View Full Version : Collectors vs. Musicians

Jim M.
Sep-26-2006, 12:00pm
Gruhn's current newsletter has an interesting piece on this oft-argued topic. It's not mando specific, but it uses Bill Monroe, Sam Bush, and their respective vintage instruments as examples:

Gruhn's Newsletter (http://www.gruhn.com/newsletter/newsltr28.html)

Sep-26-2006, 1:03pm
Interesting shot over the bow by Gruhn. He sure downplays the price issue, though.

Sep-26-2006, 1:36pm
Not really sure. He explained the price issue really well. It's capitalism. He went on to explain the number of instruments vs the number of people (musicians and collectors) that want "said" instrument. Since there is a low supply, the demand is high.

Sep-26-2006, 1:37pm
wouldn't say he downplays it so much as explains it. he's often one to reiterate that prices are driven by the market.

Duc Vu
Sep-26-2006, 2:55pm
Higher prices help keep talented luthiers making mandolins, increasing the supply for everyone. If the prices stayed too low, we would all be playing Bruce Wei instruments!

Sep-26-2006, 3:25pm
this topic got good coverage over on the UMGF board - imo, gruhn is just the middleman here - at one time i think he could move things higher, but now, with the internet and the investment money "collectors" (i think a collector is attracted for the love of the collectible, while the new breed of "collector"s are looking at easy $$$ - basicly speculators). they are running the market now, and that is just the way it is. the good thing about all this is that you no longer are forced to play this game of chasing the money - you have options that bill and sam, etc didnt have - A LOT of great new instruments.

as far as originality, i think its great that we have come to appreciate and keep these items original, but they were tools to the players mentioned. what was bill gonna do in 1945 for a mandolin?....and gibson hacked up more great old instruments during the 50's-60's than probably anyone when they went in for *repairs*.

Bob A
Sep-26-2006, 4:34pm
This topic is at least 150 years old. The violin community has been playing the same tune since the nineteenth century, maybe earlier.

The arguments are the same old three things: Players whine that collectors are hogging the good instruments, Collectors whine that players just destroy them before their time, and the third group feels that whatever someone wants to do with his possessions are no one else's business.

Nice to know that some things never change, they are just regurgitated endlessly. Thank God for the Internet; now we can read them endlessly as well.

Sep-26-2006, 4:44pm
wow, makes me want to turn off my computer...

Bob A
Sep-26-2006, 4:55pm
Sorry. Just feeling crabby.

John Flynn
Sep-27-2006, 8:20am
One distinction to be made is that mando and guitar collectors don't behave the same way that symphonic instrument collectors do. I think guitar and mando collectors are more likely to just "hoard," rather than lend out to pros and improve/preserve instruments.

I know at least three guys just in my area who own multiple high-end Martin guitars, rarely if every play them, and probably don't even know about things like humification. They have them to say they have them and to show them off to people.

On the other side, I am friends with a married couple who both play strings with a major symphony. The husband told me that symphonic strings collectors routinely have thier instruments on loan to symphony players. In the off-season, the player has to send the instrument to a luthier of the owner's choosing for inspection and maintenance. The owners rarely see the instruments.

This is truly a "non-problem." People can do what they want with thier property, period. Also, no musician is restricted from plying his trade because he can't afford high-priced vintage instruments. There are plenty of great mandos out there at reasonable prices. "Instrument tastings" seem to prove time and time again that price and tone are far from a direct correlation. To revisit Gruhn's example, I'd have to say that Sam Bush seems to be doing just fine without Monroe's Loar.

Sep-27-2006, 11:59am
Hardly the first time George Gruhn has raised this topic. He does make some good points. For example, it seems clear to me that the steep escalation in the prices of the limited supply of Gibson mandolins, directly led to many new builders entering the market. Individual luthiers, plus American and overseas companies, now provide a spectrum of choices for amateurs and professionals that never existed before.

When I started acquiring instruments 40 years ago, only one brand of mandolin, Gibson, was of much interest to the folk and bluegrass player. There were perhaps two banjo companies, Gibson and Vega, that we cared about, and Martin, Guild and Gibson guitars. Some of this myopia was due to our lack of information -- of course, there were many other interesting instruments around, we just didn't know it. But when the demand expanded greatly, far outstripping the supply, other companies started up, and both cheap and quality imports started appearing.

