The morals of modifying vintage instruments in 2021

Discussion of vintage Jazzmasters, Jaguars, Bass VIs, Electric XIIs and any other offset-waist instruments.
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Re: The morals of modifying vintage instruments in 2021

Post by graceless » Mon Aug 02, 2021 12:01 pm

Your mod chop job is another man's epic restoration project. Do whatever you want, I wouldn't let anyone preaching about the virtue of beat up vintage guitars ever stop me. If it was a holy grail telecaster or '59 jassmaster surf burst serial number 1 of 1, maybe I'd call you a freaking idiot, but it's not a crime to mod your guitars!

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Re: The morals of modifying vintage instruments in 2021

Post by Highnumbers » Mon Aug 02, 2021 4:10 pm

Personally I think it's fine to modify something if it's already been drastically screwed with.

By drastically - I mean it should be obviously modified. A couple of changed parts doesn't justify a refin or routing the guitar. In fact, I can't think of any justifiable reason for refinishing an original finish (that isn't already stripped) or especially for routing. Why do this to a guitar that already survived a half century without that sort of butchery?

But if somebody has already refin/routed a guitar, it's not a huge crime to change a few more things.

I tend to want to restore guitars though, not modify them further.
Ceylon wrote:
Mon Aug 02, 2021 3:48 am
Take Cobain's Jaguar, that was already modded to play punk on when he got it, or any of the Sonic Youth offsets. They're iconic largely because they got fucked with, and even with offset prices rising today no one would dream of restoring either of them to stock.
To be fair, Sonic Youth and Cobain guitars are iconic because Sonic Youth and Cobain played them - not because these guitars were modified. There are plenty of modified guitars without famous owners that aren't worth a discussion..
sal paradise wrote:
Mon Aug 02, 2021 9:49 am
Here’s a question: what significance does a vintage guitar in some private collection hold beyond monetary value?
Plenty. They exist, that's enough. The guitars will outlive all of us, and hold value to many people far beyond their merit as a musical instrument or their monetary value. I should hope that others take care of vintage guitars so that future generations can enjoy them as well.

Sometimes collectors are the best caretakers out there - while the "players" have committed all sorts of irreversible atrocities to these instruments.

People often reserve a special kind of vitriol for collectors, and I can only assume it's motivated by jealousy. I know plenty of guitar collectors, and not one of them lock a bunch of gear away and don't play them. Some of these people are great players too.

Do guitars need to be gigged or displayed to meet your approval? Is that the only point at which people are worthy of owning them?

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Re: The morals of modifying vintage instruments in 2021

Post by mbene085 » Mon Aug 02, 2021 6:09 pm

Highnumbers wrote:
Mon Aug 02, 2021 4:10 pm
People often reserve a special kind of vitriol for collectors, and I can only assume it's motivated by jealousy. I know plenty of guitar collectors, and not one of them lock a bunch of gear away and don't play them. Some of these people are great players too.

Do guitars need to be gigged or displayed to meet your approval? Is that the only point at which people are worthy of owning them?
Yep, jealous people trying to gatekeep the ownership of things they don't own. It's like the people who think good instruments are "wasted" on people who don't meet their arbitrary skill threshold. Or people living in a fantasy land where, if nobody beneath them in worthiness and skill was buying guitars, the lack of demand would mean they could have their dream instruments cheaper.

I think very few people buy guitars as financial investments and derive zero pleasure from owning, looking at, or touching them, but these fictional collectors have long been the internet boogeymen responsible for running vintage prices "for the rest of us."

Fender made thousands of instruments per year in the 60s, and this isn't some De Beers situation where a few people with giant warehouses are stockpiling all the guitars from the 60's to drive up prices.

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Re: The morals of modifying vintage instruments in 2021

Post by Sweetfinger » Mon Aug 02, 2021 6:39 pm

Personally, I've sold many nicer, older instruments that were in nice enough shape that I didn't feel good about modding them, either from a preservationist standpoint or a monetary one. I wasn't about to do even minor mods on a clean 60s ES-335 when I was easily able to find a 335-ish thing I liked better, that I could mod all day long.

