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Guitars: Musical Merchandise?

Guitars are one of the most appealing and accessible of all popular instruments. Why?

If you ask Stan Jay, he will tell you it's because it's easy to get started. A person can learn just four chords and, in one hour, be able to play 500 different songs. Yet, at its highest level, one can devote decades to its study and still not sound like Segovia, Chet Atkins, Charlie Byrd or Jimi Hendrix.

And Jay ought to know what he is talking about. He is the head honcho at Mandolin Brothers on Staten Island, N.Y., one of the nation's best-known guitar stores. He joins Collectibles Expert Tony Hyman on The Saturday Early Show to display and discuss the following 10 instruments:

Mandolin Bros.
Gibson 1930s Lap Steel

A Gibson 1930s Lap Steel. The lap steel was the first fretted instrument to come standard with a built-in pickup. Introduced in the mid-1930s for the playing of Hawaiian music, and Texas Swing later on, the lap steel is essentially a piece of wood with 6 (or more) strings, a pickup and a volume and, sometimes, a tone-control knob. It is played with a slide, plugged into an amplifier, and makes a sound like the last note in the Looney Tunes' theme. Market value of a Gibson lap steel is around $700.

Mandolin Bros.
Gibson 1936 ES-150 Electric Archtop

A Gibson 1936 ES-150 Electric Archtop Guitar. Once musicians found out that they could play amplified, they demanded that manufacturers of archtop guitars, used in the jazz band and the orchestra, be made with built-in pickups so that they could be heard through instuments in the horns and the violin family. On The Saturday Early Show, they show the original Gibson "Charlie Christian" model guitar. Market value of this guitar is around $5,000.

Mandolin Bros.
Gibson 1960 Les Paul Special

A Gibson 1960 Les Paul Special. Early electric guitars had black color pickups which, when amplified, made an annoying hum, picking up electric signals from AC power lines and fluorescent lights. Even so, some of the Gibson electric guitars, which were sold in the '50s and early '60s with these "P-90" type of pickups, can be worth a pretty penny and are favored by such performers as Pete Townshend of The Who. This cherry finish, all-mahogany Les Paul Special is $3,500.

Mandolin Bros.
1960 Les Paul Standard

On the program, Jay shows a Gibson 1960 Les Paul Standard. In this photo, we see a later example in white with the same type of black P-90 pickups. The market value of this 1967 Les Paul Special, by comparison with the $50,000 price of the 1960 Les Paul Standard "flametop" Cherry Sunburst electric guitar, is $1,700. This is worth mentioning since, in evaluating any guitar, the same model made in different years can have a greatly different price. It's amazing what a difference in the materials, color and model name makes. The most desirable and rarest electric guitar known to mankind is the Gibson Les Paul Standard made in 1958, 1959 and 1960. These had a "cherry sunburst" finish maple top, and the amount of "flame grain" or "tiger striping" in the finish (as well as the guitar's overall originality) determines its market value.

Mandolin Bros.
Fender 1963 Stratocaster

A Fender 1963 Stratocaster. Leo Fender of Fullerton, Calif., approached the building of electric guitars quite differently than the Gibson Company. He felt that a great-sounding guitar could be made more economically by bolting together a separate maple neck and a body made of ash or alder. The original Stratocaster was the guitar made famous by Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. Market value of this 1963 guitar is $8,000, but a Strat made in the first year (1954) can bring $20,000.

Mandolin Bros.
A Fender Telecaster in "See-Through Blonde" Finish

A Fender Telecaster in "See-Through Blonde" Finish. The first guitar that Leo Fender debuted, back in late October 1950, was the model most people now know as The Telecaster, a flat-sided solid-body electric with a bolt-on neck that has two pickups to the Stratocaster's three. This replica, made by the Fender Custom Shop to exactly reproduce the original design, sells for $1,900, but an original (say, from 1951) would sell for $15,000.

Mandolin Bros.
A Gibson 1967 ES-335

A Gibson 1967 ES-335. Gibson sought to make a guitar with quiet pickups, which was slimmer in body depth than a full-sized archtop but which was "semi-hollow" to allow the player a warmer, fuller tone. The ES-335 was introduced in 1958 and an original one can be worth as much as $20,000. But the 1967 sunburst finish example is only $3,500.

Mandolin Bros.
A Rickenbacker (new) Model 360/12V64 12-String

A Rickenbacker (new) Model 360/12V64 12-String. Rickenbacker is a southern California company founded in the 1930s. Made famous by The Beatles, Roger McGuinn of The Byrds and Tom Petty, the jangly sound of a Rickenbacker 12-string is immediately identifiable. This guitar, which replicates the 1964 Rick 12-string that John Lennon played, sells for around $1,500.

Mandolin Bros.
A Gretsch 1964 "White Falcon"

A Gretsch 1964 "White Falcon" Thin-Body Archtop. The Gretsch company was founded in the late 1800s and began making banjos, mandolins, parlor guitars and tambourines. By around 1920, they had entered the drum market. But their electric guitars didn't catch on until the 1950s, when guitarist/prodcer Chet Atkins endorsed (and used) them. George Harrison of the Beatles popularized the Chet Atkins Country Gentleman in the 1960s, and Brian Setzer used the model 6120 in the 1980s. We present one of the fanciest electric guitars that any company ever made: the White Falcon, with its maze of controls and switches, gold sparkle binding, and, of course, the unusual formality of the white finish. This collectible guitar is $5,500.

