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Is that an Elephant in the Room?

September 26th, 2021 • Uncategorized1 Comment »

In the pre-pandemic world, I usually had two or three 59 ES-335’s in stock at all times. Sometimes a blonde or two as well. Now, they’ve become as scarce as $6 a pound lobsters. The top price for a sunburst 335 in recent years was around $45,000 for a near mint stop tail. There are none on the market at all right now and I wouldn’t be surprised if they hit $100,000 in the next year.

I called it a bubble. Then I called it a bubble again. Then, in June, sales dropped when everybody thought the pandemic was in the rearview mirror. Folks were back outside hiking, biking, going to the beach and the guitars that had been their link to sanity sat unplayed. Then the delta variant happened and folks had to reconsider their actions. And the guitar market restarted with a vengeance. All in the space of around 6 weeks.

Sales of vintage guitars (well, the ones I was selling, anyway) were up by more than 50% during the worst of the pandemic-that’s volume, not prices. Then, in late May, sales stopped. I didn’t sell a single guitar for three weeks. That had never happened in the nearly 20 years I’ve been doing this. I thought the bubble had burst. Prices didn’t drop but they never drop all at once as sellers don’t want to accept the possibility that their guitars are worth less today than they were yesterday. But it looked a lot like the feeding frenzy was over. Except it wasn’t. Prices are up year over year by at least 20% on the most collectible guitars. Inventory is way down (possibly due to the spike in sales from the pandemic) and high quality collector grade examples have all but disappeared (the Neil Schon auction last July notwithstanding).

I didn’t think it could last and I dug my heels in and tried to keep my prices down and tried to buy at the prices I was buying at pre pandemic. But folks weren’t selling at those prices any more. Potential sellers go to Reverb.com and look at what similar guitars are listed for and assume that’s what they’re selling for and price their guitars accordingly. That’s the recipe for a bubble and that’s what it looked like. Now, a lot of the really crazy high stuff is sitting unsold-there is more inventory now than there has been recently-but some of the really high priced stuff is disappearing. Are the sellers negotiating or are the guitars selling at those unprecedented prices? Reverb doesn’t make it easy to know what guitar sells for what price. Their graphs of sales of a particular guitar don’t take condition into consideration so they are mostly worthless.

So, I started paying up to get some inventory and selling at my usual margins hoping I wasn’t being taken in by the folks selling at prices that were unimaginable just a year and a half ago. I’m sorry to report (am I?) that this market has legs which means it isn’t a bubble at all. Guitars are selling and folks are paying more for them. I think that if the pandemic were to magically end (“it’ll be like a miracle…”) then the market would stabilize but I don’t think it’s going down any time soon. I don’t the pandemic is going away any time soon either.

Let’s assume this thing is going to last another year. The economy will undergo a lot of changes but essential goods and services have already found new ways to exist and even thrive. The housing market is up. The stock market is up. The guitar market is up. Folks who can afford vintage guitars still have plenty of money but they have fewer places to spend it. That’s one of the drivers of this market. There are lots of things to spend your money on but few of them are as gratifying as a vintage guitar. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning and that’s what might keep you from staying in bed all day.

Finally, something I’ve been telling my customers for years…vintage guitars are undervalued. If a 58-60 Les Paul is a $200,000-$400,000 guitar and they sell with some level of consistency and frequency, then a 58-60 ES-335 should be a lot more expensive than it currently is. A flame top Les Paul is arguably prettier to many but is it a better guitar than a 335? You know what I think. So, are you actually paying an additional $200000 for some figured wood? I’ve had a few flame top 335’s and they don’t go for much of a premium over plain ones. Yes, many of your guitar heroes played Les Pauls but you aren’t 15 any more and you know you don’t play like Page and you never will. I can understand the investment side but that might be what makes a 335 something to consider next time you have some spare cash you don’t know what to do with. I can see 59 335’s crossing the $100K mark within a year. There were only 600 made (including blondes) . I can see blondes closing in on $200K. Eighteen months ago, a 59 ES-335 was $42,000 (for a nice sunburst stop tail. Now, good luck finding one at any price. I saw a 58 recently listed for $60K and it’s gone. I’ve had 8 ’59 335’s so far this year. All sold in less than a week after listing. Five of them never even made it to the listing stage. I had buyers waiting for them. Still do.

For the longest time a 61 ES-335 was considered a compromise…a guitar for folks who had to have a dot neck but couldn’t afford to get in the game at the 58 or 59 price level. A few years ago, this guitar sold for $20,000. Now, it’s going to cost closer to $35,000. And if you want a red dot neck, it’s just about the only way to get one. There is one 58, 6 ’59’s and 21 ’60’s.

