The good news for modern guitarists is that top American brands such as Fender, Gibson, and Gretsch are back in the hands of small groups (Martin has always remained a family business) rededicated to turning out the finest instruments in the world. "There are going to be specific guitars that will always be valuable, not unlike a Stradivarius violin," says Acunto. The trick is finding them.

Craftsmanship and new designs will surely play a part, but music trends will be the biggest factor in determining the future value of modern guitars. Kurt Cobain's legacy will endure, but popular music is no longer ­fueled by guitar the way it was in the 1960s and '70s. "Chances are, 25 years from now most of us won't remember a band like Sum 41 the way we do Nirvana," says Woolf. But music is cyclical and it's possible that the most prized guitar in the year 2050 will be the one some unknown 19-year-old kid picked up in a pawnshop just this afternoon.

vintage guitar buying tips

do your homework
"vintage" guitars can be faked - fenders are notoriously easy to falsely age - or sold far above market value to novices. find a reputable dealer and check current market value with sources such as the official vintage guitar price guide 2004 (, 20th century guitar magazine (, and gruhn's guide to vintage guitars.

clean beats old
"between a worn guitar from 1975 and a clean guitar with original parts from 1978, the 1978 guitar will be worth more in the long run," says alan greenwood, coauthor of the official vintage guitar price guide 2004.

look for limited supply
it's an extreme example, but one reason that 1959 gibson les paul sunburst models sell for $100,000-plus is because only 643 were built.