6 Young Musicians Who Tour with Vintage Instruments

Photo by Mike Windle / Getty Images

People are drawn to old guitars for a lot of the same reasons that they’re drawn to old cars: the looks, the sound, the engineering, the nostalgia, the stories those objects could tell about the places they’ve been. For many aficionados, the fact that the vintage specimen grow more valuable is just a bonus.

But not all of those aficionados treat those old cars and guitars like they’re museum pieces. There is a very decent segment of collectors who feel that cars were built to be driven and guitars were made to be played.

Following up on our article about the greats who tour with their old but trusty instruments, we figured we’d look at the flip side: younger guitarists who discovered the joys of playing vintage and put those instruments to good use.

A lot of the guitars on this list are older than the players they belong to, and some should even be eligible to collect Social Security benefits. The majority of these vintage guitars are time–tested workhorses, and many have the bumps, bruises, and dings to prove it.

But that’s okay. These artists care more about finding the hidden magic and mojo in these old guitars than showing off shiny finishes or keeping them 100% stock.

Taylor Goldsmith

The frontman of the popular LA indie/folk rock band Dawes usually tours with a mix of vintage and newer guitars and seems to favor vintage solidbodies.

Taylor Goldsmith’s go–to stage guitars have included a dinged-up ’56 Les Paul Jr., a sunburst ’62 Stratocaster with worn finish, and — one of his favorites — a yellowed, grimy–looking Telecaster made up of vintage Fender parts, including ‘70s pickups.

Goldsmith has also been seen recently playing a vintage ‘59 Gibson ES–345 with original PAF pickups. Except for new tuners, the tobacco sunburst 345 looks to be otherwise stock.

Dawes - "Most People" (Austin City Limits)

Chris Stapleton

The Grammy–winning (and prolific) country songwriter, singer, and guitarist admits that he’s addicted to guitars, cars, and anything vintage.

But Chris Stapleton’s favorite guitar isn’t some collector’s object. It’s a sentimental token: his late father’s well–worn, mid–’50s Gibson LG–2. Stapleton’s father, a Kentucky coal miner, bought the budget flat top parlor guitar (a ’57 price list shows a sunburst LG–2 costing $97.50, which is about $850 in today’s dollars) with plans to learn how to play, but never found the time.

Stumbling upon the guitar at home as a teenager, Chris took a few lessons before teaching himself how to play.

Chris Stapleton - "Either Way" (Live on Charlie Rose, 2017)

Valerie June

With a unique voice that’s an instrument all unto itself, this soulful Tennessee native blends gospel, soul, and country blues into a style she once described as “organic moonshine roots” music.

Valerie June parlays that eclectic tendency into the instruments she plays: the ukulele banjo, a 5–string banjo, and acoustic and electric guitars.

On stage, her favorite electric is an unconventional choice: a 1960 Guild M–75 Aristocrat with natural finish. This compact semi–hollow archtop is an interesting mix of downsized, elegant jazz box aesthetics with a nod to its contemporary single–cutaway solidbody competitor. Introduced in 1954, it was Guild’s quick answer to Gibson’s Les Paul.

Valerie June - "Shakedown" (Live at SXSW)

Steve Gunn

The former sideman for Kurt Vile & The Violators, this multifaceted singer/songwriter often performs his unique style of country blues on an acoustic that proves that a great vintage pick doesn’t have to break the bank.

A self–proclaimed bargain gear guy, Gunn enjoys hunting down vintage and affordable Guild acoustics, telling Premier Guitar in 2014, “They’re well–built but not expensive, and they sound so good and are especially easy to come by in the Northeast.” One of Gunn’s longtime favorites is a trusty Guild D–35 from 1970.

Reverb Soundcheck: Steve Gunn at Schubas Tavern

Jesse Keeler

As bassist for the Canadian dance–punk duo, Death from Above 1979, Keeler admits his ’69 Dan Armstrong Lucite bass has been both a huge source of inspiration and a bit of a life changer.

Keeler loves its short–scale, 24–fret design that makes it easier for him to explore new sounds and reach the bass’s higher frets. This design resulted from a collaboration between Ampeg and guitarist Dan Armstrong. It was only in production from 1969 to 1971.

The solid Lucite body is famous for the long sustain it nurtures, but does weigh in at a hefty 10 pounds. Keeler also tours with a ’71 Dan Armstrong as a backup.

Death From Above 1979 - "Trainwreck 1979" (Late Show w/ David Letterman)

Pokey LaFarge

It’s not easy to categorize Pokey LaFarge, but his songwriting mixes images of current times with vintage sounds of early jazz, country blues, Western swing, '50s rock 'n’ roll, and even Memphis soul.

A noted history buff, LaFarge’s time–traveler persona is aided by a smart selection of vintage clothing and instruments, including two of his touring favorites: a 1946 Epiphone Spartan archtop and a 1956 Silvertone parlor guitar.

When asked what are the hallmarks of a great guitar in a recent Premier Guitar magazine interview, LaFarge answered, “Good wood and good craftsmanship — and being played, night after night. For at least 20 to 30 years.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three - Full Performance (Live on KEXP)

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