61 Revisited

September 17th, 2021 • ES 3356 Comments »

1961 ES-335’s have been the red headed step child of dot necks for a long time. The very slim neck is mostly why but they are still really excellent guitars but be careful. Read on

No, not Highway 61. The 61 ES-335. With the price of a 58-60 dot neck reaching nosebleed heights, it might be time to look at the 61 ES-335 if you are among those who absolutely must have a dot neck. The 61 has always been the least expensive of the dots (along with the short lived 62) mostly because of the neck profile. It has to be that because almost everything else about it is the same as the earlier ones. Yes, the 61 has a short pick guard and a white, rather than amber, switch tip but if not for the very slim neck, the price of a 61 would be up there, at least, with a 60. I could mention the short magnet PAF as a difference but the truth is a short magnet PAF is often superior to a long magnet. They are much more consistent and while you could get a dog of a long magnet as easily as you could get a magical one, the short magnet almost always gets you an excellent pickup. But the neck is the issue that needs to be revisited. Why, you ask? Because there are a lot of 61’s for sale and they’ve become pretty pricey in this overheated market. At $30K or more, it’s important to know about the problem with 61’s. The truss rod crack.

I’ve written about this before but I’m compelled to do so again because I’ve started looking seriously at 61’s as a good option. The guitar buying public is finally moving away from the “must have” huge neck and going with the medium and slimmer profiles. I think my generation was obsessed with huge neck profiles but the generations behind us boomers desires comfort over all. Big necks have often been said to bring on better tone but I think that’s only partially true. One of the best 335’s I ever owned was slim necked (and refinished) 62 dot neck. In any case, it’s time for the cautionary tale about the 61 dot neck to be looked at again.

The thicker the neck, the more wood there is between the truss rod and the back of the neck. The more wood there is, the less likely it is to crack under stress. A truss rod works by pushing against the wood to keep it from deforming due to the heavy load placed upon it by string tension. It’s a very simple lever and it generally works quite well, although it has its limits (which is why the two way truss rod was invented later). The difference in depth between a typical big 59 (.90″ at the first fret and a full inch at the 12th) and a typical “blade neck” 61 (.78″ at the first and .87″ at the 12th) is nearly 1/8″. That’s quite a lot of wood and since the truss rod sits in about the same place on all 335’s, all of that goes behind the truss rod. Try to break a 1/8″ thick piece of mahogany some time. It isn’t easy. So, how much wood is there between the truss rod and the back of a 61 neck? I’m not sure but I would guess that there’s maybe 1/16″ or a little less. So, you tighten the truss rod and that very slim area of wood can’t take the stress and it cracks, usually in a straight vertical line from around the third fret to the ninth fret. That varies a good bit but it’s usually centered on the neck and somewhere between those two points.

See the jagged edge along the crack? A check won’t do that. A scratch might show a jagged edge but it’s unlikely that a scratch will be consistent over more than a very short length. The jagged edge is a pretty good indicator that what you have is a crack. Thanks to Stephen at Street Legal Guitars in Austin, TX for the photo.

There’s good news, however. It doesn’t appear to be a structural issue. I’ve never seen a 61 where the crack has worsened into something that will cause the guitar to play poorly but it’s there and it should be disclosed when it occurs. Sellers will call it a check or, more often a scratch but look closely. If the finish has a jagged edge under high magnification, then it ain’t a check and unlikely to be a scratch. It’s a crack and it’s a lot more common than you think. I’ve seen it so many times now that I’ve generally avoided 61’s for years if not decades. If you’re considering a 61, ask for a close up of the back of the neck. If you see a vertical line, it’s probably a crack. If that doesn’t bother you (or it’s disclosed and priced in) then have at it. 61’s are wonderful guitars but know what you’re getting.

Not he best photo but there is a truss rod crack in this neck. It extends vertically from around the fourth fret to perhaps the sixth or seventh. It is very common in 61’s.

Bye, Bye Phil and Don

August 30th, 2021 • Uncategorized7 Comments »
Back in the day.

In 1958, I was 6 years old. I didn’t have a record player but there was a radio that was almost always tuned to the top 40 station in the Schenectady, NY area where I grew up. It only got AM radio and there were only two stations that came in clearly enough although on a good day, you could get three. WPTR (1540 AM, Albany), WTRY (980 AM, Troy) and WSNY (1240 AM, Schenectady). I recall songs from as early as age three but the song that caught my ear was “(All I Have to Do is) Dream” by the Everly Brothers. Maybe because, at that time, I had 6 brothers myself (later 8) and I had an affinity for brothers in general. I didn’t know from “taste your lips of wine…” or any of that other lovesick stuff but hey, I was six and there was something that grabbed me about the song.

I took up the guitar at the age of 11 not because of Phil and Don but because of John, Paul, George and Ringo. I was an adequate lead guitar player and played with various bands from Jr. High (I guess it’s called middle school now) through college. Adequate guitar players were a dime a dozen (especially in the late 60’s) but I always seemed to find a place in a band. That’s where Phil and Don come in. I can sing harmony to just about anything. No learning required. If I know the melody, I can find the harmony in real time. I’m not sure how I do this but I don’t really care. It’s a gift. That will keep an adequate guitar player working. Interestingly, I can’t sing lead. I’m almost always flat but if I can reference to another voice, I’m generally dead on. If the lead singer is slightly sharp, then I’ll be slightly sharp-it’s all based on reference to another voice.

