Ram Tuli Crunches Numbers for The Guide

Strats and Data
Ram Tuli Crunches Numbers for The Guide
Tuli fronting his collection with a ’58 Strat.

Combine a knack for numbers with a love of old guitars and you get… well, you might get any of a thousand babyboomer accountants/collectors. But one is a supercharged version named Ram Tuli.

A trained data analyst, Tuli is the new co-author (with Vintage Guitar founder/publisher Alan Greenwood) of The Official Vintage Guitar Price Guide, the magazine’s annual survey of the collectible market. He replaces Gil Hembree, who for 22 editions crunched the numbers after retiring from General Motors, where he worked in financial administration/internal control.

Tuli has been a “tone freak” since his teens, when he discovered Robin Trower’s Bridge of Sighs.

“By the second time I listened to it, I knew I wanted to play guitar and sound like that,” he said. “I didn’t know much, but I knew I needed a Stratocaster.”

In 1984, he enlisted for a six-year stint in the U.S. Navy. Training and working as a nuclear electrician aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, he watched, bemused, as most fellow sailors returning from deployment would head ashore in Alameda, California, and “…blow their money on booze and women and whatever. But with 2,000 bucks in my pocket, I’d go straight to Real Guitars, on Lafayette Street in San Francisco.

“They’d see me and right away say, ‘Hey, look what we got!’” he said. “The first guitar I bought there was a ’52 Telecaster.”

Aboard ship, Tuli’s social circle was mostly fellow musicians.

“My buddies were all players. There was a little lounge near where the [nuclear] reactor staff lived, and my ’77 Tele was always there for anybody to play. There was a Roland amp, and a bass, and when we were underway, I spent 12 hours a day playing guitar.”

Growing up in California, he closely followed the San Francisco blues scene and became friendly with some of the best-known bands. When his hitch ended in 1990, he was set on playing blues for a living.

“I was at the top of my game – I was practiced, I had the blackface Super Reverb, the Tele, and the Strat. But one day I realized that these guys – my friends and idols – were living hand to mouth. I wanted a wife and kids and a normal life. So I made a deal with myself that I’d focus on building a stable life, then start a blues band.”

He enrolled in college and earned degrees in electrical and nuclear engineering, then began a career in data analysis.

“I worked for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), doing probabilistic risk assessment – basically, trying to conceive of every possible failure of something. For example, if we were working for a nuclear power plant, we’d create databases tracking potential risks, the likelihood any of them would occur, and what it meant if something did.

“I became fascinated not so much by what the answer is, but how you get to the answer.”

Tuli’s Olympic White ’65 Strat, perched among his collection of ’50s and ’60s Fender amps. The outlier is a ’61 Martin 112T.

Whenever he wasn’t on the clock, he’d spend time with his wife and growing family, refining his guitar skills, tracking down cool vintage pieces, and learning about his hobby.

“I read A.R. Duchossoir’s The Fender Stratocaster and Gibson Electrics from cover to cover,” he said. “Parts of them, I all but memorized.”

In 2002, Tuli left SAIC and moved his family to Phoenix, where he took the reins of his father’s plant-nutrient business.

“Dad had decided he was going to either sell the company or let me take over the production side,” he said. “So, we rolled the dice and began to expand.”

That growth spurred a flashback/light-bulb moment.

“I remember walking through our new warehouse one day when it occurred to me, ‘Now would be a good time to start a band because we could rehearse right here.’”

So, he set about gathering members of what would become a blues band they dubbed Psychedelic Mooj. At first, they’d get together for casual jams every Saturday, but eventually began playing out, and so far have recorded five albums.

“It was great,” Tuli said. “I’d work during the day and gig at night. In our heyday, we did a show every week.”

One of their yearly gigs was the Rock and Roll Marathon, in Phoenix.

“They’d put us at the finish line because we could play during the whole thing – four to five straight hours.”

Apart from the day job and the band, Tuli slowly gathered about 40 guitars.

“At first, it was my dream to have a Stratocaster from every year – even the bad years. That didn’t happen because I got realistic (laughs), but I’m 60 now and almost there. I don’t have a ’54 or ’55, but I don’t need them because I have a ’57. And I always tell people, “You’ve got to have an early-’60s Strat, and right now my #1 is a ’60 with the really thin slab fretboard. Those are incredible. For some reason, I like the ’66 to ’69 Strats; my ’69 is a maple-cap, which makes a big difference.”

After hunting guitars for years. Tuli started collecting vintage amps, and with that pursuit came a realization there was much to learn. Research generated a lot of notes, which he compiled.

