Vintage Appeal

Oct 26, 2016

blog - vintage appeal

It seems like in today’s world you’re either full of throwback nostalgia, or you’re all about the cutting edge. You either look to the past for inspiration, or you’re passion lies with the newest innovations. This split can be found everywhere, even in the music industry, where it shows up as the argument between vintage instruments and gear, and brand-new, or even mass produced equipment. And while new, factory-made instruments certainly do have some advantages, like consistent quality and the newest build techniques, vintage instruments have a certain emotional quality to them that modern equipment can’t seem to match.

Vintage Appeal

No matter what interest community you find yourself in, there will be a subset of people who are really into vintage stuff – vintage cars, vintage clothing, vintage wine, vintage architecture. And what do all of these thing have in common that draws people to them? A deep and emotional connection to another place and time. Musical instruments and equipment is no different. Feeling the old, worn knobs or keys has a romantic way of transporting you back to a idyllic time. It can be easy for someone without an interest in this subject to confuse “vintage” with “antique.” While both words describe something that’s been around for a long time, “vintage” has a more emotional vibe that the modern world of iPhones and clean design seems to lack.

A vintage instrument or piece of equipment, like an amp or microphone, has a history to go with it. For its current owner, that history can inspire and lead by example. Touching the knobs and flicking the switches on an old amp can give you the feeling of being connected to every musicians who has used it throughout its lifetime. Imagine getting your hands on some equipment from Abbey Road Studios, or a guitar Eric Clapton used in high school, or the piano Elton John’s instructor taught him on. That connection to the past can make you feel like you’re tapped into the same energy as them, that maybe some of their “mojo” can flow into your own work.

Physical & Sonic Characteristics

But it isn’t just this emotional connection that makes vintage gear so unique. It’s also the physical presence of the equipment. By that I mean the way it looks and feels. In an age of touch screens and mouse clicks, vintage instruments and gear are physical things that can be held, right down to the “old-fashioned” knobs and bulky switches. With modern digitization and other tech-y bells and whistles, the vintage feel offers a more “real” hands-on experience.

The physical connection with vintage instruments doesn’t end with the way they look and feel, but is also in the way they sound. A lot of modern music is digitally polished to the point of audio “perfection.” But a lot of people believe that regardless of all the benefits digital tools bring to music making, “sonic accuracy” is too perfect, too sterile. Vintage instruments and amplifiers can rough that sound up just enough to make it interesting. Vintage outboard gear, like hardware compressors, EQs, and tape-based delay units have unique effects that can take this raw sound even further by applying them to new recordings.

Part of the appeal for vintage instruments and equipment is that certain sound quality, a quality that new gear just can’t duplicate. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most popular vintage gear: electric guitars, amps, and microphones.


Today’s guitar enthusiasts consider the ideal vintage years to be the 50s and 60s, when heavyweights Fender and Gibson were in direct competition. It was this battle that gave the world the Fender Broadcaster and Stratocaster, and the Gibson Les Paul and Flying V, to name just a few iconic axes.

It isn’t difficult to imagine the kind of inspiration one might find from owning a Flying V that’s hung around for decades, through gigs and breakups and countless jam sessions. It might be a little bowed or bent, scratched, chipped, or damaged, but when you get your hands on an instrument like that, you can feel the history and what is yet to come from it.

Of course, taking home a piece of real music history can be a huge drain on the wallet, so you can also find exact copies (sometimes called “tributes”) of iconic guitars. You can find Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstrat and Andy Summer’s Telecaster, in full tribute glory. They look and feel the same as the original, and even have the same scratches and cigarette burns. If you’re into that sort of thing.


The 50s and 60s are also the preferred years for vintage amps. Fender, Marshall, Gibson, and even Sears (!) amps are still banging around even today. Just like the guitars from the same time period, vintage amps have a great soulful, classic look to them, but the differences go a bit deeper.

Older amps had a lot lower power outputs than today’s equipment, meaning you’ve got to work a little harder to maximize your volume, giving a more urgent sound to your session. And what’s more, the very circuit boards were wired differently than today’s methods. The boards were hand-wired using a “point to point” connection. According to many enthusiasts, this made a subtle sonic effect, one that modern tech can’t replicate.

The combination of a vintage guitar with an amp made in the same era produces a sound not quite like any other.


The last bit of vintage gear we’re going to discuss is the microphone. Vintage mics are often so expensive that they’re simply out of the reach of the average musician. But why are they so sought after? One reason is the sound they capture. Vintage mics usually come in one of two configurations: valve capacitors and ribbons. High end valve capacitor mics usually have good mid-range clarity and low-end warmth, while ribbon mics have a nice smooth and natural top-end. Of course, these are qualities that can be found in more modern equipment, so why bother?

The real reason people like vintage mics is mostly because microphones used in professional studios would have been made with the highest quality materials, which would age well without any loss in performance.

As they say, “they don’t make ’em like they used to!”