GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355

Gone, Baby, Gone Redux

November 21st, 2021 • Uncategorized4 Comments »

59’s aren’t the rarest of the 335’s just the most sought after and valuable. 58’s are twice as rare but some folks are put off by the unbound early ones and others by the shallow neck angle that often requires a shaved bridge.

I published a similar post last March but it is so relevant that I felt compelled to update it and re-post.

I wonder if it occurs to most of us just how rare dot neck 335’s are. When you consider the thousands and thousands of early Stratocasters, it’s a wonder that 58-61 dot necks don’t cost two or three times what they sell for. This has been made crystal clear lately during the recent “pandemic surge” that has cleaned out dealer inventories over the past year. Consider this: Until today, I haven’t had a 59 sunburst 335 in stock for almost 3 months. I usually have two or three of them at all times. Today, there are none on the market. There weren’t any yesterday either. In fact, in the past 6 months, there have been perhaps 4 of them for sale.

My take is that they didn’t go anywhere. They simply ran out. Let’s look at the shipping totals for dot necks. The chart tells the story

These numbers are stunningly low. There are probably at least 5 times as many Stratocasters or probably even more in any given year. It’s hard to know as Fender doesn’t publish the figures.

There were only 521 sunburst 59’s shipped. I’m sure a fair number of those didn’t survive the 60 odd years since then. Refinishes, headstock breaks, major mods and any number of other misfortunes could have befallen a fair number of them. Even if only 10% are beyond redemption, that’s still a rare guitar. Rather have a 58? If you want a bound neck 58, I’m guessing there were only around 125 of them made. A 60 is even rarer than a 59 and a red 60 is crazy rare with only 21 shipped. It isn’t until 63 that the number of 335’s shipped surpasses 1000 and by then, dots were gone.

Here’s a little perspective. In 1794, the US government started making silver dollars. They released 1800 of them. That’s more than three times as many as there are 59 sunburst dot necks. Now, granted, these dollars have had an extra 165 years to get lost or destroyed but the most recent sale of a 1794 dollar is far beyond what any guitar has ever sold for. How much, you ask? $10,016,875 and that was ten years ago. You can buy half of the 59’s ever made for that price. It’s a little silly to compare apples and oranges but collectors are often a little silly. In the coin world rarity often rules while in the guitar world desirability rules. Epiphone Sheratons are a great example. There were 71 blonde 335’s made in 1959 and a collector grade example will cost you around $140,000. A Sheraton is, essentially, a fancy 335 (or slightly less fancy 355) made by the same workers in the same factory on the same assembly line. There were only nine shipped. A blonde 59 Sheraton, if you can find one, might cost you $30,000. I sold the only one I ever had for $20,000 a few years ago.

Want something closer to apples and apples? There are 7 known red 59 dot neck 335’s. Only 4 are stop tails (and one of those has a factory Varitone). So, what’s a collector grade stop tail red 59 worth? I don’t know because there hasn’t been one on the market in years. I’ll estimate $125,000. Is it worth more than one of the 1959 blondes? No. but it should be. I sold the one with the Varitone recently for a little more than half that. It’s one of a kind but not as desirable as it would be without the Varitone. Again, desirability trumps rarity.

What will prove interesting is what will happen to the prices of 59 (and other year) dot necks going forward. The record for a 59 sunburst (not a major celebrity guitar-those have their own set of rules) is somewhere around $65,000. But the longer we go with none of them coming to market, the higher the price is going to be. Count on it. And blonde 59’s? Of the 71 made, most of them are already in major collections. Don’t expect many to come up for sale until their owners die or decide to liquidate their collection. A sunburst 59 ES-335 is one of five guitars that I consider essential in any serious collection. The others are a 54-57 Strat, a black guard Telecaster, a 58-60 Les Paul and a pre war Martin D-28. The rarest of these holy grails is the 59 335. The D-28 is about even. You already know which one is the most expensive.

