Many of us have vague childhood memories of being grudgingly driven to a musty home or class where an old teacher would patiently help us learn a western musical instrument. We would slam away on old piano keys or strum too hard on guitar strings but we never looked at the instrument as an investment. If you are driving your child to music class every week, take a closer look at the teacher's musical instrument. Chances are it is worth thousands of rupees, probably more. Musical instruments of fine make and sound are serious investments, similar to an art piece by a famous painter. The possibility of an instrument becoming a monetary asset is great; something to think about the next time you want to buy a guitar.
Here, we take a look at some brands that have defined standards for western musical instruments, and whose value and standing in the musical scene have only increased over the years. Many pieces by these brands have been auctioned for large sums of money at world-renowned fine-art auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's.
In the world of western string instruments, the violin stands at the top of the list for gaining monetary value with age. Thousands of violins are made all over the world and have been made for centuries now, but the name that is synonymous with high value is Antonio Stradivari. Stradivari, a mid-17th century Italian craftsman created over a thousand violins of incomparable quality, of which only an estimated 650 survive today. Countless reproductions of Stradivarius violins were made over the centuries but none were able to match the sound quality of the original. Scientists have gone so far as to use CT scanning methods to try and recreate an early-18 century Stradivarius. While the original pieces sell at auctions for millions of dollars, reproductions and violins by other craftsmen are also valuable. The bi-annual sale of musical instruments by Sotheby's, which took place in March this year, saw a violin by Nicolò Amati sell for over $400,000. Many violins made in the 20 century are also of value, determined by the sound quality and how well they have been maintained. The quality of wood used to create the soundbox is also of importance. Modern manufacturers of violins such as Yamaha produce quality instruments, while Americans Joseph Curtin and Gregg Alf trained in Italy but set up shop in the States to sell wonderful violins. Contemporary pieces are handcrafted too and will not cost as much as a Strad but can deliver the same value in terms of sound and subsequent value.
The right key
The lilting sounds of piano keys being played has certain appeal in homes, as does the sight of a polished grand piano holding pride of place in any room. In most homes, pianos are handed down from generation to generation, much like fine watches. Great care is taken to keep them in tune as they are considered highly valuable. Some Indian families still have pianos that had been brought over from England during the British rule, and they continue to keep them in good condition. Many buy old pianos from schools to protect them from disuse. Re-tuning a piano is hard work, but here too, buyers see the time and money invested as worth it, as grand and baby pianos can one day be worth much more than the amount spent in the refurbishment process. The grandest of all pianos are produced by Steinway & Sons, who have been creating concert-worthy pieces since 1853. Each piano takes close to one year to handcraft and are seen as heritage-like investments. In fact, the Steinway Model ‘Z' used by one-time Beatle John Lennon sold for over $2 million at an auction, possibly made more valuable by the still-present cigarette burns on it. Japanese-born companies Kawai and Yamaha produce great pianos as well. The former brings to the table hand-crafted pieces since 1927, now sold in the United States and Canada, while the latter's grand pianos are known for their depth of sound.
Possibly the most popular western musical instrument is the guitar. Both electric and acoustic, it is a great buy. In the acoustic guitar world, hand-crafted Flamenco or Spanish guitars are known for their value. Here, José Ramírez is considered one of the greatest manufacturers of these six-stringed beauties. Ramírez Guitars are prized for their sound quality and precise craftsmanship. Even a recent production, made in as late as the 1970s is valued at a few thousand dollars by Christie's. If the world of rock is more your interest, nothing beats a Gibson Les Paul. First sold by Gibson in 1952, this solid body electric guitar was designed in collaboration with American guitarist Lester William Polsfuss – known as Les Paul. The guitar took the music world by storm and was used by a number of famous guitarists including Eric Clapton. A number of signature Les Pauls were produced through the years in collaboration with artists, some made into their own lines. For electric guitars, the resale value is quite dependant on the brand and previous owner. Celebrity-owned or autographed guitars are great investments. Eric Clapton's Fender Stratocaster sold for close to $960,000 at an auction a few years ago. All of these are rare and of immense value, but even a standard Les Paul bought locally is considered a good investment.
Musical instruments from classic marques can now be more than just impulse buys. Whether you play the instrument or not, it still gathers value upon purchase.