At the end of the day, what you own is yours to do with as you please, but I rest easier at night if someone is modding, if not, restoring, an old rescue instrument, rather than routing, refinishing, rewiring a nice original axe. It's cheaper to go with something that's already lost the value. If you can't live without a Bigsby, don't hog one onto a clean '64 SG. Keep a look out and eventually you'll find an old SG, or whatever, with a Bigsby, refinish, refret, replaced pickups, or any number of modifications that may be a plus to you, that have already lowered the value of the instrument.
I've had to tell people who insisted, things like, "are you absolutely sure?", because the instant this router touches the top of this guitar, or the moment the original solder gets melted, or the peghead gets widened for different tuners, you lose hundreds, maybe over a thousand dollars in value, and in the long term, perhaps thousands. It's my job to work on guitars and I'll do what you ask, but I will also tell you that it's a costly, irreversible action.

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Re: The morals of modifying vintage instruments in 2021

Post by BeeTL » Mon Aug 02, 2021 7:18 pm

Resto-modding a neglected husk is a noble undertaking. Not everything needs to be bone stock.
Owner, Lowe Custom Guitars

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Re: The morals of modifying vintage instruments in 2021

Post by johnnysomersett » Mon Aug 02, 2021 8:19 pm

Highnumbers wrote:
Mon Aug 02, 2021 4:10 pm
sal paradise wrote:
Mon Aug 02, 2021 9:49 am
Here’s a question: what significance does a vintage guitar in some private collection hold beyond monetary value?
Plenty. They exist, that's enough. The guitars will outlive all of us, and hold value to many people far beyond their merit as a musical instrument or their monetary value. I should hope that others take care of vintage guitars so that future generations can enjoy them as well.

Sometimes collectors are the best caretakers out there - while the "players" have committed all sorts of irreversible atrocities to these instruments.

People often reserve a special kind of vitriol for collectors, and I can only assume it's motivated by jealousy. I know plenty of guitar collectors, and not one of them lock a bunch of gear away and don't play them. Some of these people are great players too.

Do guitars need to be gigged or displayed to meet your approval? Is that the only point at which people are worthy of owning them?
I don't hold any vitriol towards collectors, and they don't need my approval, I just think it's a waste of a usable instrument. Owning a beautiful vintage instrument but not playing it is depriving a musician that would use it from the inspiration that that guitar could invoke - and subsequently the world as a whole from the music that could have been made because of and with it.

To me, there's more beauty in a bird flying free among the trees as nature intended than dead, stuffed and placed in a glass jar.

But that's just like ,my opinion, man
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Re: The morals of modifying vintage instruments in 2021

Post by johnnysomersett » Mon Aug 02, 2021 8:26 pm

mbene085 wrote:
Mon Aug 02, 2021 6:09 pm
Highnumbers wrote:
Mon Aug 02, 2021 4:10 pm
People often reserve a special kind of vitriol for collectors, and I can only assume it's motivated by jealousy. I know plenty of guitar collectors, and not one of them lock a bunch of gear away and don't play them. Some of these people are great players too.

Do guitars need to be gigged or displayed to meet your approval? Is that the only point at which people are worthy of owning them?
Yep, jealous people trying to gatekeep the ownership of things they don't own. It's like the people who think good instruments are "wasted" on people who don't meet their arbitrary skill threshold. Or people living in a fantasy land where, if nobody beneath them in worthiness and skill was buying guitars, the lack of demand would mean they could have their dream instruments cheaper.

I think very few people buy guitars as financial investments and derive zero pleasure from owning, looking at, or touching them, but these fictional collectors have long been the internet boogeymen responsible for running vintage prices "for the rest of us."

Fender made thousands of instruments per year in the 60s, and this isn't some De Beers situation where a few people with giant warehouses are stockpiling all the guitars from the 60's to drive up prices.
I will, on this note, bring to attention the recent example of the guy who had all his guitars (of which hundreds were offsets we'd all LOVE on here) stolen out of his storage unit. He never looked at them, never cared for or played them, and only visited 'every few months to check in and add a few more'. He was stockpiling as an investment, and he openly admitted that. I highly doubt he's not one of MANY people doing that right now...the world is full of opportunistic capitalists and guitars are an almost guaranteed money maker if you have the space and time to wait. There's no chance he's an isolated case.
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Re: The morals of modifying vintage instruments in 2021

Post by Severed Hand » Mon Aug 02, 2021 9:09 pm

Psh I got heat on here for altering an already modified vintage Jaguar pickguard. Which I ended up doing and really enjoying on my MIJ Jaguar project.