I don’t know a whole lot of music theory-enough to be dangerous, I guess. I know a third from a fourth from a fifth (and a fifth from a quart but that’s another post). I learned harmony listening to, of course, The Everly Brothers. Their voices (being brothers) blended so seamlessly that it sometimes was impossible to separate the notes in my head. There were a few other singers back in the day that blended like that but they were always singing along with themselves multi-tracked. John and Paul blend pretty well but you’re often hearing John and John or Paul and Paul. Gene Pitney is a great example of that great, perfect blend but he was multi-tracked as well. Neil Sedaka-same thing. Listen to Crosby Stills and Nash. You can pick out each part easily because they don’t blend. It still sounds great but it isn’t the same thing.

It’s no surprise that so many of the greats were influenced by Don and Phil Everly. Without their contribution, rock and roll (and country) wouldn’t be the same. They didn’t invent tight harmony, they merely perfected it. So sad to see them go. Bye bye Don.

Don Everly 1937-2021

Red Dots Before my Eyes

August 10th, 2021 • Uncategorized2 Comments »

This is the very first red ES-335. It shipped in December of 1958 and was wired in stereo. Gold knobs were probably factory (355’s had them too in 58). I don’t know the FON. The serial is A28800.

I formerly used the user name “red59dot” on guitar websites and forums (fora?) because I had been on the lookout for a red 59 335 for years. The rumor back in the early 00’s was that there weren’t any-only a stereo 58 that left the factory in December of that year. Then, out of nowhere (well, out of New Jersey, actually) a guy calls me and says he has a red 59 and I said “I want it”. He said to meet me at such and such a park in North Jersey and bring cash. It was $18000 which, at that time was in line with what a sunburst 59 would cost. I’m always hesitant to meet someone I don’t know with a paper bag full of Benjamins but I really wanted the guitar. It was a Bigsby with a big neck and a zebra in the bridge (I think). Anyway, all went well (whew) and my search was over. Until it wasn’t. I wanted a stop tail.

After a trip to North Jersey, meeting the owner on a park bench with a paper bag full of cash, this is the next red 59 dot neck I came across. SN A30906

It’s maybe ten years later and while I’ve had a few red 59 345’s, I hadn’t seen another red 59 335 except another Bigsby that had little black diamonds painted on the cutaways. That was a mint example and was for sale for $55,000 at a well known dealer. I saw it at the Philly show and passed mostly because it was a Bigsby. The diamonds, supposedly factory, weren’t that big a deal. I had actually seen a 330 with the same decoration. And they were under the clear coat so I assumed they actually were factory.

The “black diamond” ES-335. Mint. I should have bought it back when I first saw it at the Philly show. $55K seemed like a lot back then. Not so much now for any mint 59. SN A31962

The following year, I get an email from a dealer in Paris (France, not Texas) asking me if I’d be interested in a red 59 335 stop tail. Yes. I would be interested. It’s a fairly early 59 with a 58 FON. Oh, and it has a Varitone. The Varitone first appeared in February of 59 on a short run of 4 or 5 ES-345’s that pre-date the “first racks” of April 59. But this guitar, which had to be a special order, started its build in 1958. So, is this the very first Varitone equipped guitar ever built? The serial number of the earliest known ES-345 is A29132 shipped in February 59. The FON is T7303-xx. This 59 ES-335 is serial A29553 but the FON is much earlier. It is T6473-xx. FONs are sequential. Serial numbers are not. Also worth noting, I’ve never seean a stereo 355 with a 58 FON. So, the question remains. Is this the first Varitone? I don’t know but it certainly could be. Even if it isn’t it’s a piece of Gibson history being the first red 335 (of 6 known) shipped in 1959. And a great player.

I currently own this one (yes, it’s for sale like everything else I get). This is the second one shipped and has a 58 FON. It also is possiblt the very first ES built by Gibson with a Varitone. Or maybe not. Serial is A29553. The shipping log makes no note of it being red or being a Varitone.

I still haven’t had a stock red 59 stop tail 335 but I believe there are two of them. I know where one is but not the other. If you have one, call or email. I consider the red 59 dot neck to be the holy grail of 335’s. Yes, blondes are nice but they are relatively common (they made 71 of them in 59). And I’d really like to find a black one (I know of only one) but I don’t expect to. If you recall Dan Erlewine’s “rule of two”, I’ll probably end up with both of them the same week.