One point I would make regarding the article, though, is that it tries to divide the interested parties into "collectors" and "musicians." Another very interested group is, of course, dealers -- and George Gruhn is one of the most important. Anything that leads to an increase in saleable merchandise, or drives up the price on the existing limited supply of vintage instruments, is probably good news to the dealers.

And I did take a bit of offense at the idea that musicians are awaiting, with hacksaw and spray paint, the opportunity to mess up vintage instruments. I own a few, and treat them with respect. I also view them as tools of the trade, and do put miles on them -- scratches, fret wear, the occasional ding or dent. But most of the players I know who have quality instruments treat them with care, and recognize their responsibility to eventually pass them along in good playable condition, to their next owners.

Sep-27-2006, 3:10pm
there is a story of a guy buying a very nice original '34 D-28 from Gruhn and then asking about having a strap button put on, to which Gruhn about had a heart attack - this is sort of the musician vs collector alteration that i think fits more than the points he brings up about massive alterations. i had this same situation with a near mint 55 D-28 which needed a neck reset...what was i gonna do, *ruin* the virginity of it, or actually play it - so i had the neck reset and have enjoyed PLAYING it for many years. oh well, it aint for sale anyway.

Bob Sayers
Sep-27-2006, 8:29pm
To me, this subject had a lot more resonance thirty years ago when scoring a first-rate mandolin or guitar meant finding a vintage Gibson or Martin. Now the problem for most musicians is choosing from among scores of wonderful new instruments, made by independent builders as well as the larger companies. The antique collectors will always be there. More power to them. For the rest of us, there are many other first-rate choices.


Bob A
Sep-27-2006, 8:38pm
The collectors are to be thanked for their reasearch, which has informed the field, and for removing instruments from the market, for a time at least, which has done much for encouraging aspiring luthiers to pick up tools and expand the stock of available quality instruments.

The dealers must be thanked for making a market in these things. When I saw my first National Tricone, in the late 60s, (for example), the existence of such thisng was pretty much unknown to 99.9% of the public, and they were for the mosy part unobtainable. I recall trashing my eyesight trying to read Gruhn's old printed lists that came printed in miniscule type on variously-colored stock. Now anyone with computer access and sufficient funds can have the instrument of his dreams.

While it's true that increased interest makes for increased prices, I don't think the dealers are gaining too much from this; they have to buy stock in a market that is increasingly dear, and make a profit to stay in business. I suppose if someone had amassed a trailer-load of pre-war Martin and Gibson instruments, and been able to sit on them for a few decades, they'd be in Sweet Street today. As it turns out, it's the collectors who are reaping that benefit, and of course the players who paid dearly long ago. While they might not be able to afford today's prices, they don't have to.

Regarding the spray paint and hacksaw brigade: this has been the bane of the violin market. There are nearly zero violins from the Golden Age still existing in their original condition: they would be unusable in today's concert halls.Every one has been opened, the bass bar replaced, the neck tossed out and new necks with steeper angles inserted. Frequently they have been "improved" by luthiers who thought that the maker had left too much wood in place, so they shaved the belly and back to make for a better tone. The entire top of a Strad cello was removed and replaced by a violin butcher in Spain: in a near miracle, the top and body were re-united by a collector.

This board had an example of a fine Embergher bowlback that ws brought back from Italy as war spoils, and spray-painted red by its new owner. A hopeless basket case.

The collectors who refuse to touch an instrument because of a neck-set are a bit short-sighted, but that's OK with the rest of us, no doubt. I confess to having a small hoard of instruments. Many of them are at this time bowlback mandolins in various states of disrepair. I hope to get them playable before my expiration date; those that my grandkids don't keep and play will end up in other hands, where I hope they'll be appreciated. I suspect that some player fifty years from now won't be pleased to find a nice old prewar Martin or Gibson in playable condition.

We may believe we own these toys, but they're only on loan. We have an obligation to those who have preserved them for us, and to those for whom we preserve them. And we're all participants in that exchange, dealers, collectors and players.

Sep-28-2006, 11:28am
very good points bob,
we're all participants....
glad you got over the crabbiness http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Paul Kotapish
Sep-28-2006, 12:31pm
I think George makes some valid points.

We all grumbled a lot more about collectors 25 or 30 years ago when there wasn't the absolute wealth of wonderful, great-sounding new instruments available that there is today. Not long before that, it wasn't all that hard to find a great vintage Martin or Gibson for a comparatively reasonable price. By the late '60s and early '70s, though, the supply had shrunk relative to the demand, and most of the new instruments coming out of Nazareth and Kalamazoo were not all that inspiring. Independent luthiers making great steel-string, fretted instruments were pretty scarce, too.

