With Vintage Electric, it's never been easier to get your hands on the historic instrument of your dreams. The Perth-based entity specialise in buying and selling only the finest pieces from the golden era of instrument manufacturing, with their pristine collection and online-only business model setting them apart from what's considered the norm for Australian retailers. To find out more about the business, the instruments they carry and the story behind them, we spoke with Vintage Electric's owner Travis Kerslake to hear about how the company are providing new solutions for vintage collectors in the Australian market.
Introduce us to Vintage Electric - how long have you been dealing with vintage electric guitars?
Vintage Electric is an online retail shop selling guitars, basses and amps sourced from Gibson and Fender collectors in Australia and abroad.
There are around 9-10 people involved in our business now and we all share one thing in common - a strong passion for vintage instruments.
When I first started looking at guitars in a music shop in 1989, my search engine was limited to the width of the wall at my local music shop. I knew nothing outside what was hanging on that wall - two Japanese Fender Stratocasters ($700 each) and two US made Fender Stratocaster Plus Ultra’s in cross checked Sunburst and Midnight Blueburst respectively with Lace Sensor pickups ($1,400 each).
What’s your background in the market?
I studied music up until Year 12. After a very short-lived career as a rock guitarist who played on the lawns at my local University, my career today is working as a contract geologist-geophysicist in the remote outback of Western Australia and abroad exploring for gold, copper and nickel - fairly distant from the urban music scene – some would argue to the benefit of the musical community.
Remember, outside Jimi Hendrix, we are all failed rock guitar gods.
The best live music I enjoy is when working overseas. In West Africa one night in 2011 in a city called Ouagadougou, we went for a meal at an outdoor restaurant in a garden setting. French colonialism had left an indelible mark on the country. The local musicians were simply incredible and come out to the tables to sell you their CD’s at the half time break to make some money.
Working in Brazil was the same. Identically talented local musicians providing their society entertainment through their incredible musical talent.
When you listen to truly gifted musicians, let’s say, such as Marcus Miller or Robben Ford, it is inspiring to your musical soul. I admire musicians who dedicate their life and trust their musical instincts to pursue that path. But in my case, it was Physics and Calculus.
You’ve got such a wonderful collection of guitars on your website. How did you come by all these instruments over the years?
Thanks. Started with a 1989 White Japanese Fender Stratocaster to play along with Jeff Healey and Stevie Ray Vaughan. In 1992, picked up a Les Paul Custom Black Beauty to play along with Billy Duffy from The Cult and Gary Moore, and after that, I was hooked. It has simply grown from there.
The vintage pieces on the website today are very special. We have purchased well, and always spend a little bit more money to obtain the cleanest possible pieces.
Personally, what are the best vintage guitars you’ve ever come across in your time with Vintage Electric?
Three pieces stand out at the moment.
The 1962 Fender Stratocaster just feels very natural to play:
It has everything that we were after in a vintage pre-CBS Fender Stratocaster, and if it never sells, I will be more than happy to keep it in the family.
Clearly in terms of premium vintage pieces, the standout piece on the website is the ‘black guard’ 1951 Fender Telecaster. This piece was manufactured in October-November 1951 and it may be amongst the first 25-50 Telecasters ever made. That is always going to be an incredible collectible piece from the origins of Fender musical history.
One piece which has attracted some international attention recently is our 1964 Gibson SG Custom. We get a lot of enquiries about this piece from top collectors and it is certainly a piece we will not see again after it sells. The condition of this piece is superb:
Are there advantages and benefits in buying online from your business?
Customers get access to a range of world class vintage guitars including a full suite of quality Gibson and Fender electric guitars, basses and amplifiers.
Without the overheads of a traditional music shop, we can invest our sales proceeds directly into providing Australian customers with a greater range of rare vintage guitars and amps.
What are the advantages and benefits in selling online through your business?
After a small upfront processing fee for photography and evaluation, Vintage Electric only charge 5% consignment fees for people looking to sell their collection, hence our clients receive significantly more money in their pocket when they sell their collection. It’s that simple.
The pieces also remain in their possession until sale.
Why would someone buy a vintage guitar over a modern guitar?
