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« Approximately Ten Questions With Audio Engineer Ed Spear | Main | The Beatles In Mono At Electric Lady Studios »
Sep 19 2014

Approximately Ten Questions With Timm Kummer From Kummer Vintage Instruments

From the song-writer, to the musician, to the recording engineer right on through the amplifier manufacturer the "signal chain" of good music is a lengthy and complicated one that eventually ends with the loudpseakers you listen to your music on. We've got the loudspeaker end of the chain – and the technology of listening – covered, but it's fun from time-to-time to take a look at some of the other people involved in the musical signal chain.

In this installment of "Approximately Ten Questions" we feature one of the more well-respected, if not well-known, dealers in vintage guitars and instruments in the country, Timm Kummer.

JS: Basically, your job is guitars, how much they're worth, where they came from, who owned them previously. How does that career path come about?

TK: I was a crappy guitarist and as such always blamed the instrument, so I was always looking for Timm Kummer from Kummer Vintage Instruments something "better." Being on a budget I was always looking in the classified and buying what I found cheap. In the 70's a Gibson Les Paul Jr from the late 1950's was not all that valuable and I'd find them for $50 and Telecasters were easy to find for under $200 and so I ended up with around 40 old guitars. My girlfriend was bitching that I should sell them so we could get a nice apartment. When I was playing with my band opening for other acts, the guitarists would ask about all my guitars (which I always had 10 or so on the stage), and before I knew it I was getting calls from a bunch of players looking for this and that, so it kind of happened organically. I did see a need to learn more about them so I took a job at Guitar Trader, a very early "Vintage Guitar" shop in Red Bank, NJ. That's where I learned my trade.

JS: How does the quality of guitars made today compare with the quality of guitars made in the 1950's and 1960's?

TK: The post Beatle-era guitars are nothing like the originals. The wood is kiln dried and doesn't have the acoustic properties of the air dried wood of the earlier period. Much of that has to do with production going from a few thousand to fifty times that in 1965 when every kid wanted to be a guitarist. Before that it was accordion (thanks mostly to Lawrence Welk).

JS: This blog is geared to the overall listening experience. What should we listen for in a guitar recording that we might be taking for granted?

TK: There are many things [to listen for] and tone is all over the place. A Telecaster has one sound and a Les Paul has another. If you want smooth, a Fender Stratocaster may not get it while a Les Paul Standard will. Sound is subjective, but the late 1950's LP Standard has a "reedy" quality like a saxophone that really is easy on the ear.

JS: In terms of pure tone, what players do you like to listen to?

1954 Gretsch DuoJet (Courtesy KVI) TK: I like many, Mark Knopfler and Robert Cray are two "Strat" players I like, Gary Moore and Peter Green are two Les Paul players I like. Brian Setzer is a monster player that plays on Gretsch guitars and of course Chet Atkins. I could list around 50 guitarists that I listen to.

JS: How has the market for quality vintage instruments survived the overall bottoming out of the economy over the past six years?

TK: It took a hard hit with burst of the real estate bubble and values came down 30%-50%. The better and rarer models are making a comeback and the average stuff is where it should have been anyway. The truth is, people that didn't historically buy vintage guitars got into it because the money was so cheap and their houses were worth 300% of what they paid. Of course that was wiped out in '08 and many of those guys got burned. A 1964 sunburst finish Stratocaster should have never been $28,000. They were $9000 in 1999 and that kind of growth was unhealthy. The prices needed adjusting. And boy they got it.

JS: What’s more important to the value of a guitar, its provenance or its construction and material quality?

TK: That depends on the guitar. I wouldn't sell based on provenance, so I guess the guitar itself is more important to me. But of course if Bruce Springsteen's 53 Esquire or Paul McCartney's 63 Hofner or Jimmy Page's #1 '59 Burst were for sale, they would sell for multiples of the intrinsic value.

JS: What would you recommend a person look for first when looking at a vintage guitar?

TK: Buy from a dealer that has been in business for a long time, buy something you like and buy the best you can afford. It wouldn't hurt to get a second set of eyes on the guitar. Most honest dealers will give a three day approval period, ask for one and show the guitar to another dealer you trust. You'll pay for this service, but it's money well spent.

JS: If you could have any guitar in your collection, what would it be? 1929 National Style 2 Tri-Cone (Courtesy KVI)

TK: I have around sixty prewar National resophonic guitars, I really like them and keep most of them in my home and play them till they sell. I don't keep anything. If I kept one, I'd want to keep them all.

JS: What’s the future for the guitar, bearing in mind the current style of popular music?

TK: There are still new players, it's still the most popular instrument in the world and I believe there were $30 million [worth] in the US at the last census. It isn't easy to master, but it's pretty easy to play. I don't have a crystal ball, but I believe it will be around a very long time.

For more information, and to take a look at some of the instruments Timm has for sale, check out Kummer Vintage Instruments .

Jack Sharkey for KEF America

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