check serial numbers
with an original serial number, you can call (or hit the website of) most american manufacturers and find the year, sometimes exact day, of manufacture.

5 guitars you can afford (maybe)
eric clapton's "brownie" fender stratocaster auctioned for $497,500 in 1999. his "blackie" strat went for almost a
million dollars at a christie's auction last june. but that
doesn't mean you're locked out of the collectibles market. here are a handful of relatively affordable axes that could appreciate dramatically.

fender precision bass
range: under $10,000
the value of bass guitars is just beginning to get noticed. "early fender precision basses were the pinnacle of the instrument and they're still great bargains," says acunto. legendary motown bassist james jamerson (the temptations, supremes, stevie wonder, jackson 5) made the 1962 precision famous. sting uses a 1955 precision - fender currently manufactures a 1955-style sting reissue.

kay barney kessel
range: $1,000-$4,500
this 1950s line of high-end american guitars was designed for jazz musicians. "these are really fun instruments, the epitome of art-deco guitars," says larry acunto, editor of 20th century guitar magazine. "this helps you get into collecting at an affordable price point." (the kay brand name is now owned by a korean company that manufactures beginner guitars.)

gretsch chet atkins 6120
range $2,500-$7,300
the gorgeous, orange archtop strummed by chet atkins and eddie cochrane in the 1950s has been revived by brian setzer. mint versions from 1954-'56 sell at the high end of the spectrum. 1960s models can be found for under $3,000.

gibson les paul jr.
range: $2,700-$3,800