Okay: two reasons.
Firstly, the pieces themselves are in a collectible market analogous to vintage cars and historic art. They have an intrinsic value proportional to the desirability of a large number of collectors, predominantly in the USA, England, Europe, Asia and Australia. As such, the valuations of collectible vintage guitars are actually quite stable.
A modern guitar however will generally be on a downhill path in terms of resale price immediately after purchase.
Secondly, a lot of vintage guitars and amps have a feel and sound unlike anything else. They are distinct and unique, and after years of ownership, collectors become quite attached to their vintage pieces. They almost become a member of the family, and this is why so many owners will not part with their favourite vintage guitar.
If you plug our 1954 Fender Stratocaster into the 1954 Fender Deluxe we recently acquired, you will agree. It’s a special sound that only these instruments have.
Do you think there are any modern guitars that will accelerate upwards in price in the future like '50s and '60s Fenders and Gibson have?
It all comes down to production numbers. If you choose the halfway point between 1900 and 2020 for Fender, Martin and Gibson in terms of production numbers of guitars, it is the year 2012. That is, in the last 8 years between 2012 and 2020, those companies have put out the same number of guitars as they produced in the preceding 112 years. As such production numbers have exploded, leading to a flood of pieces in the market leading to lower predicted future valuations.
So one of the variables controlling the value of a vintage guitar, or any guitar for that matter, will be the production number for that year.
When you source new pieces, where do you get them and what do you look for?
We have one main rule when sourcing vintage instruments. If it never sells, we would be happy to keep it as a personal guitar, bass or amp.
Each of our collectors in the US have at least 30 years of experience in the collectible vintage guitar market.
As such, not only are they the eyes, ears and hands for my purchasing, they are essentially the eyes, ears and hands for our customers.
Do you offer payment plans for players who want to buy their dream guitar, but mightn’t be able to afford to pay for it in one lump sum?
Yes. 50% upfront, and the remainder paid off within 90 days. If the layby fails, a $300 holding fee is charged, and all remaining monies are refunded.
Obviously, buying a vintage instrument is quite a serious investment that requires a lot of research and consideration prior to purchase. From your experience, do you have any suggestions for guitar enthusiasts who might be looking to get into collecting vintage guitars?
Yes. Find someone you trust first. You need someone with credibility and a good set of eyes and ears. When you ring the number on the website, do they make sense? Are they really passionate about vintage guitars?
In terms of entry level pieces which will offer an investment return, many collectors are finding good value with Gibson models such as early ES-330’s, Les Paul and SG Juniors, Melody Makers and Fender Jaguars and Jazzmasters.
If you like your first purchase and are attracted to the unique nature of this market, then you can step up to the higher models over time.
Just because something is cheap does not mean it will give you an attractive investment return, so I try and purchase 100% original pieces with no damage or modifications, matching original cases and receipts from known collectors. Saving your money and waiting for the clean original pieces will always make for a better result over the longer term.
What do you think makes Vintage Electric stand out from other Australian retailers specialising in vintage instruments?
Vintage Electric is an online business born from the shared passion of nothing more than a love affair with the vintage pieces we collect.
It’s really that simple.
A range of fine condition vintage pieces;
Access to top collectors worldwide for both purchase and sale;
A very unique level of personal service;
A 5% consignment rate on vintage collections;
Collectors keep their guitars at home during the consignment period.
We have introduced a process where customers who consign guitars with us receive 95% of the money upon sale.
What new pieces are arriving at Vintage Electric that are not on your website yet?
We are heavily invested in new stock at the moment with ‘new’ pieces arriving and being photographed weekly. We now have collections of guitars available and shipping from Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Toowoomba.
We have the following pieces arriving later this year to the website:
1955 Fender Telecaster
1962 Fender Stratocaster
1967 Gibson ES-335
How can customers get in touch with you and ask about your collection in greater detail?
Simply phone myself, Travis Kerslake, on 0499 498 111 to discuss any piece in the collection that you would like to purchase.
Our range is viewable on our website: https://vintageelectric.com.au/
Visit Vintage Electric's website and view their full range of vintage instruments today.