58-60 Bursts are, in general, the most expensive guitar out there. Recently, the 58 Explorer has challenged the LP as the leader. There are 643 59 bursts. There are 37 Explorers. There are 71 blonde 59 ES-335’s. A collector grade 59 blonde 335 will cost you around $140K. An Explorer will be $500000 or more. A 59 Les Paul can be $250K or $600K.

Scary Good

October 31st, 2021 • Uncategorized3 Comments »

Who doesn’t love a red dot neck? Well, this red 335 is a little different than the usual Gibson red see through finish. This 62 dot neck was refinished in a Fender like Candy Apple Red.

It’s Halloween and there’s not much overlap between scary stuff and guitars (except maybe buying vintage gear over the internet with no return policy). But that’s not what my Halloween post is about this year. You know how in the horror movie, usually early on, the psychopathic killer is in the closet or in the garage or in the back seat of the car and you know one of the expendable characters is heading right there and you yell (usually to yourself but not always) “DON’T GO IN THERE…!!!” Well, that’s kind of like what Ebay was like in the 90’s and early 2000’s if you were trying to buy a vintage guitar. This is in the era before Reverb existed and Gbase was pretty much just dealers. Ebay was like the wild west back then and it was pretty easy to get burned or scammed or just maybe, score a huge bargain.

It was 2010, I think. I was pretty much a hobby dealer back then. I would buy one or two guitars, play them and then sell them, usually for a small profit and I stayed mostly at the low end of the vintage market. I was buying mostly 335’s and 345’s and, at the low end, most of them had some issues. I couldn’t afford the collector grade stuff but I knew enough about them to stay away from the bad stuff. There was no blog (like this one) to tell you what to look for or how to identify what year a 335 was built. But I knew enough to make some pretty good deals. Some better than others.

When you’re at the lower end, refinished guitars are the best way to get a really nice guitar for a fair price. A proper refinish doesn’t hurt the playability nor does it hurt the tone. It only hurts the value. And besides, I really wanted a dot neck and I couldn’t afford the $20,000 or so that was the going rate at that time. So I bought a refinished 62. Yes, they made dot necks in 62. Not many but the block neck wasn’t introduced until the late Winter/early Spring of 62. It was Candy Apple Red (not Gibson’s Sparkling Burgundy) and the work was professional all the way. Cost me, uh, never mind. It was cheap. It had a pair of PAFs and all the original parts and it sounded incredible.

I had played enough high end 335’s at that time to know what a great one sounded like-I had just never owned one. My main player then was a fairly beat up red 64 that sounded really good but this 62 dot was head and shoulders above the old 64. Most of you who read my blog know that I keep a mental list of the top 20 335’s that I’ve owned and in that list there is an outlier from the 58’s and 59’s that populate most of the list and it’s a refinished 62. Yeah, that one. I sold the guitar maybe six months after I bought it and kind of regretted it but I always went back to my old rule for being a dealer…don’t fall in love.

Fast forward ten years or so and I’ve established myself as a vintage dealer, retiring from my real job, writing a blog, opening a retail shop and working full time at it . The blog and the business is still going, the store is not (at least until the pandemic ends). A few months ago, I see a Candy Apple Red 62 dot neck 335 on Reverb for $28,000. My first reaction was “are these guys nuts? ” $28K for a refinished 62 is dreamland and I ignored it. Then I realized it was the same guitar I had sold ten years ago and I wanted it back. I wasn’t going to pay $28K for it so I waited out the seller and it eventually came down to a price I could justify paying. Only I (and the previous owner) knew how good it was. It arrived last week and there were a few small changes (somebody scavenged the original stop tail) but when I plugged it in there was no question. It’s still in the top twenty.