One other point worth making. Until mid to late 1960, the red dye used to color the wood red was particularly UV sensitive. While it starts off a rich vibrant blood red, it often fades, with UV exposure, to a pinkish light red we’ve all called “watermelon”. In more extreme cases it can fade to a pale orange. In guitars that spend most of their life in the case (and not a store window), the red can retain nearly all of its original color. The guitars pictured in this post are a pretty good representation of what these early reds can do. The 58, the Varitone 59 and the “diamond” 59 are still vibrant. They look similar to later reds that haven’t faded. The New Jersey Bigsby is clearly faded to that wonderful watermelon shade. The stop tail below is somewhere in between. When a later red ES guitar is exposed to sunlight it tends to darken rather than lighten, moving in the direction of brownish maroon. These watermelon 335’s are, I think, among the most attractive 335’s on the planet. Sadly, by the Fall of 1960, they were gone forever.

Here’s one of the known stock stop tail 59 ES-335’s in red. It is owned by the same collector who has the “black diamond”-you can tell by the photo background. It is also near mint. This one isn’t for sale but I’ll take the other one if you have it. This is also an early one with an A299xx serial number.

Are You a Mod or a Rocker?

July 30th, 2021 • Uncategorized7 Comments »

They don’t get much more modded than Alvin Lee’s 335. Added single coil in the middle and it’s additional volume pot are the irreversible value killing mods. Stickers don’t count as mods but will do bad things to the value as they almost always leave residue. The TP6 tailpiece uses the original stop tail studs so it’s totally reversible.

Ringo said, famously, “I’m a Mocker.”

We’re going to talk about mods. I get emails every day from folks looking to buy a 335 (often not from me) who ask how much a particular modification will affect the value of the guitar of their dreams. The simple answer is that there is no simple answer. A tuner change might affect a 1981 335 by a few hundred dollars. A tuner change to a blonde dot neck will knock off thousands. So, do we use percentages? That’s probably better than simple dollar deductions but even that is an inexact science. There are simply too many other factors involved. A mod to a beater will deduct a lot less than a mod to a museum piece. A guitar with a lot of mods might reach a saturation point where the parts will be worth more than the guitar as a whole. Like I said, no simple answer.

Let’s also separate a mod from a repair. A mod is an intentional change made to a guitar. A repair is made to fix something that is broken. A mod is made to fix something that isn’t broken. It may be reversible or it may be permanent. It may adversely affect the price or it may not. Presumably, the initial intent is to improve some aspect of your guitar, so you should understand that many (and probably most) mods are done with the best intentions. In the 70’s, Eric Clapton took the covers off his pickups. So, many of us (including me) did the same thing. I think we thought we were going for more output but really, we wanted to be like Eric. Unsoldered pickup covers are not a very costly mod unless you lost the covers. Some, like adding a stop tail to a 65 ES-335 will actually enhance the desirability of a guitar (as long as it’s put in the right location). It won’t increase the value, however.

The most common mod on ES guitars is changed tuners. Schallers were a big deal in the 70’s and 80’s and they required an enlarged shaft hole and 6 small new holes in the back of the headstock. Grovers were also popular (another Clapton mod) and didn’t require any new holes. They did require enlarging the shaft holes and also cause the “owl eyes” on the front of the headstock…the result of overtightening the lock nuts. You can fill and redrill the shaft holes but those indentations in the front of the headstock are there to stay. Tuner changes don’t affect tone or playability in a big way, so it’s a good way to save some money if a collector grade example os out of reach.

There are mods that will enhance the value of your guitar even if they aren’t always a particularly economical choice. Like adding real PAFs to your reissue 335. At $6000 a pair, you might be better off selling them separately when it’s time to sell the reissue. Same goes for vintage stop tailpieces. At $2000, a vintage stop tail for a newer guitar is more than a little silly. Replacing the replacement on your vintage guitar is a good idea but it isn’t a mod. It is worth noting that most repros are as good and possibly better than the original. I challenge anyone to actually hear a difference between a repro stop tail and a vintage one.

To summarize, mods that are irreversible are bad for the value of your vintage guitar so think before you take the drill or the chisel to the top of your guitar. Mods that don’t require new holes or routs won’t hurt the value as long as you save the original parts. Put them somewhere where they won’t get lost. I once modded my 65 Mosrite Ventures back in 1975, changing the single coil neck pickup to a humbucker (no rout necessary). I sold the guitar in ’76 and found it again on Ebay in 2015. I bought it back and I knew just where to find the original pickup 40 years later.

I recently bought this Epiphone Casino expecting there to be a lot of work to do to get it back to stock with that roller bridge with a mute. It turns out that there were no holes-the bridge simply sat on top of the guitar like an archtop bridge.

Anatomy of a Beater

June 28th, 2021 • Uncategorized3 Comments »

Here’s my beater example. Overspray on the neck and front of the body, finish damage by the guard, screw holes from a “custom” guard and lots of wear. It’s a 62 or early 63.

Ya know what you don’t see that often? Beater 335’s. You see tons of beater Strats and even beater LP Juniors and beater SG’s. Let’s back up a little. What makes a beater a beater? Changed parts? Refinish? Busted neck? Bad condition? All of the above? And what’s a beater really worth? The sum of its parts? Or do we put a premium on a guitar that’s been played to within an inch or two of its life?

