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Guitars are no doubt awe-inspiring instruments, which is one of the reasons we have gravitated towards them. Of course, there is perhaps nothing more awe-inspiring than being able to play a vintage guitar directly from the golden era of guitar builders.
If you’re wondering how long your guitar will last, you’ve come to the right place. We will cover the possible lifespan of the guitar, whether you have an acoustic or electric guitar.
Table of Contents
How Long Should My Guitar Last?
Because guitars are largely made out of wood (or carbon fiber in some instances), these instruments should last at least a lifetime, if not far longer than this. However, much of this depends on a large number of factors, including:
- Proper storage
- Proper maintenance
- Environmental issues
- How much it gets played
You might be wondering, how can we be certain that a guitar could last at least a lifetime? If we take a look at other instruments, there are a number of instances where a wooden-crafted instrument has lasted well past a lifetime’s amount of years.
Examples Of Instruments With A Long Life
Violins have perhaps the best history of longstanding durability. For the most part, the violin is crafted completely from wood and shares many similarities with the guitar (aside from steel strings).
One of the oldest surviving violins dates back to the mid-1500s, with many surviving violins dating into the 1700s as well. Some of these are even still used in a rare concert performance and still perform and sound quite well.
This gives us an idea that, in the best conditions, a guitar could hold up well over 400 years. In fact, taking a look at more guitar-oriented instruments seems to validate this claim.
Many of the modern guitar’s predecessors have held up well over time as well, with a surviving Portuguese vihuela dating back to the 1590s. The founder of Martin Guitars, Christian Frederick Martin’s oldest surviving guitar (which was a more modern take on the guitar style at the beginning of flat-top acoustic guitars) was crafted in 1834.
As these instruments are still in playable condition, the length of life for a guitar under ideal conditions is still increasing every day. We likely will not know exactly how a guitar can last for sure as these instruments could last well beyond our own lifetime. We probably aren’t going to see a guitar degrade and wither away to nothing within our life.
While it is true that these examples are all acoustic-style instruments, what about the electric guitar? These guitars have a shorter span of history due to the fact that the technology didn’t really start to become mainstream until the 1930s-1950s.
However, the very first Fender Stratocaster from 1954 is still in working condition. In fact, it was recently on sale in 2014 for $250,000.
The simple fact of the matter is that we do not currently have the evidence-driven data available to support a solid estimate of how long an electric guitar can last. One thing we can look forward to in the future is witnessing how long these vintage guitars last.
Is There A Difference Between Older And Newer Electric Guitars?
Older electric guitars had the benefit of being crafted from trees much older than what is likely to be found in today’s age (due to deforestation and environmental restrictions). It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for a vintage guitar to have wood that was cut at the start of the 20th century.
Older wood tends to be much stronger (wood rot and other diseases aside), which is one of the biggest reasons why so many wooden-crafted items such as antique furniture hold up so well over time. Many houses built with frames consisting of older wood can be stronger as well.
A wood of solid quality tends to have very minimal levels of moisture. Today’s guitars consist of much younger wood, and as a result, could likely have less-than-ideal levels of moisture present.
Some companies have attempted to remedy the moisture factor in a number of different ways, including baking the wood. However, to produce ideal wood cuttings, this natural process simply cannot be rushed.
There are a large number of electric guitars being produced every year, many of which should last well beyond a single generation of humanity. Whether these guitars made of younger wood hold up over time remains to be seen, but the industry will likely learn and adapt if these younger guitars do not hold up.
Do Guitars Wear Out?
Because guitars are made of components that are in continual use, they can eventually “wear out” to a certain degree. Much of this depends on the component in question.
An acoustic guitar can wear out over time due to heavy continual use. For a classic modern example of this, take a look at Willie Nelson’s iconic Martin N-20 guitar named Trigger.
Nelson surprisingly still performs with Trigger. However, a guitar tech has to take extreme care before and after each performance, often repairing the guitar with toothpicks.
What happens is that, depending on how the person plays, continuous friction in the same spot eventually wears a hole into the acoustic guitar’s top. The guitar is still playable, but the structural integrity and string tension capacity start to become questionable.
Do Electric Guitars Wear Out?
Electric guitars on the other hand are well known to be able to last a long time but are also known for wearing out. A whole section of the guitar market is dedicated to creating new guitars that sport a well-worn look (called relic-ing).
As electric guitar pickups are largely magnetic, these components could last several hundred years before they degrade and wear out. Although sweat could corrode the pole pieces and metal casings, the pickup should likely remain in operation.
With an electric guitar, you are far more likely to experience issues with corrosion to the wires inside of the guitar connecting the components together. Fortunately, this is an easy remedy in the bigger picture of things.
How Long Do Frets Last?
Guitar frets are an important component of the fretboard and the guitar neck in general. As frets are largely made of metallic substances, they have the possibility of lasting up to 20 or 30 years in extremely ideal conditions (such as a vacuum).
Because of their metallic makeup, frets are extremely prone to moisture-related damages such as corrosion. This will ultimately impact the fret’s life, which shortens the life well below 20 years.
