Musical instruments date back to prehistoric times. Musicologists have records of groups in China playing orchestral music as early as the 4th century CE. Through the ages since, countless billions of people have enriched their lives, and the lives of others, by playing music. In all that time, much has changed in the world of music, but one thing has remained constant: the love affair that musicians have with their instruments.
Most musicians view their instrument as much more than an object. For some (take Itzhak Perlman’s Stradivarius for example), it can become an extension of their very soul.
Forgotten instruments may have value
Many homes have an old instrument of some sort stashed away in a closet, attic or cellar. Many of them are student-grade and are of little value to musicians or collectors. However, it’s not uncommon for a long-forgotten instrument to have significant value, as long as it hasn’t been damaged by heat, moisture or insects as a result of careless storage decisions.
Virtually all vintage or antique instruments are in demand, but those with the largest followings fall into the string instrument category (violins, guitars, mandolins, etc.). This is probably because these instruments have very few parts and are easier to repair or restore than most other instruments. Almost any good string instrument can fetch several hundred dollars, and better examples can bring well into the thousands. The best can bring into the hundreds of thousands and beyond.
Woodwind instruments are next in popularity, but their value can diminish quickly if they need servicing or restoration, as this can be quite expensive on these complex instruments. Brass instruments are also occasionally sought after, but most are found in quite worn condition and dented. The cost to restore them rarely makes sense.
The Stradivarius misconception
Just because your instrument has a “Stradivarius” stamp on the inside does not mean it’s worth millions. The name and the date on the paper label inside of every violin does not indicate the maker or the year it was made. It simply tells you that the violin was made to the specifications of the maker in that particular year. An expert opinion is necessary to know if what you have is one of the rare examples that could fund your retirement.
Do you have an unusual musical instrument?
Unusual instruments are always in high demand. Any model larger or smaller than standard brings a premium. Scarce instruments such as harps and bassoons attract more interest than common trumpets and clarinets. Pianos require a post all to themselves, but in general, baby grand and grand pianos are desirable, while upright varieties are close to valueless on the second-hand market.
While you’re taking stock of your musical inventory, don’t overlook vintage electric guitars, amps and synthesizers. Some of these are incredibly sought after and can command shocking amounts in today’s market.
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