Thursday, June 3, 2010

Are Boutique Amps an Investment?

Some boutique harp amp builders claim their amps are “investments” that hold their value over the years. I’ve heard owners of certain amps repeat the claim as if it were a fact.

Here’s the fact: It is a lot of hooey.

I’ve been tracking the selling prices of harp amps on eBay for a couple of years, and expensive new custom harp amps lose a significant amount of their value as soon as you take delivery and plug in your mic. That is the premium you pay for the name and the hype. Some are worse than others.

When you try to sell your amp (for whatever reason) you are going to be shocked about how you were misled, unless “retaining their value” means losing 40 to 50 percent when you sell. The priciest amps often take the biggest hits on resale value.

Sonny Jr 410 amps are often lucky to draw bids of $1100. SJ2 amps with the six 8-inch speakers go for around $800. Depending on the date, these amps sold new for nearly twice that. Is that what “retaining their value” means?

Scarcity and demand will keep the value of your amp higher. The big Harp King amp, for example, loses less over time.

Good lower-priced amps like the excellent Harpgear HG2 lose a smaller percent of their value when resold.

I’ve heard lots of unverifiable stories from enthusiasts for certain amps, claiming they resold at a profit. I doubt it. The open bidding system of eBay certainly doesn’t reflect that.

If you must have a harp amp that is truly an investment and will retain its value year to year, you’re pretty much stuck with vintage amps like the 50s Bassman or Pro, or the early 60s Concert. Problem is, these relics are too valuable to really gig. I can’t imagine dragging a ‘59 narrow panel Fender Pro in and out of the van for every gig. These amps appreciate in value when they are mint, not beat up.

Here’s the bottom line: If you like the way an amp sounds and it makes economic sense to you, buy it. Don’t be swayed by bogus claims that the amp is an “investment.”

Or... wait for some fool to pay the hype premium. When he puts it on eBay you can pick it up for a fraction of the inflated new price.


Peter said...

I agree with what you say in your post. It is pretty obvious to me.

I would like to add something that is a positive. I use to play in a band with a guitarist who loved using my SJ410. Sure it has no vibrato or reverb, but he didn't care because he plugged the amp into a pedal board. When I finally took the amp back, he promptly when to ebay and bought one for $1100 and changed a few tubes in it to make it better for guitar. It was that or buy a Fender or a Victoria. He saved a lot of money by doing this. Something for guitar players to think about.

Ray Dodd said...

Yeah, you can't really argue with the logic of this. Anything bought new will immediately drop in value by varying degrees, and taking inflation into account it generally takes an awful long time to recover its value, if indeed it ever does. Investment is a good line to try and convince your wife why your new amp is a good idea, but investing in anything really requires taking an educated guess into predicting future supply and demand, or gambling, as this process is otherwise known as.
I bought a Fender Precision Bass second hand in 1973 for £125. I've still got it, and from what I can make out it's worth around £2,000 now. Notwithstanding the fact that anything is only worth what someone else is prepared to pay for it. That may look at first glance like a pretty smart maneouver, but it was worth around 5 weeks average wage in 1973, and it's still worth around 5 weeks average wage now. I'm sure if I'd have bought some stocks or bonds back in 1973 I'd be sitting on a much healthier profit.But on the other hand I've owned a pretty good bass for the last 37 years.
I've always figured that if you buy something second hand for the current going rate, you've got half a chance of getting something like your money back a few years down the line. Or at the very least limiting the damage somewhat. As for investing, you have to identify the '59 bassman of 2050 now, buy it, and wait around for 40 years to see if you were right.
Still if you want it and you can afford it, what the hell. You're a long time dead, and the kids will only squander the money you leave 'em.

Anonymous said...

I like the way you're not afraid to take on the myths of the blues harp industry! A new production amp of any kind is just like a new car - you lose something like 20% of the value or more the minute you drive it off the lot.


Mike Fugazzi said...

Lol, that is why I always buy used...always. Then I use the money I save for other things!

Ray Beltran said...

I lost about $600 on my SJ2, and I can't get anyone to look at a pristine SJ410 (with major fixes/upgrades) at $1400 - original price was close to $2000.

Bought a Silverton 1431 (15" speaker, 2-6L6s) and sold it a year later making $500 on it.

That's been my experience.

Mike Lynch said...

Good one Rick! This is why I never buy new amps. Like everything else, you have to buy low and sell high to make a profit. I have a friend who found a '52 Fender Pro at a junk shop a few years ago for $90. He sold it on e-bay a few weeks later for $2K. Unfortunately, there aren't many of these deals around anymore.

Anonymous said...

...suck egg's I have dealt with the dastardly 'Sonny Jnr' [and basically I have had to get a lobotomy since dealing with him].
I think it's a bit rich he gets made and sells reconstituted tweaked Fender schematics amps 'on the fly' [made by Mojo in Carolina] as he 'scraps one for another' and calls it R&D. He nabbed me for quite a penny and quite frankly the 'buzzy amp tone' s**ts a pro player I'll stay 'anon' however, 'cos I just can't stand the controversy of daring to disagree with the hypesters who think this guy is the 'ducks guts'. Steer Clear of that troubled 'goodfella' I say...there are better choices available these days if you need a powerful amp at a loud rockin' gig.
I love my Kala mazoo 2's and my Premier 50 quite frankly for blues or studio playing.

Anonymous said...

Both investment and resale go out the window when the boutique amp manufacturer drops their price $100-$200 as happened on my SJ Cruncher. Also, a friend found there was no customer service if you bought a 2nd hand SJ - accused of intentionally "ripping off the company" since he had deprived them of a sale.

justin said...

I come from a different view point. I am fortunate enough to own a couple of boutique amps and several large vintage Fenders from the early 60's. I am not looking to sell or move these amps on, i just want to play them.
My 1960 Oxblood Concert gets as much use as my Meteor. I gig about 150 times a year so i play plenty. i often run the amps through an A/B box and can mix or select them individually.
Amps are for playing not selling.
It took many years for my Sonny jnr Bassman to"bed in" but now it has, i am very pleased with the sound. i never ever considered selling it. I understand Gary has a personality that is not to everyones taste, but i don't want him as a mate, i just want him to carry on building amps..

thats all for now..