I say do it. I’m sure there’s plenty of these things sitting in guitar stores and storage units across the world for thousands of dollars not being played or used.

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Re: The morals of modifying vintage instruments in 2021

Post by mbene085 » Mon Aug 02, 2021 9:25 pm

johnnysomersett wrote:
Mon Aug 02, 2021 8:26 pm
I will, on this note, bring to attention the recent example of the guy who had all his guitars (of which hundreds were offsets we'd all LOVE on here) stolen out of his storage unit. He never looked at them, never cared for or played them, and only visited 'every few months to check in and add a few more'. He was stockpiling as an investment, and he openly admitted that. I highly doubt he's not one of MANY people doing that right now...the world is full of opportunistic capitalists and guitars are an almost guaranteed money maker if you have the space and time to wait. There's no chance he's an isolated case.
If you want to talk about that case, you might want to get some details straight. He was a professional guitarist who loved guitars. Sounded like they ended up in a storage unit as the aftermath of his divorce, but among the guitars that were stolen was a Tele that he had toured with for hundreds if not thousands of shows. You might want to characterize him as a dragon hoarding a mountain of gold, but he was a guitarist (who probably toured for more years than anyone on this board) who bought guitars he liked that he also predicted (correctly) would go up in value.

So just because he also treated them as an investment doesn't mean he "never cared for or played them." He was at a point in his life where he wasn't playing them for a few years. Big whoop. I have years where I focus more on classical and acoustic and leave many electrics sitting in their cases. Doesn't mean I don't deserve to own them. He was entitled to buy whichever guitars he felt like.

Also, funnily enough, every single one of his guitars has reentered the market, but I don't see vintage prices tumbling. Like I said, Fender cranked out thousands upon thousands of instruments a year, so the small number of people who have large collections aren't the reason prices are high. The millions of guitarists who would love to own a 60's Fender are. The couple hundred 50's and 60's Fenders and Gibsons now floating around from his collection have not changed the overall ratio of supply and demand.

So, like I said, very few people are buying these instruments while deriving zero pleasure from them. He demonstrably is not one of those fictional people, regardless of whether or not he had your blessing to own guitars he wasn't actively playing.

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Re: The morals of modifying vintage instruments in 2021

Post by johnnysomersett » Mon Aug 02, 2021 9:29 pm

mbene085 wrote:
Mon Aug 02, 2021 9:25 pm
johnnysomersett wrote:
Mon Aug 02, 2021 8:26 pm
I will, on this note, bring to attention the recent example of the guy who had all his guitars (of which hundreds were offsets we'd all LOVE on here) stolen out of his storage unit. He never looked at them, never cared for or played them, and only visited 'every few months to check in and add a few more'. He was stockpiling as an investment, and he openly admitted that. I highly doubt he's not one of MANY people doing that right now...the world is full of opportunistic capitalists and guitars are an almost guaranteed money maker if you have the space and time to wait. There's no chance he's an isolated case.
If you want to talk about that case, you might want to get some details straight. He was a professional guitarist who loved guitars. Sounded like they ended up in a storage unit as the aftermath of his divorce, but among the guitars that were stolen was a Tele that he had toured with for hundreds if not thousands of shows. You might want to characterize him as a dragon hoarding a mountain of gold, but he was a guitarist (who probably toured for more years than anyone on this board) who bought guitars he liked that he also predicted (correctly) would go up in value.
I was not aware of this, so I humbly stand corrected.

Anyway, we digress.
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Re: The morals of modifying vintage instruments in 2021

Post by Highnumbers » Tue Aug 03, 2021 9:48 am

mbene085 wrote:
Mon Aug 02, 2021 6:09 pm
Highnumbers wrote:
Mon Aug 02, 2021 4:10 pm
People often reserve a special kind of vitriol for collectors, and I can only assume it's motivated by jealousy. I know plenty of guitar collectors, and not one of them lock a bunch of gear away and don't play them. Some of these people are great players too.