Mandolin Bros.
"The Teardrop"

A D'Angelico "1957 New Yorker" replica, called "The Teardrop" because of its unusual body shape, which has a large "fin" at the lower treble bout (reminiscent of a 1957 Cadillac tailfin). The original, from which this replica was made, was the most expensive guitar Mandolin Brothers has ever sold, and also the most unique guitar that New York luthier John D'Angelico ever made. The price of the original, in 1993, was $150,000, making it the most expensive fretted instrument ever sold which was not formerly owned by a deceased superstar. This extremely high quality replica is $18,000.

Mandolin Bros.
Wall of Banjos

For Stan Jay, Mandolin Bros. is a hobby-turned-business. He was a record producer, performer, and a college professor of guitar and the arts.

"I bought a 1920s Stella mandolin," he recalls, "and, visiting California after graduation from Penn State University, traded it for the use of somebody's Saab automobile for the summer. A lightbulb went on that said, 'Your calling is American fretted instruments. Go and create a company that every guitar-playing musician in the world will consider "mecca."' I think we've done that."

Mandolin Bros.
Wall of mandolins

Where did the name "Mandolin Brothers" come from?

"My original partner and I...chose the word 'mandolin' because, when you think about it, evey music store in the USA is somebody's last name (or a musical term) and the word 'music' or 'guitars' after it," Jay explains. "We felt that type of name to be trite, and besides, the poor neglected mandolin needed the publicity. We were two guys in our mid-20s embarking on a new business and 'brothers' seemed appropriate. Thus, Mandolin Brothers."

Jay says that the important considerations when purchasing investment-quality instruments are:

  • Brand
  • Model
  • Originality
  • Condition
  • Playability
  • Type of carrying case
The primary collectible American brands are: C. F. Martin, D'Angelico, D'Aquisto, Dobro, Epiphone (made before 1970), Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, National, Rickenbacker, Stromberg (archtop guitars), Washburn (made 1865 to 1945), and Weissenborn.

Find out about other collectibles described by The Saturday Early Show's Tony Hyman in the Collectibles Archive or visit Tony Hyman's Web site.

If you think you have a collectible worth a lot of cash, send an email to with "What's It Worth?" in the subject line. Or write to "What's It Worth?" The Saturday Early Show, 514 West 57th St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10019.

When dealers talk about "vintage guitars," they are not only referring to guitars from a good period; they also mean that the guitars were made at a time when certain manufacturing processes were used, or materials chosen, either of which are no longer

In acoustic guitars, lines are drawn in history which define the vintage era. C.F. Martin is considered the finest manufacturer of acoustic guitars. The company was founded in 1833, which makes it 168 years old. It is still owned by the same family; the current president is Christian Frederick Martin IV.

In the fall of 1969, due to their early recognition of environmental concerns, Martin ceased using a type of wood generally considered to be the best tone wood (Brazilian rosewood). A Martin D-28 made just before the cutoff has a market value today of $3,500. One made in 1970 has a market value of $1,500 - an decrease of 233 percent, just because it was it was made four months later of East Indian rosewood.

The same thing happened in January 1965, when Leo Fender, owner and founder of the Fender Musical Instrument Company of Fullerton, Calif., sold his company to CBS. A 1965 Stratocaster (depending on color, condition and originality) can be worth $5,000 to $12,000. As one moves forward in time, the price drops around $1,000 to $1,500 a year, until you get to 1973 (prices in the high teens), and by 1975, only $900 to $1,300.

Denny Ryan/Mandolin Bros.
From left, Christopher Guest, Stan Jay, and guitarist David Nichtern

Mandolin Brothers is listed on The New York Music Trail, a map of famous sites of music established by the City of New York and the Grammy Awards Committee, along with Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Apollo Theatre and the John Lennon Memorial in Central Park. Paul McCartney chose Mandolin Brothers to repair his original Beatle bass guitar for him. Joni Mitchell, following a visit and purchase, wrote her "Song for Sharon" (on the "Hejira" album), which starts with the line "I went to Staten Island, Sharon, to buy myself a mandolin."

Mandolin Bros.
Part of the "High End" room at Mandolin Brothers showroom. Archtop guitars dating from the 1930s to brand new instruments decorate the walls, and customers may make themselves comfortable on a Federal Period 1850s couch.

So why do they choose to remain on Staten Island? Wouldn't they do much more business in Manhattan?

Jay's reply: "Well, yeah, sure. But that would mean I'd have to commute to Manhattan from Staten Island, and anybody who's ever been to Staten Island knows that it's the Borough of 'parks and single-family homes.' ...Our store is like no other guitar emporium in the world: quiet, well-stocked, restful, and we give players the freedom to try out even the most expensive pieces. We simply could not do this in Manhattan."

If you've got a question about your guitar, banjo or mandolin, Mandolin Brothers has the answer. Here is the information:

Stan Jay, President
Mandolin Brothers, Ltd.
629 Forest Avenue
Staten Island, New York 10310

Telephone: (718) 981-8585 or (718) 981-3226

Fax: (718) 816-4416


Web site:

Regular business hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET Monday through Saturday

Their showroom is worth a visit: 11 rooms, nearly 1,000 instruments -- and you can try them all out.

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