Rock star investing: Five tips to starting your vintage guitar collection

It may sound like rock-opera fiction, but it happens: Weekend Warrior hits garage sale and buys dusty old Fender guitar for $50 (or, cleans attic and finds the Gibson he bought in high school for $100). He visits a guitar shop in "Antiques Road Show" fashion -- and discovers the "beat-up axe" is a vintage collectible, worth $10,000. Or $20,000. Or $100,000.

The vintage guitar market has declined like other investments in this recession. But if you have cash to seed a small collection, why not start a fun hobby that's financially savvy? After all, when your 401K takes a beating, you're broke. When your vintage guitar takes a beating, it may continue to appreciate anyway, just because it looks so cool. Besides, who ever plugged a stock portfolio into a Vox amplifier and woke the neighbors?

I tapped a veteran vintage guitar expert, Wayne Sefton, owner of Midwest Buy and Sell in Chicago since 1990, for tips on what to look for when building your own collection. (His Web site is being revised; visit his MySpace page here.) Sefton has sold instruments to Wilco, Franz Ferdinand and Death Cab for Cutie. And in a 2002 Chicago Tribune article (now only available via an old Geocities link), I rated Wayne's shop as Chicago's coolest and friendliest, along with Terry Straker's Guitar Works in Evanston, Ill.

Here are Wayne's five tips for starting a valuable vintage guitar collection on a budget -- in this case, less than $5,000 per instrument, usually 10-years-old or more.