a vintage Gibson without breaking the bank.
PRS Custom Guitars
PRS Custom 22 Thin Neck in Black Gold Wrap
The PRS Custom range features hand selected tone woods from the PRS Wood Library to create the ultimate players guitar. Each item has been individually designed to provide the player with an entirely unique model and the PRS Custom 22 Thin Neck in Black Gold Wrap (above) is one such example of how beautiful the Custom series can look. Each PRS custom guitar presents a once in a lifetime opportunity to own a piece of PRS history. This 22 fret version is based on the original Custom 24 model which was first introduced at NAMM 1985. These guitars are as close as you can get to a vintage models without travelling back through time, but includes a host of modern improvements that have made PRS guitars some of the most comfortable instruments to play.
The Carved Figured Maple on this 22 fret version features a lush Black Gold Wrap finish which is entirely unique. There may be others that look similar within the range, but this is an entirely custom guitar with unique serial too. Each aspect has been meticulously designed to provide that classic PRS play and feel with modern improvements. If you want the hand made vintage experience with modern improvements, this PRS guitar should be on your list of must-try’s!
Martin 00-18 Authentic 1931 Acoustic Guitar
Finally, we have the Martin 00-18 Authentic 1931 Acoustic Guitar. When you're looking for a historically accurate guitar, you can rely on the team at Martin guitars, Nazareth, Pennsylvania to produce an almost molecular level replication. The Martin 00-18 Authentic 1931 Acoustic Guitar is exactly like stepping back in time and plucking one from a local Mom and Pop store and bringing it home.
By using period correct carving techniques, sound chamber bracing and even the same glue that would have been used back in 1931, you end up with a beautifully hand crafted guitar that is almost exactly the same kind of instrument that the Delta Bluesmen of the Great Depression would have played.
Although getting hold of the same tonweoods used in the 1930s would be impossible, the Luthiers at Martin Guitars have still recreated the same tones on offer back in the day via their Vintage Tone System. This analysis of vintage guitar tonal properties has been used to ensure a period correct sound from your guitar. With an Adirondack Spruce top, Mahogany back and sides hand selected for their tonal properties, this is your chance to play a piece of history. Historically accurate features have been added such as an old style multi-stripe rosette, faux turtle pickguard and genuine ebony fretboard / bridge to provide you with the ultimate vintage guitar experience with modern reliability.
A beautifully designed guitar that is an investment in itself.
Always wanted your very own Martin guitar? Well did you know that the Martin Custom Shop is open to everyone? All you have to do is speak to a member of our team on 0151 448 2089 or call in to your local PMT store and w can set that up for you. Your guitar will be hand made to your specifications and be completely unique!
Of course when it comes to vintage vs. new guitars, you're going to want to try both out for yourself. If you're thinking to yourself "Should I buy a vintage or a new guitar?" it comes down to personal preference, as each guitar is as unique as the player.
When it comes to vintage guitars, we as guitarists and guitar collectors shouldn't stop placing a high value on these wonders from yesteryear, if only for historic reasons, nor should we stop appreciating them as a work of art.
However, we definitely need to appreciate that that from a a build quality and sonic point of view, the guitars that are available straight off the hanger today from both Custom Shop and standard lines from brands today are often simply better than that of a vintage model. The guitars of today are best in breed and provide guitarists with the kind of superior playability and tonal qualities that the likes of originators Orville Gibson and Leo Fender rarely encountered. They built a great foundation for the modern era to improve on.
With modern design techniques, there's never been a more exciting time to buy guitars. But if you still want that retro, vintage guitar feel with the modern reliability and sonic quality, Custom Shop guitars are reigning king - utilising everything that made those vintage guitars so great, and shedding anything that didn't work well. The best of both worlds is readily available.
Here at PMT we stock a huge range of Custom Shop guitars from the likes of Fender, Gibson, PRS and Martin Guitars. We have a huge range available in our stores and online, but if you’ve always wanted your own custom-made guitar, we can arrange that too, as the Custom Shop is open to everyone!
When it comes to Fender, Gibson, PRS and Martin Custom Shop guitars, you know that the price is going to reflect the heritage and quality you're paying for. However, here at PMT we have a range of finance options available for you to choose from (including 0% interest) to help you spread the payments out over several months, and to let you purchase that special guitar you've always wanted. If you have any queries regarding our payment options, please contact our sales team directly on 0151 448 2089.