Want to Get Into Vintage Guitar Market? Joe Bonamassa Says You Should Be Careful About These Things

Being one of the biggest vintage guitar collectors on the planet, Joe Bonamassa has a lot to say on the market. And, according to what he said in a recent interview with Ultimate Guitar for their podcast “On the Record,” the market is full of  “bull sharks” trying to rip you off.

Asked about getting into the vintage guitar market and what are some of the first things to look at, as well as what are some warning signs, he replied:

“The vintage guitar market is a public pool filled with bull sharks and if you’re not careful, you’ll be consumed, lock, stock, and barrel by said bull sharks.”

Joe Bonamassa on his 550 vintage guitars | On The Record

Bonamassa, who at this point has 550 guitars, says that you shouldn’t ever rush things. Be patient, do some extra research, and think of everything:

“Here’s the thing — when you decide you want to start a collection, take your time. This whole thing didn’t happen overnight. You [have to] methodically research things — not only do you want to methodically research things, you want to handle as many authentic guitars as you possibly can because the books are not absolutions.”

“I always say, there’s a lot of great books out there that have specific information that may or may not align with guitars that were owned by the person who wrote the books. So the more that you see and the more time that you take, it’s not a flex, it’s not a situation where you want to go, ‘Well, you know, I really need to get all of this in the next year. I want to get my ’59, I want to get my…'”

“Because that’s when you’re going to find out how many bull sharks there are in the public pool. You can make huge mistakes really quickly by thinking you’re getting a deal and it’s not a deal, it’s actually a fake, or something [will be] wrong with it.”

Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1963 SG Custom Guitar - Demo & Rundown with Joe Bonamassa

The main idea here, as Joe adds, is that you need to be into what you’re buying. If you’re just looking to brag about what you have or just try and earn money — like those bull sharks — then you’re probably going to have a rough time. He continued:

“You want to make sure that, first and foremost, you like the instrument because it could zero out over the next 20 years. It could be worth nothing, could be worth one US dollar or a euro or a pound.”

“And if it’s worth a pound, then to be honest with you, you still have to love it. Like if the Skinnerburst [his main ’59 Gibson Les Paul] was worth nothing, like less than a gallon of gasoline or this 20-ounce Diet Coke, I’d still love the damn thing and I’d still keep it for the rest of my life.”

Joe Bonamassa & John McLaughlin “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” Crossroads Festival L.A. 9/23/2023

The Skinnerburst guitar, Bonamassa’s favorite ’59 Les Paul, also had its Gibson Custom Shop version for anyone ready to cash out for this special reissue. But, even if it’s his favorite guitar, Bonamassa admits that the value only exists because we, the people, give it so much value. But if it wasn’t considered a valuable thing, he’d still love it. Joe added:

“It has no value — the only time that guitar will have a monetary value put on it is when I’m dead and gone, and at that point, I don’t care, you know, because I’m going to keep it forever. I’m lucky enough to have been in a position where I could do that.”

At the end of the day, it’s all just about being careful. After all, there’s no widely accepted regulation on this market. It’s just about you knowing what these things are. So if you’re starting out on these things, just go with trusted sources:

“So when you get involved in the vintage guitar market, just be careful, and you want to buy from trusted sources, even if you have to pay more, buy from trusted sources.”

Joe Bonamassa Skinnerburst | Kentucky Collectibles | KET

“Because again, there’s no CARFAX reports on these damn things. You’re in charge of going, ‘Well, this is right, this is wrong.’ Nobody’s going to come out and tell you unless they’re super honest and they do that. But some people do some people don’t.”

When asked about what still draws him to these old instruments and what it’s like to deal with the “bull sharks,” Bonamassa replied:

“I know the bull sharks. I’m friends with the bull sharks. I just don’t buy from the bull sharks. I know everybody. It’s a small world.”

Joe Bonamassa and his Skinner Burst at Rumble Seat Music

“I don’t need a guitar. I have 550 of them. I could play one a year for the next half, half a millennium. So I don’t need a guitar. I enjoy guitar collecting, I enjoy that stuff. I enjoy the hunt. It’s finding it, finding it under a bed, finding gear in places you don’t expect, filling in some gaps in the collection going, you know, that’ll be really cool if we find a Triple O Martin or something like that, from the early ’40s.”

“It’s those kinds of things that you just wait around for. I’m not actively pounding the pavement going, ‘I’ve got to get this today,’ you know? It’s like, if it comes along, great.”

“I know there is a lot of competition now and everybody flexes on Instagram — ‘Look what I found before you.’ It doesn’t matter. Do I have enough kit for 10 lifetimes? Absolutely, I don’t need anything.”

Joe Bonamassa - I'll Play The Blues For You (Live At The Greek Theatre)

“So I roll when I can and if I see something rare, I’m blessed and cursed with a good eye. I can tell you if it’s a rare thing, I can tell you why, and my eyes go right to the mint thing, whatever that is, something that you don’t see all the time, because I’m around it all the time.”

Photo: Florian Stangl (Joe Bonamassa – 2013 World Tour – Meistersingerhalle Nuernberg – 11-03-2013 (8558395226))


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.