It probably isn’t the best investment. But the guitar you buy should depend on more than just the value going forward. A $350,000 Les Paul that sounds and plays like an average R9 is still probably a good investment but it isn’t much more than an expensive wall hanging. A great player with issues that sounds like a choir of angels may not make you a nickel richer in the long run but you’ll get a ton of pleasure out of it and probably not lose any money if that’s important to you. I would argue that I’d rather have a great player and make nothing than have an average player that will appreciate. Nobody says you can’t have both (you can) but if you have to choose one or the other, I’m going with the player.

I should keep it this time but I know I won’t.

Beating the Dead Horse

October 26th, 2021 • Uncategorized1 Comment »

Short seam stop tail on the right. See the difference? That short part should be jagged and rough. If it’s smooth, it’s a reproduction. The one on the left is from the late 60’s.

I was going to start this by saying “I don’t want to sound like a broken record…” but nobody under the age of 50 seems to know what that means . So, at the risk of being repetitive, I am pretty miffed about the shameless scavenging of parts from vintage 335’s and their brethren. Yes, it’s your guitar and you can take any parts you want for your R9 to make it closer to a real burst but when you go to sell that scavenged guitar and you don’t disclose all those repro parts you installed, well, that’s not right. Put aside the fact that you are ruining a piece of history (try to find an ES-175 with its PAF’s intact) and understand that the parts you are taking off have become so valuable that it isn’t simply a minor annoyance to get a guitar with a few repro parts, it’s become a very big deal. Or maybe somebody else did it before you got the guitar.

I’ve mentioned that 95% of the vintage guitars I buy from individuals have at least one changed part. Sometimes it’s disclosed but mostly it isn’t. Not because all these folks are dishonest. Most folks simply can’t tell the difference between repro parts and originals. They have gotten very accurate. Beyond that, these individuals simply believe what the previous owner (or dealer) has told them. “Oh, I bought it from Joe Schmo’s Guitars in Secaucus, New Jersey and Joe said it was 100% original”. But Joe Schmoe sold it as a consignment and took the owners word for it. Big mistake.

A short seam 1958-1964 stop tail is a $2000 part if you can find one. I always ask if the parts on the guitar are original and when I ask about the tailpiece, I am very specific and ask for a photo of the underside. Then the guys making the repros figured out that the short seam is the tell for a real one so they started faking the short seam. here’s a tip…if the fat part of the short seam isn’t jagged (it’s where they used to break the tailpiece away from the mold), it isn’t real. Now they just mold that seam in and it’s smooth. Out of the last 20 or so stop tail ES guitars I’ve inspected before agreeing to buy them, 25-30% have had the tailpiece scavenged. So caveat emptor, folks. Don’t take anyone’s word for anything.

Dealers get consignments all the time. I get plenty of them. Some dealers simply put them out there with the owners description and never check them to make sure they are as described. Dealers usually don’t make a lot of money on consignments so there is little incentive to go in there and spend an hour pulling the harness and checking the tailpiece, etc. In fact, if you do that, you might be accused of stealing parts yourself…”Joe Schmoe, who’s a bigger dealer than you are told me it was 100% original when I bought it from him…” It’s only happened to me once and my policy after that was to go through the guitar with the owner there with me. Now that I no longer have a brick and mortar shop, I can’t do that, so I ask for tons of photos.

Don’t shoot the messenger. This is not a new problem but it’s worth pointing out again in this very active (and somewhat overheated) market. A missing $2000 tailpiece or a $3000 PAF makes a big difference to folks like me who make their living from this. Selling vintage anything always carries some degree of risk (I can’t ask Grandma to start pulling the pickups on Grandpa’s old 335) but most of you aren’t Grandma, so go through your instrument or have an expert do it so you know. You’ll be happier knowing and so will I.

A PAF is the most valuable part on a 335. Missing stickers are pretty common. Lots of 62 and 63’s had one patent and one PAF so it’s a hard to know what the pickup on the left is if the guitar is from those years. It could be that someone scavenged the PAF and installed a patent number (or worse) without a sticker.

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 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.