Today, with only the most basic of internet searches it's possible to get a pretty good idea of the value of anything old and guitars are no exception. So it is highly unlikely you'll go to a yard sale or a church rummage sale and find an old Martin. This is one factor in the astronomical rise in prices for those old guitars. If you have any doubt about this, check out this video featuring Chris Martin talking about what his company had to pay for a pre-war D-45 for their museum:
Now, it is likely that the D-45s from the era Chris speaks of are the single most valuable and sought-after acoustic guitars ever made. But number two on the list is one I had the pleasure to hold and drool over last weekend.
I was playing my regular Saturday coffee shop gig when a friend walked in who is a musician (band director/trumpet player at a local elementary school). He had just dropped his young son off for a play date. He said - hey, my son's friend's mother has an old guitar that belonged to her mother. I think it's a Martin. Would you like to see it?
My interest level immediately rose and of course I said yes. "I'll be right back," he said.
A few minutes later he walked in with what was obviously a very old Lifton hardshell case. Now I was really interested. Those old Liftons alone are worth $500 - $1000.
I opened the case. Oh my goodness. Herringbone binding...teardrop shaped pickguard....Brazilian rosewood. It showed plenty of dings and had a replacement bridge that was too small (the footprint of the original bridge was easy to see) and the replacement bridge was cracked but other than and a couple frets that were slightly protruding it was in great shape - no warping, no cracks that I could see. The strings were so old they were rusty so it would serve no purpose to play it and try to get an idea of the sound. Inside the case was a small piece of paper on which someone had written: 1930's?
I knew what it was without even looking inside but I had to confirm it. There on the neck block was the marking: OM-28. I didn't have the presence of mind to write down the serial number but it was in the low 50000 range.
"Tell your lady friend I will write her a check right now for $2000," I said. My friend laughed. No, he said, she doesn't play guitar at all but it was her mother's and she has emotional attachment to it. I was not surprised but I was pretty disappointed to say the least!
Later when I was home I did some research. According to Richard Johnston & Dick Boak's wonderful book, "Martin Guitars, A Technical Reference" a total of 487 OM-28s were made between 1929 and 1933. I tried to find out what that guitar might be worth. The only one I could find was one that sold at auction about a year ago - in much worse shape than the one I had seen - sold for..... $46,306 !
Oh my god. I called my friend and told him to tell the lady to call me right away. Not that I could ever hope to own it of course. But I wanted her to understand what she had, that it should be insured IMMEDIATELY and I could give her some names of reputable restorers of vintage guitars, if she decided to go that route. I'm still waiting for her to call and I sincerely hope she doesn't just shove it back under a bed or into a closet. Or worse yet, give it to her kids to fool around with.
I knew a guy in Connecituct years ago who happened upon a matched set of early 20th Century signed Loyd Loar F-5 mandolin and mandola. They had belonged to a very old lady's husband, who had purchased them brand new, with sequential serial numbers directly from Gibson in 1920. My friend purchased them from the lady, paying her $5000 for them in 1980. He told her they were worth more (although he didn't give her a figure) but she almost fainted when he offered her the $5k and she was happy to get that. He sold the mandolin (perfect condition) for $12,000 a year later. Today that mandolin is probably worth close to a quarter million dollars. I think he still has the mandola.
So I now have a good story to tell, but alas, no 1930 Martin OM-28. All I can hope is that my karma has been elevated by not trying bilk the lady out of her guitar. At least I got to hold it!
Peace & good music,