Of course, if you frequently play the guitar, your guitar frets will wear out much sooner. As strings are continually pressed into the frets, the friction and pressure eventually cause dents and flat spots to form on the fret.
Having these issues can cause a wide range of problems including:
- intonation issues
- fretting out/choking out
- buzzing on specific string(s) beyond a certain fret
Quite often, these can be repaired with a re-crowning. This temporarily repairs them by reshaping the fret. This is achieved by shaving the sides to create a more uniform and playable fret.
How quickly you might need attention to your frets depends on how much you play your guitar. More frequent and consistent playing, with a large amount of playing time compressed over a set duration of time (weeks, months, years) will require more maintenance.
A casual guitar player could likely get by for 1-5 years without needing fretwork done. A frequent player and semiprofessional might need yearly attention given on their frets.
It should be stated that re-crowning frets is a skill that takes years to develop and master, and is best to have a professional repairman or luthier perform the repair. As each re-crowning removes material, you will eventually need the fretboard to be re-fretted.
Because of its expense and intensive labor aspect, some people opt to find a different neck for the guitar. However, this will still require proper fretwork to match the neck’s specifications to the guitar (namely fret height).
Do Guitars Go Bad If Not Played?
Guitars are not necessarily prone to “go bad” if not played. Rather, they are prone to “go bad” if neglected. While these words could have similarities, they are fundamentally different, as neglect implies a lack of care or interest.
If you have a guitar in storage under less-than-ideal conditions, the guitar will eventually start to degrade. However, this can range from slightly underperforming to serious complications that cause the guitar to be wholly unplayable.
A few things, in particular, can happen to guitars in these situations. If your guitar has metallic components, these will start to rust and corrode.
What starts as simple string corrosion can (and will) eventually extend into other metallic components. These situations require a more intensive response, as the guitar will likely not be playable in these conditions.
If you are fortunate, you might be able to get your guitar setup back to ideal playing specifications. If this is the case, let this serve as a lesson to be learned to never store your guitar improperly, especially if you desire to keep it around for a while.
How Long Does A Guitar Neck Last?
Theoretically, a guitar neck should be able to last for the entirety of the guitar’s lifetime. Despite the fact that this component of the guitar is constantly handled, the guitar neck is designed to be able to handle continuous play.
Of course, as mentioned previously, a large number of different factors come into play with preserving a guitar’s neck. The biggest one has to be accident prevention, as an external force that impacts the guitar could likely put a guitar neck out of commission for good.
Another factor in preserving the neck is proper maintenance. Ensuring that your fretboard is clean and that the guitar is stored correctly will maintain the neck in ideal conditions. Cleaning your fretboard can prevent any build-up-related damages that can occur over time.
Similarly, it is important to stay in tune with the ever-changing needs of your guitar. That means that it would be wise to regularly set your guitars up with the changing climates of different seasons.
Improper storage can lead to other issues such as warping and twisting. The fretboard can also experience issues such as drying out and cracking.
In these instances, your guitar will be unplayable unless you can manage to get a replacement guitar neck. With these issues, no amount of adjustments will likely be able to get the guitar close to ideal playing conditions.
Some guitars are more accessible in accommodating this (namely Fender and their modular bolt-on neck design). It should be stated that a neck replacement isn’t always possible on an acoustic, as the cost to repair would likely cost more than the worth of the guitar.
When Should I Replace My Guitar?
If you have an older guitar, you’ve likely wondered when you should replace your guitar. While many guitars should be able to last many generations of time, guitars are often “retired” by their owners who opt for a newer instrument in the name of guitar preservation.
Much of this decision relies on your own personal preference and the scenarios in which you will be using the guitar. Older guitars may have that iconic and irreproducible tone, but it might not make sense to be traveling on the road and playing frequent gigs with these instruments.
Would you willingly play the aforementioned very first and original 1954 Fender Stratocaster on a 3-week cross-country tour? Probably not.
If you have owned the guitar for a long time and it is a beloved instrument to you, it might make sense to use a newer guitar for these situations. Musical gear is notorious for undergoing immense levels of stress due to being on the road and being consistently played on tours.
Anything can happen in these situations, and the probability of a guitar-related accident is much higher on the road than keeping the guitar safely at home or in limited studio applications. This is going to depend on the integrity of the instrument itself.
If you happen to notice that your guitar is starting to show its age and doesn’t respond very well to heavy and consistent use, it is in your best interest to find another guitar to play instead.
This will preserve your beloved instrument in its best possible condition. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t play them, as playing your guitar can help to keep it in shape.
You might wonder, when is it time to retire my guitar? The answer is that you should likely retire your guitar when the guitar has become too valuable to you to replace. Note this does not necessarily mean valuable in monetary terms (though it could apply), but rather, value in terms of personal and sentimental value.
How Long Do Guitars Last? Final Thoughts
Theoretically, the guitars we play today should last well beyond our lifetime. It is fairly reasonable to suspect that these instruments could last anywhere from 200-300 years.
This means you can likely pass the guitar on to your family, preserving a family tradition. Just make sure you give everyone instructions on how to properly store the guitar, and you might just find your guitar in a museum someday.
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