Do guitars need to be gigged or displayed to meet your approval? Is that the only point at which people are worthy of owning them?
Yep, jealous people trying to gatekeep the ownership of things they don't own. It's like the people who think good instruments are "wasted" on people who don't meet their arbitrary skill threshold. Or people living in a fantasy land where, if nobody beneath them in worthiness and skill was buying guitars, the lack of demand would mean they could have their dream instruments cheaper.

I think very few people buy guitars as financial investments and derive zero pleasure from owning, looking at, or touching them, but these fictional collectors have long been the internet boogeymen responsible for running vintage prices "for the rest of us."

Fender made thousands of instruments per year in the 60s, and this isn't some De Beers situation where a few people with giant warehouses are stockpiling all the guitars from the 60's to drive up prices.
Yep, exactly. This is sort of a fictional character created on message boards. I know a lot of serious guitar collectors and while some of them aren't exactly Segovia or Hendrix when it comes to playing, they all enjoy playing guitar and use everything in their collection. Plus in many cases, they take extremely good care of these instruments (and usually out of passion, not financial gain).

One of the only collectors I can think of who is truly manipulating the market to some degree is billionaire Dirk Ziff. He has confirmed collection that includes more than 250 Les Paul "Bursts" (58-60), representing around 20% of the total production of some 1,400 instruments. When scarcity and demand have driven prices for these up firmly into the $350-400K range, suddenly unloading 20% more of them onto the market would certainly affect prices (either plateauing or down slightly). But Dirk is a rare case of extremes in many respects, that scenario is nearly impossible with mass produced Fender guitars.

Anyway, it's always a bummer to see people gatekeeping or judging people for what vintage gear they own. We get enjoyment from these old instruments on a number of levels - and playing them is just one.

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Re: The morals of modifying vintage instruments in 2021

Post by cestlamort » Tue Aug 03, 2021 11:07 am

Theoretically we all have the freedom to do whatever the heck we want to our possessions but that doesn't mean we should, especially as guitars will likely (hopefully) outlive us (and the vintage ones likely have *preceded* most of us on the board). It all depends on the answer to "Will I be doing a present or future wrong by changing it?" In other words, one can put a Floyd rose on a 60s Les Paul in the 80s to make it more useful as an tool/instrument/whatever, but that eliminated the possibility of it being useful without a Floyd rose in the future. (Also: how reversible is it? For example, I'm having the bridge repositioned on my Rickenbacker 330 to fit a mastery because the factory spacing is totally arbitrary and off center. If it's really important to someone, they can put it back where it was, etc.)

Basically, do whatever if the "seal" has already been broken, but I wouldn't start doing structural stuff to something that somehow otherwise avoided the horrors of the 1970s and 1980s (oak barn furniture refinish, Floyd rose, routes, etc).

I'd personally look for an already-routed body and/or put together a parts guitar.

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Re: The morals of modifying vintage instruments in 2021

Post by mbene085 » Tue Aug 03, 2021 11:36 am

Highnumbers wrote:
Tue Aug 03, 2021 9:48 am
Right, that's a super niche case for a number of reasons, including the fact that those guitars go for the price of a house. If '59 Bursts suddenly dropped in price by 50%, there would still be no chance for a 99%er guitarist to consider buying one. That's probably why he collected that many in the first place - it's the most absurdly-priced vintage electric guitar you could collect, and it's rare enough that his hoarding has an appreciable effect on the rarity and value of the guitars. Exactly the type of pissing contest and market manipulation that would attract a billionaire.

But if 60's Fenders suddenly dropped in price by 50%? Heck, that would put a bunch of vintage models back into the price range of new American-made Fenders. The majority of owners bought their guitars when they were worth much less.

Getting back to the original topic though - there are a finite number of these instruments and I do believe we should be stewards of them. There are so many modded ones that I'd buy one of those if I wanted to mod more, and leave originals original.

Besides losing a chunk of value by doing that to an original (which seems like a poor financial choice), it just seems like a responsible use of resources to conserve those that survived the "undervalued" years unscathed.

Case in point, my #1 guitat is a 1962 Jaguar that's sporting a gorgeous recent blue sparkle refin, a modern black pickguard, Staytrem bridge, and Kinman noiseless pickups.