Most of you know that I deal mostly in collector grade stuff. That makes me something less than an expert in the world of beaters. I simply don’t see very many but I’ve seen enough to know one when I see one. The old saw about the good ones getting played is half a myth. The good ones do get played but the one’s that don’t get played aren’t necessarily bad. They just didn’t get played much or, more importantly, they were taken care of. Consider this…When I was a kid in the mid 60’s, a brand new Stratocaster cost $200 at Manny’s in New York. A brand new 335 was close to twice that. On the used market at that time, a Strat was maybe $150. Still a lot of money for a 16 year old but you could come up with that with a paper route or doing odd jobs on the weekend for a few months. Maybe a little help from Mom. But $400 for a 335? Not likely and if you were lucky enough to be able to afford one, you took care of it.

That might explain why there are fewer 335 beaters than Strats but what does a 335 beater look like and is it worth the price of admission in this somewhat inflated market? Heavy player wear is a big part of what makes a beater. And changed parts for sure, especially parts that don’t belong on a 335 like an extra pickup (Alvin Lee) or a string tree. How about stickers (Elvin Bishop and Alvin Lee)? For sure. “Custom” touches like non factory guards and oddball knobs are part of the beater mystique as well. A neck repair is almost mandatory for a 335 beater and maybe some overspray and touchup. Mix in three or four re-frets and you’re there.

Valuation is the tough one. Conventional wisdom says take off 40% for a neck repair. But it also says take off 40% for a refinish. What happens if it has both? Do you knock off 80%? I think not. If you use percentages to figure values, you end up with the parts being worth way more than the complete guitar. A pair of intact PAFs on a beater is close to $6000 worth of parts. A short seam stop tail is $1800 or more. My opinion? If it plays well and it sounds good (and the repair is stable), then there is a kind of base value that is the sum of the parts value and a set value for the husk (depending on the year). A 59 husk is worth a lot more than a 68 husk. I’ve sold more than a few husks in various states of disrepair and $4000-$5000 for a 58-64 with a repair, extra holes and some finish issues seems to be the average. Less for later ones.

A beater is a great way to stick your toe into the vintage market. You can always add back the parts that are missing over time or get good repro parts. If you’re in the used guitar market because you play and you don’t care about investment value, then a beater can make sense for you. The most important element of all? Do you like the way it plays and is it stable? A stable neck repair is often as strong (or stronger) than the wood. Finish issues don’t generally affect playability or tone. Repro parts generally don’t affect them either. You need a straight neck, good frets, a good nut, good bridge, pickups/harness and tuners that hold tune. If any of those elements are missing, you can easily source them. That takes us to only the straight neck, good frets and a good nut. The nut is pretty easy. Frets are for your luthier (and not cheap). The condition of the neck is the one place you can’t compromise. Back bow? Walk away. Excessive front bow? Walk away. Any kind of twist? Walk away. A functional truss rod, minimal relief and good frets? There’s your new best friend that won’t bankrupt you.

Finally, what about the guitar in the photo? It has lots of player wear. The serial number is sanded off and the neck has been oversprayed as has the front of the guitar. I don’t see a break anywhere, although I thought at first there was one. The really strange mod is a wooden pickguard (I still have it) that added a four screw holes to the top and it reacted badly with the finish (probably from whatever the wood guard was finished with). Tailpiece is a wrap tail but that’s fairly common in 62 as they used up the parts. The bridge and tuners are repro. The case is later. It needs a nut and probably frets. The nut was all wrong (too low) and I changed it for a vintage nut off of a 59 355. With better frets, I think it will be a good player. It sounds good already given the original pickups that somehow escaped being replaced. With PAF 62’s pushing $30K, a beater might save you close to $20K and you won’t have to worry about it getting stolen at your next gig.

Lots of holes back here from other tuners. There is some kind of headstock work but no evidence of a crack. The serial number was removed probably when sanding off the finish for respraying. Serial is still on the label so I don’t think it was stolen.

Mine’s Bigger than Yours

May 31st, 2021 • Uncategorized2 Comments »
An early 59 on the bottom and a fairly late 59 on top. It’s hard to see a .06″ difference but you can sure feel it. Most players can feel a difference of .03″ or even less. That’s 3 hundredths of an inch. That’s the usual difference between a 62 and a 64. The difference between an early 59 and a typical 60 is three times that.

I’m talking about guitar necks, of course. Neck profiles have always been variable and everyone has their preference. When I was a kid back in the 60’s, the word was “fast”. A slim neck profile (both width and depth) was touted by manufacturers as “fast”. All of us rockers wanted to play fast (thanks Alvin Lee) and anything that made us faster (or seemed to do so) was coveted. Gibson necks, way back in the 50’s, were deep and wide. The standard nut width was around 1.65-1.68″ which is approximately 1 11/16″. The depth at the first fret was anywhere from .85 to .95. Fender, at the same time was much slimmer. The nut was generally 1.62″ or 1 5/8″. Neck depths really were all over the place. In the early 50’s they were as deep a any Gibson but by 59, they were moving to as slim as .79″. The buying experience, back then was simple. You go to a music store (it was rare for a music store to sell both Fender and Gibson) and you try out a few guitars and you buy the one that is comfortable…the one you could play best. Tone wasn’t a huge factor like it is now. If the three way got you three different tones on a two pickup, then you were good. Sustain? Nobody even knew the term. Nobody measured he neck. If it felt right, then it was the one.

