Q I'm a rock'n'roll fan and hear that guitars can be as valuable as antiques. Some of my friends even collect guitars that are painted on or signed, like a piece of art. How do I start my own collection? WHAT THE EXPERT SAYS: Christie's London's 'popular entertainment expert' Carey Wallace says there's been a classic electric guitar market for some time. 'In terms of the memorabilia market, guitars associated with particular rock'n'roll legends became collectable from the early 1980s.' Wallace is involved in Christie's upcoming Crossroads Guitar Auction in New York, in aid of an addiction treatment centre, supported by Eric Clapton. If a sale of his guitars in 1999 is anything to go by, this latest collection of what Clapton calls the 'cream of my collection' is sure to be a success. 'The contents of Eric Clapton's guitar auction are a good representation of the top end of the collectable guitar market,' she says. The emphasis is on Martins, Gibsons and Fenders. IT'S NEVER TOO LATE: Wallace says old guitars are usually considered collectable on the basis of associations. 'It's who played it, when and where,' she says. 'In terms of collectable instruments, it's the maker, the model, the year and the condition.' Wallace says Lot 9 in the Clapton sale, a 1929 Martin 00-45, is a good example. 'In 1929, Martin craftsmen produced only 10 of these guitars, and even then they were sold at US$160. They were scarce and expensive then, and now this guitar has an estimate of US$30,000-US$50,000. It was bought by Eric Clapton for collecting purposes.' Wallace says guitars don't even need to be in working order. The key is who they're associated with. 'A guitar smashed on stage by Pete Townshend of The Who would be worth far more than one in good working order used by a lesser-known band member.' Although musicians such as Townshend, B.B. King and Brian May have contributed guitars to the auction, most come from Clapton, who's better known for his guitar playing than theatrics. 'Clapton's guitars are sought after because of their links with his phenomenal career, their significance for his own personal history, and because he's purchased fine examples of collectable makes over the years,' Wallace says. 'Guitars owned and played by Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, George Harrison and Jerry Garcia have fetched six-figure sums,' she says. NEW COLLECTOR TIPS: Authenticity can be an issue, Wallace says. 'Avoid buying anything allegedly used, owned or played by someone that doesn't have any obvious link,' she says. 'Details of the provenance are vital. At Christie's, we research the provenance [documented history] and, where possible, go back to the direct source.' Be cautious of signed guitars, Wallace says. 'Often the signatures aren't correct. It's wise to find out when and where signatures were obtained. Better still, find out if there's photographic evidence of signatures being acquired or of the star playing the guitar.' Collectors of rare guitars should expect to spend a fair amount. 'Estimates for the guitars in the Clapton auction range from US$1,000 up to US$150,000,' she says. RESOURCES: Crossroads Guitar Auction, Eric Clapton & Friends for the Crossroads Centre, Christie's, 20 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, 24 June 2004, 6pm,  707 5974, www.christies.com . Magazines: Guitar Player, Guitarist and Guitar World. Books: Richard Chapman's The Complete Guitarist and The Guitar - Music, History and Players (Dorling Kindersley); Dick Boak's Martin Guitar Masterpieces (Bulfinch Press); Andre Duchossoir's Gibson and The Fender Stratocaster (Hal Leonard); George Gruhn and Walter Carter's Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars (Miller Freeman Books); Mike Longworth's Martin & Co. (Maples Press); Tom Wheeler's American Guitars (Harper Perennial).