At that time, a lot of us felt that collectors were robbing deserving players of decent instruments.

I don't think the same circustances obtain these days.

We are living in the golden age of guitar and mandolin lutherie, and the fact that a bunch of great vintage instruments are out of players' hands and in collection vaults doesn't really pose much of a problem for anyone looking for a great instrument. I suppose it might be frustrating for the very few that absolutely must have a signed Loar or a pre-war herringbone D-28, but there are plenty of absolutely stunning new instruments available today that come awfully darn close in sound and appearance, and the luthiers are getting more sophisticated and crafting better instruments all the time.

I think that the notion that a strap button or a neck reset would seriously devalue an original vintage instrument is nonsense, however. If an instrument is purchased to be played--whatever the vintage or the price--then it should be made playable.

Tom C
Sep-28-2006, 2:03pm
Big difference between collectors and musicians is that the instrument has to be playable for the musician. If I was a "musician" and was to "find" a Loar that had a warped or cracked fingerboard, yes, I would have that replaced. It may not be original but the mando would not be playable without it. But no, I would not saw off the extension. Maybe back 40 years ago when these were not considered special. Those Strad he talks about, only 6 have original necks. -Probably because they were not played but displayed.

Sep-29-2006, 12:24pm
I don't mind collectors, it's the accumulators that bother me. There's a difference, IMHO.

Steve Davis
Oct-01-2006, 9:48am
There's a guy in town who "collects" flame-top Gibson Les Pauls. The last time I saw them there were about 45 of them. He just stacks them up in their cases like cordwood. It does seem like a waste to me but I supposed they are just parked in his custody and will eventually make their way into the hands of players.

jim simpson
Oct-01-2006, 4:36pm
I've run into a number of folks who collect but don't play. I wouldn't collect them if I didn't play but that's just me. I guess it doesn't do anyone harm. The first Loar I played belonged to a collector/non-player.

Oct-02-2006, 9:47pm
I have a lot of mandolins. Some good ones, some not so good, some junk.
If I were to start hauling them out to do a count I guess I have between 20 and 25.
Collector?, amasser?, gatherer?, obsessive?, investor(ha,ha!)?
Certainly not a real musician, just a plodder.
Who cares.
I like them, so I buy them.
Everything should be so simple.

Bob Denton
Oct-03-2006, 11:57am
How many Strads get played in bars or outdoor festivals? How many get left on stage during a 20 minute break?

Quite frankly, if I came across a Loar, I would never play it. I'd be too damn scared that every time I stumbled into a microphone, it would be a $1000 ding... That's why I play a naturally distressed F5-L, and a CA guitar, best play-ability without the heartache of devaluing a rare and irreplacable instrument with normal wear and tear.

It's one thing if you are playing in a symphony or even recording, but touring in folk, bluegrass or Irish bands is tough on instruments.

Let the collectors collect. Its good to know that those Loars and D-45s will be in good shape for the forseable future. Someday, the technology will exist to exactly reproduce the sound and playability of those old instruments for the mass of musicians. The collectors are like the DNA banks of endangered species, waiting for future cloning technology.


Oct-03-2006, 12:34pm
Sorry to disagree, but I play my Loar in bars and clubs here in NYC and would never hesitate to do so. I mean, why not? I paid a lot of dough for these mandolins, and I want to enjoy them and make music on them while I'm still alive! Concert violinists play their Strads and Guaneris all over the world when they're on tour. I think it's more than possible to enjoy these things AND take care of them away from home. I certainly keep various climatic guidelines in mind before I walk out the door, but a good case and a little common sense will keep these mandolins, violins and guitars looking and sounding great for hundreds of years. And really, these Loar F5's are built to LAST. It's mostly all the butchering they've been subjected to by various owners that have caused the diminishing gene pool of original Loar instruments. Refins, rhinestones, Virzectomies, neck shaving, regraduations of tops... what a bloody nightmare! Even Monroe is guilty! Playin' em is actually good for em'! And regarding someone or something exactly duplicating the feel and sound of a Loar - forget it! It ain't gonna happen. There are fantastic makers out there today, building better and cleaner than ever. But a Loar is a Loar is a Loar... 'nuff said!