An authentic Ace guitar strap from the 1960's

The Value of Vintage Guitar Straps: Toward a system of authentication

During the Rock-and-Roll glory days of the ’60’s and ’70s, a variety of guitar straps were worn by many iconic artists of the time including Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Elvis Presley. With the resurgence of interest in the guitar has come a boom in value for not only new and used instruments, but also vintage accessories like picks, pick guards and straps.

If you’ve been hanging on to your Bobby Lee and Ace straps, now may be the time to list them. According to IBIS World, a market research firm, antiquities and collectibles sales as a whole grew by 5.3% during the period between 2015 and 2020. And while this is solid growth, sales are projected to double that rate of growth moving forward. Add to this a longer term trend toward small, functional, and nostalgic items and you have the makings of a boom for vintage guitar accessories.

Rock ’n’ Roll Memorabilia has long been a staple of the collectibles market. Original fan magazines from the 1950s and 1960s, vinyl records, musical instruments, and artist memorabilia are popular. For example, Kurt Cobain’s smashed Fender guitar from Nirvana’s first tour sold for $100,000 in 2008, while his hand-printed list of the songs played by Nirvana in Philadelphia sold in 2015 for $8,750. A Beatles-signed copy of a “With the Beatles” album sold for $36,250 at auction in 2015. In March 2018, an iconic pair of Elvis Presley’s sunglasses sold for $159,900. In 2019, The David Gilmour Collection, the largest and most comprehensive sale of guitars ever offered at auction, sold for $21,490,750 at Christie’s in New York. The burgeoning vintage guitar pedal market and explosion in boutique builders of all types underscores the rising market for vintage items, even those that are not directly connected to a specific celebrity.

Valuing a Collectible

Like all assets, the monetary value of an individual collectible is primarily based on supply and demand. In a practical sense, collectible demand can be understood as follows:

Appeal. The value of a collectible depends on its ability to attract potential buyers. As noted above, recent trends in attraction have focused on functionality, portability and nostalgia. Objects that have little appeal are unlikely to become valuable collectibles, but objects that have immediate functionality are increasingly appealing to collectors.

Rarity. Unique items often attract the most interest, especially if there are a limited number of items available. Even objects initially available in vast quantities such as coins, stamps, or comic books can become rare over time as they are destroyed or lost. This is precisely the case with vintage guitar straps which were not only made of perishable organic materials, but most often worn in regular use.

Authenticity. Being able to prove factually that an item is “the real thing,” rather than a cheap copy, is essential to collectors. While modern technology and technical skill allow forgers to copy almost anything, the basis of authenticity rests on an agreed upon structure for physical appraisal.

Provenance. The source of an object is especially important in the value of luxury collectibles. Buyers of collectibles of unknown origin run the risk that the property has been illegally acquired, or is a forgery or market copy and will be returned to the original owner when discovered. Requesting and maintaining a chain of ownership is good practice.

Condition. Many collectibles are items that were intended to be used every day, rather than stored away for a future sale. Over time, most physical objects suffer wear and tear, affecting their appearance or usefulness. The impact on the collectible’s value depends on the extent of damage, the quality of repair, and the acquirer’s motive for purchase.

Guitar Straps as Collectibles

Enter the vintage guitar strap, and more specifically woven guitar straps from the 1960’s and 1970’s, which have trended in recent sales on sites like reverb.com and ebay with values ranging from $100 to $400, a nearly four-fold increase in less than 48 months, and a trend that coincides with recent burgeoning interest in guitars in general.

Verifying original vintage straps can be challenging, especially given the rise of import copies that were prevalent in the late 60’s and 70’s (which themselves now hold value depending on the country of origin and quality of craftsmanship). A quick review of vintage straps for sale and auction reveals wide variation in what is presented as authentic, which deflates the value of truly collectible items. There are, however, telltale features that may help to authenticate the original versions versus reissues and fakes. While this is in no way intended to be a listing of brands, makes and designs, hopefully, the construct below will provide a basis for the discussion that can generate a means of authentication that will allow vintage straps to reach their potential as a market staple. To that end, the following ten point authentication system is proposed as a starting point for bringing clarity to the collectible vintage guitar strap marketplace.

10 point authentication system

Country of Origin:

The concept of provenance generally rests with country of origin, but may also be tied to specific artisans such as Bobby Lee. Country of origin should be prominently stamped as part of the logo or embedded in the material in period correct locations and with period correct methods.

Stitching and manufacturing processes:

While overall construction is important in distinguishing hand made versus factory processing, one of the most useful proxies is that of stitching. The type of stitch used and the number of stitch rows is a critical feature as period machines and techniques differed from handsewn to types of factory machines utilized. For instance, authentic Ace straps generally employed full backstitching rather than simple running stitches, which not only held the material together more firmly, but help to differentiate between country of origin and decade of construction.

Logo:

Logo, while easily mimicked today, is something that should be present in period correct locations and design. Many imported varieties often did not cross the line in the use of logos, and the logo itself often changed over time, providing indication of age.

Backing Material:

Leather was generally used on straps that retain the most value, though color, tanning and thickness differed even within a given brand. Import varieties most often substituted faux material as a considerable cost savings.

Pattern:

While many patterns were created, there are certain patterns like the Hendrix and Dylan styles that hold the greatest value. Currently there exists no central repository for authentic pattern recognition and identification.

Weave and Material:

Authentic woven straps utilized organic materials, generally cotton or wool fiber. The weave should be tight and material and dyes used authentic to the period in question.

Buckle Style:

Having the period correct and authentically aged hardware is a key feature for evaluation. For instance, Ace utilized rectangular 1¼” metal buckles in the 1960’s models, which increased in size later in 1970’s. Import models generally had larger buckles with a different tone to the metal. The metal itself was often thinner in quality as another cost-saving measure.

Hardware:

Hardware material should be period correct. Once again, import models generally used cheaper hardware, and forgeries may be plastic or feature period incorrect sizes and measurements.

Rivets:

Another key differentiator in determining authenticity, the ¼” rivets on Ace straps are period correct to the 1960’s. In the 1970’s and beyond the rivet size increased. Import models generally featured a gold tone to the metal of the rivets and at times had extra rivets that were clearly affixed by machine rather than by hand.

End Pieces:

The size and shape of leather end pieces should be period and brand correct. Again, in the 70’s and 80’s the Ace strap end pieces were larger and elongated. Import models often had relief cut into the leather to reduce tension during the manufacturing process.

If you yourself are a collector, or are interested in contributing to the school of knowledge on the subject of collectible guitar straps, your comments are welcome below.