By the early 60’s, Fender was eating Gibson’s lunch. Their “faster” necks were what everyone wanted. In ’60, Gibson first saw the writing on the wall and slimmed down the depth to as small as .77″ (the “blade” neck) by the end of the year but the nut width remained the same. The result was largely that Gibsons started having breakage and other neck issues so they slowly beefed them back up until ’65. Early 50’s Fender necks were large but by 58, they had slimmed considerably. Fender necks kept that slim profile, with some variation, throughout the 60’s. There are some pretty big 63’s and some pretty big 66-69’s but, in general, they stayed under .82″ and mostly kept the 1 5/8″ nut width. I would note that Fender had optional narrower and wider necks designated by A, B, C and D. I’ve never seen a D neck. The 1 5/8″ B neck was stock. In 65, Gibson made a radical change. The nut width was lowered to 1 5/8″ to equal Fender and soon after was dropped to 1 9/16″ (1.56″). It’s no coincidence that Gibson 335 prices in the vintage market drop like a stone from 64 to 65. Few players want a nut that narrow these days.

So, that’s the history in a very small nutshell. The trends through the 70’s (narrow nut and medium depth) and 80’s (wider and often flat) are interesting as well. The one constant is that the neck profiles were always changing. The vintage market that I deal in covers mostly 1958 to 1964 and encompasses nearly every neck profile you could want. It should come as no surprise that the fat necks of the 58’s and 59’s are the most sought after. The big 64’s are right up there as well. The shallower depth 60-63’s (early) are considered excellent guitars but their popularity has been a fraction of the earlier ones and the prices reflect that. As 58’s and 59’s get more expensive, players are considering the later ones and their popularity and prices have risen. And a funny thing happened in the process. Players started to appreciate the slimmer necks. Faster? Definitely for some players. More comfortable? I have to say yes if you’re an older player with arthritis coming on (which includes me). I play a 59 but I’ve come to understand the attraction of the 62-63 profiles. The blade neck is still a bit slim for me and the narrow nut of the 65-69’s is still a struggle for my short stubby fingers. But the trend has become clear. Fat is no longer where it’s at.

That’s a little bit of an overstatement but the days when folks bragged about the size of the neck on their guitar have all but ended. There are still plenty of folks who prefer that baseball bat but it’s not the big deal it once was. It never made that much sense anyway. Gibson went way overboard with it in 76 (Explorer) and again in the 2000’s with the 335 “fat neck”. Both, to me, are nearly unplayable. Neither lasted that long and Gibson, wisely, has slimmed down the shoulders (a whole other measurement worth a post of its own) on most of the high end electric guitars making them more true to the originals and, more importantly, more playable for more players. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before folks start bragging about how slim theirs is.

The 66 Epiphone Riviera on the left measures 1 and 9/16″ at the nut while the 64 335 on the right is 1 and 11/16. That’s a 1/8″ difference. Seems like a little? It’s not. It’s a huge difference in feel and playability for many.

Rarest Production 355

May 7th, 2021 • Uncategorized8 Comments »
This is one of the ten ES-355’s built and shipped in 1958. The red is unusual (for a 355). The tuners are different from all the others and, like the other 58’s it has some distinctive “58 only” features. It’s also a killer player with a huge neck profile.

Gibson appeared to have a hit with the new ES-335 guitar introduced in April of 1958. They only sold a few hundred of them in 1958 but it was apparently enough for them to expand the line and take advantage of the positive PR they were getting from the 335. So, they developed the ES-355 to be introduced in 1959. But ten of them left Kalamazoo in late 1958 and instantly doubled the number of models in the line. The 345 was, I’m sure, already in the pipeline but the stereo/Varitone feature wasn’t ready yet. All of the 1958 ES-355’s are mono as are all of the early 59’s. But the 58 355 is an interesting story in itself.

Gibson changes features all the time and they don’t do it in a structured way. They make changes when they think they are necessary or desirable. There are no “model years” wherein all changes are made late in the year for introduction as the next year’s model. So, a late 58 ES-355 should be the same as an early 59. But the 58’s are different from nearly all of the 59’s I’ve seen. Now, I’ve only seen four of the ten 58 ES-355’s including the one touted as the first since it has the earliest serial number. The build order is more accurately reflected by the FON (factory order number). So, what features distinguish a 58 from a 59?

