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The Retro Resurgence

They just don't make them like they used to.

This goes for guitars, drums and band instruments. In no uncertain terms, retro-inspired gear has caught the eye of MI consumers. Evidence of this was rampant at the recent NAMM show, where vintage-inspired everything held its own against cutting-edge technology.

"I think the MI trend toward vintage-inspired gear is a reflection of a greater, more general retro-inspired pop culture movement," said Erik Lind, product manager for Musiquip. "Elements of vintage have found their way into music, design, television and film.

"What's interesting, though, is that it's cross-generational. For older consumers, it is largely born out of nostalgia. For younger generations, I think the vintage-is-cool vibe is, at least to some extent, a counterattack on the superficial, fast-paced, disposable mass-marketing aspects of much of today's consumer culture."

An aging baby boomer population has also had a major pull on the trend. Boomers are looking for something to take them back to the glory days. Vintage-inspired gear and reissues are music retailers' ticket to tap into that nostalgia.

"Every dealer should be addressing this marketing," said John Kelley, general manager of Musiquip. "The trend is undeniable, and to ignore it is self-defeating. Every manufacturer has part of their line dedicated to vintage-esque design. Though I hate to, I quote Nickelback often. In 'Rockstar' they sing, 'I want a new tour bus full of old guitars.' That's what every guitar player wants but can't afford. These new instruments make the dream somewhat accessible."

Now better equipped to afford the gear they couldn't 20 or 30 years ago, boomers are looking for that guitar they ogled over when they were younger.

"[A guitar] with the look and feel of a particular era or icon holds great appeal because it lets players have fun with creating a sense of identity to align themselves with the music and musicians that they admire," said Cory Lake, whose store, American Guitar & Band in Maple Grove, Minn., has had strong success with Fender Relics because they represent iconic rock guitars.

Timeless Axes
Dick Boak, artist and public relations director for C.F. Martin, believes musicians gravitate toward vintage guitars partly because of the way the instruments change with age.

"A lot of people think that older guitars are somehow better than newer guitars," Boak said. "Certainly, as guitars get older, they lose some of their moisture, the lacquer cures and they open up. The wood shrinks, and they become lighter and more balanced, adding to their appeal."

For Martin, Boak said the plethora of vintage-inspired instruments was spurred on by its custom shop in the early 1980s.

"We began to see custom orders coming through for the same types of models over and over again," Boak said. "They were basically recreations of our own guitars from the pre-war era, or the Golden Era, as [Martin] trademarked it."

In addition to its custom shop, Martin offers many vintage models, including the D18 Golden Era, which includes an Adirondack spruce soundboard like those used on pre-war Martins.

Affordability gives consumers another reason to turn to retro-inspired gear and reissues when looking for a vintage fix.

"People are more interested in the vintage market now more than ever," said Ashley Atz, PR manager for The Music Link, which offers vintage models in its Recording King and The Loar guitar lines.

"However, not everyone can afford to buy a guitar from the 1950s, but many still recognize that vintage instruments are prized for their sound and build quality. The modern manufacturer's response has been to build instruments that are true-to-spec reproductions of those classic instruments."

Bobby Boyles, owner of Oklahoma Vintage Guitar in El Reno, Okla., agreed that affordability is a major selling point for inspired gear.

"For us, promoting the vintage-based new products is easy because we are Oklahoma Vintage Guitar," Boyles said. "People come to us from around the world to see vintage, and we show them both. Lots of times, they buy the vintage-inspired items because they have the look they like and the sound they like but also the price they like."

Cost aside, getting customers to play the guitars and honing in on their vintage qualities and components are ways American Guitar & Band's Lake approaches selling vintage-inspired pieces.

"We insist on getting guitars into people's hands," he said. "If someone wants to buy a guitar that looks identical to a vintage instrument, we focus on the design details and explain exactly what features are the same as the original and which elements are updates."

Iconic Skins
The drum industry has been ahead of the curve in the vintage market. Most manufacturers have always offered a vintage set or vintage finish in their lines.

"Ludwig, for example, has never gone away," said Rej Troup of Dale's Drum Shop in Harrisburg, Pa. "It's hard to get a more vintage-inspired drum set than its Classic Maple or Legacy kit in a vintage wrap."

Grestch Drums also continues to turn out vintage shells every year. "Having something classic and vintage is different," said John Palmer, product manager for Gretsch Drums. "It's been so far removed in many cases that it looks like it is a fresh perspective."

Gretsch recently released its Renown57 kit, which incorporates such iconic car design elements as a Motor City blue finish, an aluminum triangular teardrop painted white with raised beveled chrome edges and an embossed chrome Gretsch logo, resembling the "hood ornament."

"Gretsch drums are so based in history and are so respectful of history,"Palmer said. "Our drums are revered from the 1950s and before. So, we really keep our recipe for vintage drums the same."

Paiste Cymbals has a similar recipe. In 1996, it introduced the Traditionals line, which included cymbals that recreated historic sounds. In 2005, it reintroduced its Giant Beat and, in 2011, its Formula 602. Ed Clift, vintage product manager for Paiste America, said he believes keeping adequate stock levels is important for selling these products.

"Keep stock levels at one to show, one to go," he said.

Retro Horns
The retro-inspired trend has stretched to band instruments, as well. Saxophones that feature retro lacquer finishes and vintage sounds have always had a strong following, but lately, suppliers have seen a rise in interest.

"Perhaps it is that we want something unique and different than the modern and trendy," said Sheryl Laukat, CEO of Cannonball, manufacturer of the Vintage Reborn series, which improves on the intonation of its original vintage horns.

Kerry Klingborg, general manager for Antigua Winds, which recently released the Antiqua Pro Saxophone 4240 with antique finishes, stressed that display is critical to selling vintage horns, for example, at the front of the store or mixed in with the biggest sellers.

"Have it in stock," Klingborg said. "It's been a trend to clear the shelves in past years. I think as the economy recovers, the built-up demand is important because if people don't find it in your store they'll find it elsewhere."

Nostalgia's a Funny Thing
Creating a display that takes customers back in time can be a powerful merchandising technique. "Use the power of context and nostalgia," said Justin Norvell, product director for Fender. "Placing a '52 Tele on the wall by itself is one thing.

"Dress the display up with iconic photos of key artists playing similar-looking models and you create context where you are tapping into a more emotional and aspiration place with the consumer."

American Guitar & Band's Lake mentioned that nostalgia connects musicians to history.

"There are two major types that come in [looking for vintage gear]," he said. "There are those that want a vintage instrument but may not have the money and those that like the look and enjoy being connected to something nostalgic.

"Whether a guitar is replicated with great attention to detail or dreamt up through an idealized sense of the past, it is a way to access musical history." MI

Caption: Cory Lake