Image

The refin was done before it came to me, over top of a previous refin (though there was evidence that it might have been an original sparkle finish back in the day because there were traces in the neck pocket/routs).

And the pickups had already been rewound by Jason Lollar, so I felt no guilt in putting them away in the parts drawer and installing noiseless pickups that made them usable as my #1. The original tort pickguard was shrunken and had someone's driver's license or social security number etched into it, so I traded it to someone who would enjoy it more instead of letting it shrink further screwed to a piece of wood in a drawer, and now I can change up the look at will by swapping guards without guilt. The staytrem is obviously a nondestructive swap as well.

I chose a vintage guitar that fit my needs, and didn't do anything destructive to it. I think OP could do the same.

Or they could just buy vintage parts. I've cobbled together two vintage Fender parts guitars, and two more that used vintage necks and moderns bodies (since 99% of the tactile experience is the neck IMO). A vintage neck on a used/worn/refinished properly-specced modern body is functionally indistinguishable from a vintage Fender in my opinion. Heck, even if you buy an all-original Fender, you could transfer the neck and hardware to dual-humbucker body and leave the original body/pickguard/pickups sitting in storage together. They could be swapped back if you ever desired it, you'd spend barely any more money than you would on modding an original, and no destructive mods would occur.

There are just so many options that make more sense to me than modding an original 60s Fender at this point in time, but ultimately people can do whatever they want. You could make a hobby of buying porcelain antiques and skeet shooting them. It's in poor taste if you ask me, but OP asked about the ethics of this, and this subject falls squarely within "personal ethics" in my opinion. It's guitar modding, not book burning.

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Re: The morals of modifying vintage instruments in 2021

Post by Wucan » Tue Aug 03, 2021 11:45 am

cestlamort wrote:
Tue Aug 03, 2021 11:07 am
Theoretically we all have the freedom to do whatever the heck we want to our possessions but that doesn't mean we should, especially as guitars will likely (hopefully) outlive us (and the vintage ones likely have *preceded* most of us on the board). It all depends on the answer to "Will I be doing a present or future wrong by changing it?" In other words, one can put a Floyd rose on a 60s Les Paul in the 80s to make it more useful as an tool/instrument/whatever, but that eliminated the possibility of it being useful without a Floyd rose in the future. (Also: how reversible is it? For example, I'm having the bridge repositioned on my Rickenbacker 330 to fit a mastery because the factory spacing is totally arbitrary and off center. If it's really important to someone, they can put it back where it was, etc.)

Basically, do whatever if the "seal" has already been broken, but I wouldn't start doing structural stuff to something that somehow otherwise avoided the horrors of the 1970s and 1980s (oak barn furniture refinish, Floyd rose, routes, etc).

I'd personally look for an already-routed body and/or put together a parts guitar.
Sums up my feelings very well. It's the reason why I don't dip into the vintage market - I really dislike most vintage specs, and I can get just about anything else more modern that better fits me - so economics aside, why gut out a piece of a history when I can walk into a store and pick up a Squier that's already very close to what I want?

Prior to grunge/alt-rock going mainstream most offsets weren't particularly valuable guitars either, which is why there weren't budget versions of these back then, and the MIJ reissues only came about in the late 80's. And of course, 20-year old instruments weren't quite "vintage" as they are nowadays. So trying to seek the "magic" of Thurston Moore or Kurt Cobain by butchering a 60's offset is futile, because the context is completely different - back then, they were using whatever they got their hands on. Now, owning these specific instruments is a privilege few people can afford - which is no matter, because there are a bazillion variations, reissues, clones and parts you can use instead.

At the end of the day I believe people can do whatever they want with their instruments, but I also believe it's right to ask: why?

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Re: The morals of modifying vintage instruments in 2021

Post by johnnysomersett » Tue Aug 03, 2021 12:21 pm

Well, I may have just snagged a Block & Binding, matching headstock 1966 Jag in CAR for a pretty sweet price. Pretty beat looking but as-yet-unknown level of originality. I've not committed any money yet and have the opportunity to strip it down in person beforehand too.

Watch this space
Last edited by johnnysomersett on Wed Aug 04, 2021 12:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
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