As I mentioned, I’ve only seen four of the ten and three of those are very similar. The fourth is a bit of an outlier and that’s the one in the photo above. I’ll get to that in a minute. 58 ES-355’s are all mono, all, I believe, red, all have gold bonnet knobs and all originally had a low profile ABR-1 (most of which collapsed). Like a 58 ES-335, the 355’s have a thin 3 ply top and a very shallow neck angle. All have Bigsby’s and none were factory drilled for stop tail bushings unlike many of the 58 ES-335’s. A 58 355 that I owned a few years ago was drilled for a stop tail but I believe it was done aftermarket. 58 ES-355’s tend to fade due to the use of a dye that is reactive to UV light. 58’s tend to go toward orange while 59’s go more pink (watermelon). I don’t know if they changed the formulation of the dye in 59. They did change it in late 60 to minimize the fading.

So, what’s the story on the one in the photo at the top? It’s different in a few ways. First off, it’s still red. It has faded a bit but it’s a different fade and a different red. I noticed that where the finish is chipped, there is bare wood. That’s not normal. Gibson’s see through red is generally done by dying the wood red and finishing in clear lacquer. So, when you look at a chip or buckle rash, the wood under the lacquer is red or pinkish. Not this one. This one was finished in a tinted lacquer. I thought, “ok, refinish…” but there is no sign anywhere that it was ever sanded or oversprayed. Red Gibsons are nearly impossible to strip because the dye sinks into the wood. Chemical strippers won’t get rid of it and sanding is always obvious on a 3×5 (that’s another topic altogether). I have seen this red finish on other Gibsons-I had a L5/Gobel with it and I’ve seen at least one Byrdland with it. It is almost wine red. But wait, there’s more.

All of the other early ES-355’s I’ve seen have Grover tuners. Later they switched to Kluson wafflebacks but that wasn’t until 63. This 58 has wafflebacks but they are not the metal button ones you see on later 355’s, they are the plastic tipped ones you see on early Les Paul Customs from the 50’s. There is no sign of any other tuner having been installed. So, why the unusual finish and the oddball tuners? I doubt it’s a custom order this early in a run of a new model. I don’t think Gibson even announced the existence of the 355 until 1959, although the employees would certainly know about it. It certainly wasn’t in the catalog in 58. Two more oddities as long as we’re looking closely. The headstock has a three ply binding whereas 355’s usually have a 5 ply headstock binding. Early rosewood J-200’s had the same binding on the headstock. Also, the factory order number is hand written in red pencil. I’ve never seen that before and I don’t know why that was done. My guess? This is a prototype or employee guitar and it was singled out from its rack for special treatment. The Byrdland below (for sale by my friends at Southside Guitars in Brooklyn) looks like the same red.

This is a 60 Byrdland and probably a custom order. The red looks to be identical to the red in the 58 ES-355 at the top of this post. This guitar is at Southside Guitars in Brooklyn, NY

Bubble, Bubble…

April 26th, 2021 • Uncategorized4 Comments »

A no issue 62-64 stop tail block neck was a $20,000 guitar not long ago. They surpassed $25,000 late last year and kept going. The best ones are surpassing $30K. This mint PAF 62 is priced at $35K (by me). It is the cleanest one I’ve ever had but I have to admit, the market is in the stratosphere.

In general, I don’t call out folks who price their guitars way out of what might be called a “reasonable” range. I’d be doing that day in and day out if I did. For as long as I’ve been a vintage dealer, there have been sellers who ask outrageous, off the wall prices for their guitars. And not just high end vintage guitars. I’ll concentrate on vintage ES guitars because that’s the market I know best. Bubbles are dangerous. They burst eventually and people who have bought during said bubble and the market itself are impacted. Prices go up as demand goes up and there is plenty of demand right now, so incremental increases make sense. The market steadily rose out of the ashes of 2008 and prices, while higher in early 2020, were still following that slow, steady path upward. Then the pandemic happened and folks started buying a lot more guitars. Why that occurred is open to interpretation (I’m not a psychologist). But I sell guitars and I sold a lot more in 2020 than I usually do. After some moderate but still reasonable price rise, the market went nuts.

I have to make a very important distinction here. Asking prices and selling prices are often very far apart. I know what I can get for any vintage 335/345/355 built between 1958 and 1965. Beyond that, I’ll defer to others. When I see a 1964 ES-335 (a very nice red one) listed by a reputable dealer for $47,500, it sets off some alarms. I sold perhaps a half dozen 64’s in the past 12 months. High price was $29,000 for a near mint red stop tail. I think the lack of inventory has kicked them up a bit from there. You have to think that if collector grade 1962-1964 block necks are approaching $30,000, then where does that put a clean 1959 ES-335? The 59 is the benchmark 335. As 59’s go, so goes the 335 market. Interestingly 59’s have been relatively flat for 6 or 7 years. The good ones sell in the low $40’s, the players in the mid to high 30’s and the mint or near mint ones might touch $45K. So, where are they now? Well, I can’t answer that because there aren’t any on the market. But if a block is pushing $30K (up around 25% from 2019), then a 59 dot neck should be over $50K and they probably would be if there were any out there to buy.

