The National Vintage Guitar Expo is presented by Capital Vintage Guitars and takes place on the weekend of October 7-8 at the Harmonie German Club in Canberra.
The National Vintage Guitar Expo is becoming a destination for guitar enthusiasts, the expo displaying some pieces that’ve truly earned the moniker of ‘holy grail’. What’s more, the expo is a place for sellers to display their stock, so keep the credit card handy! The Expo is presented by Capital Vintage Guitars, a Canberra-based shop dedicated to vintage and boutique instruments, including Australian-made guitars and amps.
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Ahead of the event, we had the chance to chat with one of the expo’s organisers, Ian Stehlik of Capital Vintage Guitars, about the event and what attendees can expect!
What is The National Vintage Guitar Expo 2023 and where did it begin?
The National Vintage Guitar Expo is a weekend event bringing together guitar players, luthiers, amp builders and dealers in rare instruments from around Australia to display their instruments, amps and accessories in a large comfortable venue.
For a small entry fee, visitors have two days to look, explore, play and listen to a huge variety of rare instruments, including acoustic and electric guitars, basses, amplifiers and related accessories, most of which are for sale.
For anyone looking to buy or sell vintage gear it’s a great opportunity to chat to specialists about instruments, availability, market value, or possibly bring an item in for valuation, consignment or sale.
The Expo concept grew out of our passion for the guitars, basses and amps that create the soundtrack of our lives, and like many other guitar players we (Ian Stehlik and Simon Wilkins from Capital Vintage Guitars) are ourselves continually searching for that perfect feel and tone!
With current technology, the vintage guitar scene is international, and annual vintage guitar shows have grown into a big feature of the music scene in the USA, UK and Europe.
We want to bring these two ideas together: firstly to have a major vintage guitar show here in Australia, and secondly to hold it in Canberra, bringing vintage enthusiasts and instruments from around the country into the nation’s capital.
What makes Capital Vintage Guitars the ideal host for the National Vintage Guitar Expo?
As partners in Capital Vintage Guitars, Simon and I both have decades of hands-on experience with vintage gear. We first met as players and collectors when I ran several local vintage events in Canberra some years back. Since then, the vintage scene has grown in Australia, as has the number and quality of luthiers, restorers, amp makers and dealers.
Meanwhile the value of the rarer instruments and amps has grown significantly in what is now a global collector market.
Here in Canberra, we have around two dozen national cultural institutions and attractions, so with Capital Vintage Guitars being based here we’re keen to create a national event for the vintage guitar community. Also, the Expo’s timing in October places it in the middle of Canberra’s Floriade Spring Festival, so it’s a great time of the year to visit the city.
What can attendees expect from the Expo?
We’re pretty sure visitors will have an excellent time at the Expo! First up, there’s plenty of free parking surrounding the venue at the Harmonie German Club in Canberra. On arrival, a ($10 presale or $15 at the door) Expo wrist pass lets you come and go over the whole weekend, from 10am to 6pm both days. The main exhibition space is large and provides enough room for a display of historic instruments and casual demonstration sessions as well as the sixteen exhibitor stalls with items for sale.
Our exhibitors for 2023 are some of Australia’s major vintage dealers including Premier Guitars, The Guitar Centre and Joel’s Vintage Guitars, plus respected luthiers including Frank Grubisa, Charles Cilia and Tom Konig among others. We also have boutique amp makers and pedal purveyors Amwatts, Nautilus and more.
Ultimately, for us it’s all about the music created when these instruments are in the hands of a player, so we’re thrilled to have several Expo guest artists on board, including Jeff Lang, Dave Leslie, Lez Karski and Skip Sail. They’ll be joining us for workshops on Saturday and Sunday and the Expo Concert on Saturday night in the performance space adjoining our display room.
The workshops and concert are separately ticketed and full details are on our Expo website.
What makes an expo of vintage guitars so special?
What makes the Expo special is being able to see, hear and get close up to a range of instruments that are not usually found in one place together at one time! Does a contemporary hand-made high quality acoustic guitar look and sound similar to a pre WW2 example? Or does a hand-wired boutique amplifier provide the magic overdrive of a classic 1960s example from out of the vault? The Expo will help answer these kind of questions and more that guitarists have.
In addition, over the weekend visitors can sit in on up to four workshops covering everything from classic acoustic roots and blues to contemporary blues and rock. Being the ‘National’ Expo, we’re giving special attention to Australian-made instruments and amps both in the main display hall and in an ‘Australian Made’ workshop session on Sunday morning.
During the course of the Expo, we will be holding regular interactive demonstrations in the main hall of both vintage and contemporary instruments.
As organisers, what are you most excited for this year?
We’re excited about our great venue, as the Harmonie German Club has a huge display auditorium, a performance space, dining, bars and hospitality areas all under one roof. Of course we’re excited about having so much great gear all in one place, but especially in spending time with experienced luthiers and makers of guitars and amps.
It’s great to build up knowledge as a player or collector from personal interactions and conversations at these events. In particular having vintage afficionados Skip Sail, Lez Karski, Dave Leslie and Jeff Lang there for the weekend and/or performing on Saturday night is special.
It’s also an opportunity for Vintage Guitar dealers to catch up, compare notes and relax as a community. The Expo venue has licensed eateries and bars; we all know each other, now we get a chance to have a beer together and share war stories, it should be a fun weekend.
Are there any special pieces you’re looking forward to having at the expo?
Just off the top of my head on the vintage side we’ll have quite a bit of pre-WW2 items such as a pristine 1938 Gibson EH150 amp / Lap Steel set, with matching serial numbers and tweed cases. There’ll be ukuleles approaching 100 years old, collectable Fender, Gibson and Martin pieces and 1960s era amps alongside a variety of other vintage gear.
On the boutique side, Konig Basses have an international reputation and we are really thrilled to have several significant Australian luthiers and amp makers on hand. Mark ‘Watto’ Watson from Amwatts has been building boutique amps for many years and will have a large number of amps on display which is exciting for Capital Vintage Guitars as the national distributor of these fine amplifiers. If Watto doesn’t have the amp you want, he’ll build you one!
What does the future look like for The National Vintage Guitar Expo?
Well, we’re currently focused on making sure the 2023 Expo is as successful as it can be for our inaugural Capital Vintage Guitars sponsored event. The long-term goal is to make the Vintage Expo an annual feature of the Australian guitar calendar, and to support awareness of great Australian hand-made guitars and amps as well as vintage items.
Plus we’re looking forward to getting feedback from our exhibitors, guest artists and visitors as to what works for them, so we can shape things for the future. Our main theme overall is to create a great event ‘by vintage enthusiasts for vintage enthusiasts’.
For more info, visit The National Vintage Guitar Expo 2023.