One of the many ‘projects’ that I used as an excuse for not updating this site for almost a year was researching
the history of Wurlitzer Stereo Guitars (I put my findings here). In
doing so, I became intimately acquainted with the world of off-brand 1960’s guitars. One such ‘Off-brand’ has been spending quite a bit of time in the public eye lately: Montgomery Ward house brand Airline guitars.
This renewed interest in Airline Guitars is attributable to the meteoric rise of Mr. Jack White – his guitar of choice is a red two-pickup 1964 JB Hutto Res O Glass Airline. Sure, one would expect there to be some interest, but have you seen what these things are selling for lately? While I was doing my ‘research,’ I punched ‘AIRLINE GUITAR WHITE STRIPES’ into eBay, and was greeted with sales
figures in the $2000 – $2500 range. For those without a frame of reference, this is a ridiculously high price for what was essentially a student model guitar.
I’m not the only one who thinks this is crazy. WIllie Moseley is a regular contributor to Vintage Guitar Magazine, and was very helpful when I was hunting down information on Wurlitzer. In the February 2004 issue of Vintage Guitar, he weighs in on the market Mr. White has created for vintage Airlines. I’ve quoted the ‘highlights’ below (Best read with the understanding that the article originally appeared in a magazine catering to middle-aged men who collect expensive guitars):
“I used to own one of these oddball, asymmetrical Valco-made Airline electric guitars. I’d bought it in ’92 at a Texas guitar show, because I thought it was an exemplary so-ugly-it’s-cool piece of guitar memorobilia. It’s quality wasn’t so hot, and to get the maximum volume out of the treble pickup, a player had to roll off the pickup’s Tone control, as the stock capacitors therein were too strong. This meant the treble pickup put out a dinky signal whenever the Tone control was on full treble (And such a malady was stereotypical of all Valco electronics of that era).
Still, the Airline’s awkward-looking, lopsided body silhouette and Gumby-shaped headstock would probably appeal to guitar enthusiasts with a penchant for everyman-budget instruments from that era. The one I purchased happened to be the two pickup, red model. I’d bet anyone who’d owned this brand and model for some time was probably bemused when the value of these instruments skyrocketed in 2003, simply because the guitarist of a famous band played one. Given the history and quality of such instruments, its mind-boggling to the point of being inexplicable. How and why in the world should “Star Power” – one famous player in one band – cause some cheapo instrument’s demand and price to multiply several times over in less than a year?
The Airline model’s tenure as an overpriced collectible piece depends on the longevity of the White Stripes and nothing else, and who really thinks they’re the next Beatles? If the band turns out to be more durable, I’ll be the first to acknowledge the erroneous
prognostication, but I’d be willing to bet their viability will be based on their unusual visual image, which, as is usually the case with fads, could wear out pretty quickly.
And my own red two-pickup Airline? Damn right I sold it. It’ll be interesting to see where the White Stripes and the price of such Airline guitars end up a year from now, but I decided not to wait any longer.”
Consulting eBay at the time of this posting yields no models identical to Mr. White’s – which I suppose is a testament to its scarcity – but the white ones are still commanding $800 or so. This newsgroup thread discusses a red Airline that recently surfaced on eBay and immediately sold:
“Read in a recent Guitar Player about this kid, Jack White, who is having some commercial success but has decided that the only guitar for him is some piece of junk Sears or Wards plastic toy from way back. OK, fair enough, you like what you like. Out of curiosity, I looked that particular model up on e-Bay and, lo and behold, look at the numbers this thing is commanding. Somebody snapped it up at the “Buy it Now” price of $2,500.00.”
Okay, shifting gears now – bear with me.
Two summers ago I started a project where I planned to wear every one of the ridiculously large number of T-shirts I had accumulated exactly once before repeating a shirt. I successfully finished the project, but the website I put up to document the project kind of petered out before I got everything up – primarily because I made it my goal to write a haiku about each shirt. I regularly get email from people who stumble across this page, asking to buy certain shirts.
By far the most popular amongst these requests is my red ‘Say Yes to Michigan’ shirt. Apparently lots of people of a similar mindset have started a “Collect all 50 state t-shirts” project, and Michigan is proving elusive. I have not yet sold it. It is with
these two seemingly unrelated anecdotes in mind that I direct your attention to this year’s Village Voice Pazz & Jop awards. Check out that shirt Mr. White is modeling. Look familiar? It should!
So, my plan is this: list the shirt on eBay, include the Village Voice photo in the auction, and set the buy
it now around $2000. PERFECT.