So, if we consider the current situation a bubble, what happens next? The bubble bursts. The problem is nobody can predict when. Not me. Not you. Here’s the scenario that seems more likely than most to me. The market is currently very thin. There aren’t a lot of good ES guitars out there for sale and those that are are priced (including the ones I have) are priced higher than they’ve been since the crash in ’08. Unfortunately, I’m paying record prices and that means you’ll have to pay them as well. I think that older long time collectors may see this as a selling opportunity and start putting guitars that have been out of circulation for years if not decades on the market-at record prices of course. I hear “my kids aren’t interested in old guitars” from collectors all the time. And also, the famous joke “My biggest fear is that after I die, my wife will sell my guitars for the price I told her I paid for them…” Do you wait for the market to calm down or do you anticipate higher prices? Do you “thin the herd” now or hold out? If the big collectors (who are not youngsters, in many cases) start selling their gems, the supply increases while the demand doesn’t. Prices drop back. No crash just a flattening out and perhaps a modest drop. But, again, when does this happen? I have no idea. I’ve been wrong plenty of times before, so take what I say with the knowledge that I am not an economist nor am I clairevoyant. Use your judgement. Do your homework. Buy what you love. That way, if you spend a little too much and the market drops, you’ll still have a guitar you want to keep.

Early ES-345’s have perhaps benefitted most from the most recent run up. Prices were running way behind same year 335’s for years and years. They still aren’t anywhere near catching the more desirable 335’s but they have tacked on a good 20% since the start of the pandemic. Early 59’s have reached $30K, if you can find one. 60 and 61’s are up over $20K and some sellers are pushing the asks up over $30K. Again, asking prices and selling prices can be very different.

Worth 1000 Pictures

April 5th, 2021 • Gibson General10 Comments »

Can you see the Schaller holes in this photo? OK, now you can because I mentioned it but if this was simply one of 20 or 30 photos and no mention was made of the filled holes, would you have seen them? Maybe. Maybe not.

“Didn’t you see the Schaller holes in the photo? It was clear as day…” Call me old school or maybe just old but I believe that the buyer deserves an accurate description of what he is buying. The customer may not always be right but the customer always has rights and that right is being stepped all over by an awful lot of sellers. Is it that folks have simply forgotten how to write? I don’t know, with texting and tweeting more prevalent than talking, I would have expected the art of writing to have had something of a resurgence. Nope. So, what’s the problem?

I bought a guitar recently and before I committed to it, I received more than thirty high res photographs but no detailed description of what the issues might have been. The dealer (yes, it was a dealer) shall remain nameless-it’s irrelevant-I have a good relationship with the dealer and I’m simply using what happened as a cautionary tale. So, don’t ask. It turns out the photos showed the guitar in a very good light. But they didn’t show me all the issues. The best example is a small repaired hole by the end of the neck where it appears a second pick guard had once lived. The seller knew it was there but in the photo, unless you already knew it was there, you would may not have seen it. And why would that be? Mostly because I wasn’t expecting it. The seller could have written in the description…”there’s a properly filled holed from a second pickguard…” Simple. Fair. Reasonable. That alone would not have kept me from buying the guitar-especially since it wasn’t very noticeable. But it was other stuff as well.

I have a real personal bug up my ass about reproduction parts not being disclosed. In a world where a correct short seam stop tailpiece can cost you close to $2000, I’m not real happy when I spend top dollar on a guitar only to get it and find out the tailpiece is a repro. It’s usually a good repro but still a repro. When I brought it up, the seller said…”the tailpiece was clearly in the photos…” Yes, it was but nobody can tell a good repro from a real one without seeing the bottom. The repros have gotten very accurate but not so good that I can’t tell if I have it in front of me. It’s even worse when I make a deal and get into my car and drive 150 miles to pick a guitar up and find out, when I get there, that the tailpiece was replaced. Generally, I get back in my car and drive home without the guitar. It’s partially a matter of scale. I get plenty of guitars with the wrong (repro again) switch tip. Catalin switch tips are pretty easy to fake and a lot of the real ones get scavenged, usually by Les Paul owners who want to upgrade their R9 with real 50’s parts. But a catalin switch tip is a $200 part, not a $2000 part.

So, here’s what I’d like to see happen…When you are selling your guitar, write a description and mention every possible issue that a buyer might find upon inspection. If I hear …”it was in the photos…” again as an excuse for not disclosing an issue, I will simply return the guitar. By all means, put good clear photos in your ad-there’s nothing like a good photo to describe the condition but take 5 minutes and do a write up. It’s not going to take any more time than the last tweet you sent out about your dog.

Quick. Is that a legit stop tail or a repro? I can’t tell and neither can you. If I saw the under side of it, I’d probably be pretty sure it was real. Better still, write a description and tell me if it’s real or not. Don’t know? Then say you don’t know and we’ll deal with it.