“My first book, Naked and Dimed, was a way for me to get to know my own amp collection. As a teenager, I had a blackface Super Reverb and I thought, ‘Well, that’s all I need.’ I thought all Fender amps sounded like that (laughs). But of course as I started exploring, I realized that 80 percent of one’s tone comes from the amp, not the guitar, and that from one Fender to the next, there’s a lot of difference in sound.

Tuli onstage in 2014, playing a ’57-reissue Strat in his band, Psychedelic Mooj.

“The first vintage amp I bought to use onstage with Psychedelic Mooj was a ’64 Deluxe Reverb, and it blew my mind. So I wanted the book to help me figure out why I loved old amps. It started as electrical-engineering project where I was studying schematics and running an oscilloscope to figure out where odd and even harmonics came from. But I figured out that you can’t learn the real reason that way, because it’s all about feel.”

The same motivations carried over to his other three books on guitars and amps.

“People often tell me they bought a brown Princeton because I wrote about how small brown Fenders were cheap and would blow their mind. They used to sell for about half the price of a tweed Deluxe. Now, not so much.”

Tuli’s business, meanwhile, gathered steam until it attracted attention from Scotts Miracle-Gro. In 2017, it was bought out by Scotts and Tuli began a new phase in life.

“I wrote Stratocasters and Telecasters: A Love Story after I sold out and had to bring all of my guitars and amps home. My wife asked, ‘How many guitars do you have?,’ and that was the first time I had to actually count. Then she asked, ‘Why do you have so many?’ and I couldn’t answer.

“So I wrote the book to explain why a guy who collects guitars his whole life looks back and realizes it’s mostly Stratocasters and Telecasters. There was physics involved, but there’s also magic involved. The book is me trying to answer for myself.”

Now, his innate curiosity and decades of expertise will be put to use conducting the research and studying the data behind the valuations presented in The Guide.

“For a lot of people like me, part of our wealth lies in our guitar collection,” he said. “So it’s important to know what’s going on: Why is it going up, why is it going down? Over the years, I’ve fine-tuned my understanding of the factors that create variables and fluctuations.

“Becoming part of The Guide team is a dream come true because A) I love vintage guitars and amps, and B) I’m a data freak. For 30 years, I’ve been able to read data like most people can’t.”

His collection sits at about 40 guitars and a similar number of amps, and he’s been buying The Guide since it was produced every few years in a relatively slow-moving market. It has been published annually since 2001.

“I still have the first one I bought – the third edition – and every one since,” he said. “When Alan called to gauge my interest in working with him, I told him, ‘I’ve watched the book evolve.’”

His enthusiasm for “benchmark data” and tracking trends will enhance The Guide.

“Data analysis – learning how you get the answer – is just as important as the answer itself. That’s what I want to bring, and in the 2024 intro, users will read about how I focused on what is going on. It’s one thing to say, ‘The price is this…’ but that price is a vector; it’s been somewhere and it’s going somewhere. I’m trying to show how it got there, where it came from, how it’s used, and by whom.”

The result is a broader view; where previous editions focused on the classic market – Gibson, Fender, Martin – tracked via The 42 Index, Tuli says, “I’ve kept track of 3,000 guitars. So, in the 2024 edition I’ll overlay charts showing the 2007 bubble for the blue-ribbon pieces and demonstrate how there wasn’t a bubble in the broader market. Jaguars, Jazzmasters, and Duo-Sonics didn’t go to crazy numbers in 2008.

“The $5,000-to-$10,000 market zigzags, but it’s always moving up,” he adds. “The ’58 Les Paul Custom… yeah, it quadrupled in price leading up to 2007, then lost half over the next five years, but it still advanced the broader market.

“That’s why The Guide is essential. And because I’m a collector, there will be a bias toward the collector; I’m not a dealer, I never sell anything.”

He adds that while the traditional market – Les Pauls, Strats, Teles, SGs, 335s, etc. – will always be bellwethers, the non-traditional market is increasingly dynamic – “…the Ampeg Dan Armstrong Lucite, the Dano Coral Sitar, the Travis Bean stuff.”

“Then there’s what we call the ‘emerging market,’ which is the pointy-headstock/swirly-finish stuff that’s 30 or 40 years old. It has become a huge component. You can’t compare a ’57 Strat to a Charvel, but if you collect Charvels, you’re in for a surprise given how they’re moving. Same thing if you’re into Ibanez Jems, B.C. Rich, Hamer, or Music Man Eddie Van Halen stuff. There are more people looking for it, and The Guide will talk about those things. If you have 10 grand to spend, you could get some pretty cool things that are going to keep going up in value.”

The first – and perhaps most-noticeable – reflection of Tuli’s input is the cover of the 2024 book.

“When traditionalists see it, they’re going to think, ‘Whaaaat?’ But as I’ve walked through guitar shows, I’ve been blown away by how much those guitars are going for.”

This article originally appeared in VG’s October 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

No posts to display