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Guitar Market Strikes a Nostalgic Chord

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In one upside to a down economy, collectors are finding there's a string of vintage options on the market -- and some lower prices

Signature guitars of the rock 'n' roll era -- candy-colored Fender Stratocasters, slab-bodied Fender Telecasters, flame-topped Gibson Les Pauls and voluptuously shaped Gretsch hollow bodies -- are symbols of a uniquely American pop culture that continues to excite guitar enthusiasts. But aside from their nostalgia value, they've proved to be good investments.

A Gibson Les Paul Standard that sold in 1958 for less than $300, including the guitar case, can now fetch $420,000 or more -- an average annual gain of 32% since 2000, according to vintage guitar price guides.

But in today's economy, some onetime investors are looking to cash out: More and more of these prized instruments, long held in the hands of collectors, are turning up in music shops throughout Southern California.

Collectors and guitar dealers have two pieces of advice: If you own one and can afford to, hang on to it -- prices may have dipped recently but they will rise again. But if you're in the market for one, there are plenty on the market as the economy forces people to sell. And bargains can be found.

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